There are multiple reasons why I find myself a herald against the remaking of games. Sometimes the nostalgia resides dominantly in my gaming chamber and refuses to accept any new interpretations, even if they were from the very people who worked on the original. Some games are also considered classics and working on a remake for them, I believe, already has big boots to fill. How can you maintain a game’s classic nature without meddling with the original design?
An age-old adage the likes of ‘what’s not broken need not be changed’ rears its head in such situations, but the need to constantly be relevant ultimately always takes over. Take me, for example: My demand to satiate my senses in regards to a game/movie/show always gets the better of me when a remake is revealed and I find myself in a constant battle between what I want and what I should want. Twin Peaks is one of my favorite shows of all-time, but if someone were to remake it, I would hardly be able to fight the instinctive disgust that will engulf me. However, an expansion or continuation of the show, as will be the case in next year’s rebirth, wets my appetite to its core.
The reason I bring all this up is because when I first played Sins of the Fathers all these years ago, it easily landed itself on the list of games that everyone I believed should play. It had the right atmosphere, the right amount of mystery, and best of all, it reeked of originality. Through it, Jane Jensen was truly able to capture my imagination in ways other adventure game were not able to. In fact, I am willing to bargain that very few games actually captured my interest back them the way Sins of the Fathers did.
With this 20th anniversary edition, my first concern was if the game will live up to its classic standard. After all, most all games notoriously labeled ‘classic’ were deemed so solely due to the times they were published in, but taken out of context, these same ‘classics’ fell apart in modern times and did little to justify their illustrious title to a newer audience.
What makes an adventure game a classic is the story and the puzzles. The puzzles should be logical or based from common sense, and the story progression should be engineered to possess the perfect flair. Sins of the Fathers is a classic, no doubt about that, but it’s been two decades since it first impressed gamers, and with the classic point-and-click adventure genre making a glorious comeback, this is arguably the best time to introduce the new school to the games that defined that generation, and the genre as a whole, while putting them to the test of time.
Albeit the recording of all voiceovers and music tracks whose source material went missing over the years, This edition of Sins of the Fathers promised to maintain the charm of the original game and deliver the same mastery that its original did back in 1993–with better graphics.
The game opens up to our protagonist Gabriel Knight, a writer with a severe case of the southern twang, waking up from a nightmare. He is not a very successful writer but is working on his new novel whose subject revolves around voodoo after being inspired by the sudden emergence of voodoo murders around New Orleans where the game takes place. Gabriel owns a bookshop that deals with rare books with the help of his assistant Grace, and is dragged in to the dark twists of the unfolding story deeper day after day; the game takes place across a set number of days with an established list of things to do each day before it progresses to the next.
The first thing old-schoolers like myself will notice is the complete change of art direction and the new ‘HD’ approach to the game. Incidentally as well, the first thing old-schoolers will do is miss the original pixel art. Don’t get me wrong, the graphics are not bad per se, but there is a charm that accompanies that retro feel, specially in regards to adventure games; you need not look beyond Gemini Rue for proof of that. Though there is a journal that grants a peek at how the original looked like, I can’t help but feel that there was a missed opportunity by not including the original art. If the original source materials and files still exist, all remakes should have an option to switch back to them, but their absence is not a criticism, rather a hopeful note.
Nothing reminds you how old this game is as much as Gabriel Knight himself: A misogynistic womanizer who refuses to consider flowers at the park because he is too manly for such an action. Almost every time he spoke, I felt the need to strangle him and it actually took me quite some time to successfully look beyond his persona. In fact, the only way I was able to divert my frustration from him was by directing this growing ball of negativity at the narrator who does nothing but drop expositions and speaks on Gabriel’s behalf with an accent that sounds more forced than natural. Leisure Suit Larry games employed the same narration method, but unlike intended wit, slapstick humor apparently worked well with it. The narrator here is ridiculously annoying. Should you find yourself lost in thought at what just happened, don’t enjoy your moment for too long as the narrator will kick in and ruin it for you. Think the theatrical release of Blade Runner vs the stellar Director’s cut.
The script is thankfully still as superb as I remembered it and I found myself longing for more games to possess such written mastery. Jane Jensen’s wit, specially in the subtle references and innuendos between Gabriel and Grace, needs to be experienced. But that’s not where it stops; I implore you to take each scene for itself and absorb it for what it is. The writing gives life to characters you had hardly encountered and instantly pulls you in to their stories.
Accompanying the story in adventure games are the puzzles, and it is here that the game is at its most obtuse. Having played the game in the past with lots of the solutions imprinted in my memory, I had a friend play it before me as a test to find out if the puzzle structure still made sense–Almost instantly, my friend found himself stuck at the first hurdle. Having arrived at the park, he had an idea that the policeman there is part of the solution for the puzzle at hand. Talking to him got him nowhere and none of the NPC’s there were interactive. He went back and forth through the locations unlocked at that point and after around 15 minutes gave up and asked me for the solution. Addmittedly, walking to the mime, with intentions to have him follow you without any commands from your end is questionable in modern gaming. The last thing you should do is block your players this early on; perhaps a few puzzles down the line, but not this prematurely.
Most puzzles thankfully are not as confusing and you will find yourself jumping from one location to another, solving them, talking to people and watching the days go by. However, as the game unfolded, specially nearing the build-up for the final showdown, puzzle logic and common sense got replaced by trial and error mechanics. At one point during the game, you are meant to accumulate $120. With no prior introductions or context, you are handed $100, and though there are $20 in the cash register, Gabriel refuses to take them solely as a catalyst to present the new puzzle whose solution I will not expose to you, but will have you sputtering insults at the game; at least that’s what my friend was doing.
There is a hint section that lest you are a purist, you will find yourself accessing more than you’d like, and its inclusion is more than justifiable and proves to be a necessity. Be warned, however, that the solutions it offers are not contextual and will ruin the flow of the story for you so use it with caution and at your own consent.
The overall story is still more interesting than most games I’ve played over the past few years and stands strong as a testament to what an excellent story with fantastic writing can do. You will find yourself educated in the ways of Voodoun, a.k.a Voodoo, enough for you to branch out and complete your education in this fascinating religion that is still type-cast until this day.
Asides from the horrible narrator, the biggest blow this game receives ironically is from the main element that justifies it as a 20th anniversary edition: The graphics. The level designs and art direction are fine, but the animation is wonky, unstable and leaves much to be desired. Pinkerton Road obviously tried to breathe new life in to the game by modernizing the graphics, but other than the backdrops, the characters all look and move like they suffer from physical impediments. The visuals will not deter you from the game, of course, but they do have their toll and do drop the quality of the game.
Minor hitches aside, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is still one of the best adventure games ever developed and stands tall among video games’ best. Very few remakes live up to the potentials introduced by their originals, and less still are the games that defy the passage of time by offering a timeless story that will continue to fascinate gamers with the turn of every generation.