When it was released in 1995, The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery was hailed as a technical marvel. It was the sequel to 1993's Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, but while that game was one of Sierra's last VGA adventure games for DOS, The Beast Within was a full-blown Entertainment Weekly gave it an A- and said: "This interactive movie easily surpasses most of the click-and-watch live-action CD-ROMs out there." 14 years later, though, the concept of a "click-and-watch live-action CD-ROM" doesn't sound like a particularly palatable genre, so that even the best in the field doesn't sound all that good.
What's left is a game that's fun to play, but saddled by a lot of bad acting that's no longer mitigated because the technology is no longer cutting-edge. Even now, the technical achievement seems impressive -- it really is an interactive movie on 6 CD's, with nearly wall-to-wall full motion video animating every conversation, every interaction, just about every plot point, and many of your main character's actions.
The plot is a werewolf tale set in Bavaria, with plot points involving Ludvig II and Richard Wagner, and setpieces in Munich, Castle Neuschwanstein, and a Catholic shrine at Altötting, as well as other game-specific locations. But because there's so much video, there are very few degrees of motion -- so there's not much room to explore beyond what you have to do to advance the plot. That said, it's a rich, detailed plot, and provides for hours of gameplay, but while you can do certain things out of order, there's basically only one way through the game.
The game is divided into 6 chapters: in the odd chapters, Gabriel Knight is your main character, and in the even chapters, its his assistant Grace Nakimura. Their flirtation was notable in the first game, and is on the verge of blossoming into romance in this one -- unfortunately, the two actors have absolutely no chemistry, which hurts their scenes together and that part of the plot.
The game feels a bit less personal than the first Gabriel Knight game: while voodoo is a real part of the culture of the old New Orleans, the attempt to write wolves into Bavarian history is an interesting intellectual exercise, but one with a lot less real-life legend to draw upon. Ironically, the lo-fi first game holds up better -- its 2D animation makes it feel like just a game, while the sequel's bad acting constantly takes the player out of playing and forces him to watch. It's not a bad game by any means, but far less worthwhile to dig up and play nowadays.
Cross-posted at Remingtonstein.
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