I finally get to talk about a graphic adventure, one of my favorite genres since I first laid my eyes on Monkey Island.
The Beast Within is the second game in the Gabriel Knight mistery/paranormal trilogy. A year has passed since the voodoo killings case, and Gabriel has moved to his family castle in Bavaria (lucky fellow), taking up his role of Schattenjäger (shadow hunter).
Not long passes until villagers come knocking at his door: a child has disappeared, and the local elder strongly believes that a werewolf is responsible. It is up to the Schattenjäger to shed light on the case.
Somehow reluctantly, Gabriel accepts to investigate with the help of his loyal assistant Grace.
His investigation will take him to Bavaria's most beautiful places (and they are many), learning local history, in particular the one about Ludwig II the mad king and his relationship with Richard Wagner. Plotwise, it doesn't get any better than this.
The retrogame is completely developed in full motion video, a quite controversial technique that involves flesh-and-bone actors and locations (hence high production costs for the times).
I personally love FMV; if skillfully used, it can gift you with the most engaging and riveting of experiences. On the other hand, when badly used, the result is often close to sickening.
Is FMV skillfully used in The beast within? Luckily, it is. Bavaria is alive and breathing in this retrogame; so much that when I finally visited it many years later, all I could think of while exploring Neuschwanstein Castle was this game. The impression it made on me was that strong and lasting.
The actors playing Gabriel and Grace (Dean Erickson and Joanne Takahashi) are quite good. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles available (at least not in the version I played), so understanding everything was quite hard for a southern-european teenager as myself. But now that I am a working adult, I can only thank for the afternoons spent trying to figure out what Gabriel was saying, because my english is all the better for it (don't laugh, please. I'm doing my best here).
There's only one thing I hate that all three Gabriel Knight retrogames have in common: the arcade-like, death-prone final sequences. I am a strong believer that Lucas Arts got it right when they decided that adventures were not about dying and retrying over and over again, but about freedom to do whatever you felt like doing without fear to be punished for it. Unfortunately, Sierra never learned that lesson, and dying is a common occurrence in their games. Luckily, it's not so frequent in the Gabriel Knight trilogy, but still.
The beast within probably hasn't aged very well. I tried playing it again a while ago, but found the interface to be too cumbersome, and the game mechanics too limiting in terms of number of actions at your disposal in each location. That definitely doesn't diminish the game value, at least not in my memories.
I personally consider this one to be the best game of the trilogy, mainly because of the bavarian setting. The third one probably sports far better plot and puzzles, but the 3D graphics is a deal breaker to me. Did I mention that I hate 3D graphics, especially in graphic adventures? Well, I do. Partly because I suffer from a terminal case of motion sickness, partly because I just find it appalling to look at. Even by modern standards. Give me a hand-drawn 2D pixel-art background every day.
The first game also has a beautiful setting (New Orleans) and graphics, but the plot didn't engage me as much as The beast within.
Everything considered, Jane Jensen's writing is what made the Gabriel Knight trilogy one of the best examples of graphic adventure of all times. The amount of research that went into the screenplay is clearly staggering, and plots are always skillfully threaded and paced.
Engaged by her games, I even read one of her novels, Dante's Equation, but I can't say that I enjoyed it. I found it to be too long and the plot too thin for her standards.
Oh and there's also a novelization of this game written by Jane Jensen, but I haven't come to reading it yet. Someday I will, I'm sure.
This retrogame is the only maimed item in my collection. What I mean is that I've only got the CD-roms left, everything else was lost in time, like tears in rain. However I remember the box contents to be not particularly great. A short manual and little else. Even the box cover art wasn't that good in my opinion, so it wasn't a terrible loss, everything considered. That's probably why I never bought a new box, and probably never will.