During the summer Steam sale, I bought the remake of GK1. I've just now finished my first playthrough and wanted to give my thoughts on it. For that time, I went in almost blind: I'd played the original several times, but I didn't look up what had changed for the remake. I also didn't ever restore a game except to resume playing after a break (I ended up not dying). There was one point where got stuck and wasn't sure if my own knowledge of the game had failed me or if there was a change in the puzzle, so I did peek at a walkthrough for that; it turned out to be the latter. More on that below. I also completely missed the fortune teller. (I did see the empty stall the next day, and Gabriel's reaction there made no sense, given that it's his first time seeing it.) That's the danger of a system where the time automatically advances after you've done all the mandatory actions of the day. I'll be playing through again to get that, get a perfect score (I was 8 points short), and see the other endings.
My general thoughts on the game is that it's... okay. As a remake, I think it does do the original game justice. Some of the changes are good, others not so much. I did notice, though, that the game didn't really keep my attention. For some games, I'll fixate on one so much that I'll play only it until I'm done. With this, however, there'd be days when I didn't touch it at all. That may be because I already know GK1 so well (there's very little suspense left in a replay) and it may because the dialogue-heavy first half of the game is so dry. More on that later.
Now for some more focused criticism:
I didn't encounter any game-breaking bugs.
However, I did have a really bad time with skipping dialogue. If I click during dialogue, what I want to have happen is for exactly the dialogue visible on the screen to be skipped, along with the accompanying voice and lip movement. However, what often instead happened is that either the next line also gets skipped, or there's overlap in the voices from the current line and the next, or the dialogue gets skipped but the lips keep moving, or nothing at all happens. This is really annoying, and it's shocking that it got past QA.
There were also some graphical glitches, such as Gabe's heading spinning in circles after the swamp scene and his body contorting in similar ways in Jackson Square. Also, Gabe can just walk through the talisman-containing mound. Just generally, there are a lot a lot of problems with the animations and with the models clipping through things.
I'm very happy with the change to the interface. The verb coin makes a lot more sense than that long list of individually-selected cursors. I'd have preferred if the verb coin allowed "click-and-hold, move, release" functionality instead of just the "click-and-release, move, click-and-release", but that's a relatively minor issue. Also, having a key/icon to show the hotspots is great, as is a key/icon for quick map travel. Lots of thumbs up there.
The game also lets you double-click to move somewhere instantly, but I ended up not needing it. I never really felt that movement through the game was slow or tedious.
The inventory, on the other hand, is a mess. Unlike the normal interface, there's no verb coin, instead using the traditional selectable cursors. Also, it kept the original game's distinction between looking at something and reading it, though here it confusingly used a magnifying glass for the latter (which is distinct from using an actual magnifying glass on it). Also, to use one item on another, you need to click the first item, then click the combine icon, then click the other item (you could instead click combine, then the first item, then the second item, but that could result in a beep from it thinking you were trying to combine whatever you previously had selected with the first item).
The game also has a journal and a way to view some behind-the-scenes stuff, but I never really used those. I'll do that in my next playthrough.
They're fine. It really is nice to have them in high-res. It's easy to forget just how low-res the original VGA was; the new ones really are a major improvement. However, the new graphics also don't really blow me away, and there are some times where the different visual styles of the background and the 3D models really clash. The car driving up to the snake mound just looks incredibly fake, for example.
The music is good.
The new voice acting is also fine. Initially, Gabe's non-Curry voice was very jarring, but it didn't take long for it to just sound normal (though occasional lines later on did still feel odd). The other voice actors were also good, and the quality of the recording is lot better than the original.
There's an exception, though: the non-English parts are sometimes just horribly butchered. If your text has German in it, you should really have an actor who knows German, or at least someone who can coach them phonetically. Listening to the narrator butcher the pronunciation of the library poem was just painful.
This is where I have a lot to gripe about. I'm not going to nitpick about the small stuff. I think both that remakes should feel free to make changes where they improve the game and that it's okay for even remakes to budget their resources and focus on the things that really matter even if it means cutting some corners elsewhere.
I do appreciate, for example, that the game slowly unlocks new locations as they become relevant, rather than throwing them all at you to start. And I appreciate that it's no longer snowing in the summer.
However, there are, to my mind, five significant new puzzles, and four of them are just bad.
First, the good one: instead of distracting a cop with beignets, you sneak in through a window. This whole scene also has a lot of disturbing zombie imagery. I think that's thematically a lot more appropriate. Luring cops away with baked goods doesn't really fit with the dark tone of the game at that point.
The other puzzles, however, don't seem to fix a fault in the original. They seem to be puzzles for the sake of puzzles, and their presence makes the game as a whole weaker.
Games have a spectrum of how much world-building matters to them. By world-building, I mean that there's some effort to flesh out the setting so it's a believable place that could exist, with this story just being one of those taking place in it. Potentially, there could be other stories taking place in that same world. And we could think about what happened before our story to get it into the state it's currently in.
I think the Gabriel Knight games belong in that category. A lot of effort is but into making the setting believable (once you accept that, in that world, the supernatural is real). They don't always succeed (the burning torches inside the center of the wheel-within-a-wheel make no sense, nor does Mosely hiding in the drawer, then successfully ambushing Gabriel and leaving without either of them realizing what happened), but they try, at least. And a lot of the puzzles are very down-to-earth: you need money, so you sell your painting; you want to duplicate a bracelet, so you use clay from a lake and give the mold to a jeweler; you want to reconstruct a pattern, so you give it to a technical artist; etc.
At the other extreme are games where the focus is entirely on the gameplay, and the world is just there for decoration. An adventure game of this sort would be entirely about the puzzles. The King's Quest games are more on this end of the spectrum. A lot of the KQ1 puzzles make puzzle-sense (daggers can cut ropes, goats hate trolls, etc.), but the world really exists only for that game. If you try to think about who created the magic bowl and put it in the forest, what kind of kingdom has a population of only a woodcutter and his wife, what the giant does when he's not pacing around carrying the chest, etc., there's no answer.
Then there are the hidden object games. These tend to focus even more strongly on puzzles. The puzzle giving that genre its name is one where you see a scene and are given a list of items to find. As a reward, you're usually given one of the items for inventory. Everything else, however, was only there for the puzzle, and there's no in-game explanation given for why you also needed to collect those other items. It's just that some people like searching scenes for a list of items, so there are games with that sort of puzzle to cater to those people.
I should stress here that I'm not passing a value judgment on those latter games. HOGs are actually a sort of guilty pleasure of mine (though it's more for the set piece puzzles than the actual hidden object puzzles). Puzzles for the sake of puzzles can be quite fun. It's just a matter of having the right expectations; if you try to analyze things and they make no sense, it's frustrating, but if you go in knowing that there's no sense to be had, you can just enjoy the ride.
Apparently, there were initially plans to include actual HOG puzzles in this remake. That was fortunately scrapped, but the puzzles that did make it in are still in that HOG mold of puzzles for the sake of puzzles, even though that harms the world-building the rest of the game tries to do.
One is the extra $20 you need to buy the mask. To get this, you need to talk to the plaques of the tomb of your parents and grandfather (basically just saying "hi" to each). A squirrel will come by and knock over a vase that contains $20. This just makes no sense. There's no line from "I want $20" to "I should make small talk with my dead relatives", and there's no line from "I talked to the dead" to "A squirrel knocks over a vase", and there's no explanation at all about where the money actually came from.
Another is the contraption Magentia uses to determine if you're worthy of knowing the voodoo code. It's a common set piece puzzle, where you have various buttons that change multiple outputs, and you have to figure out which ones to push in order to get the message to appear. Here, also, there's no line between "This person is able to solve a simple puzzle" to "This person should be trusted with the code". It makes no sense that Magentia would have such a machine or would use it for this purpose.
Then there's the puzzle in the Gedde tomb. There's a pile of skulls with five gems embedded in them. You have to push them in the right order to make the special drawer open. This is the puzzle that caught me unawares. And it doesn't make any sense in-universe. If they just wanted to keep people who'd gotten into the tomb from also getting access to that drawer, there would be much simpler and more effective ways to do it. This one doesn't even make sense as a puzzle, since the answer key is provided for you. I'm guessing those are Mosely's notes, and he went to the trouble of actually solving the puzzle, though that also means he entered the drawer that he knew would lock on closing.
Finally, there's the puzzle to enter the Schattenjäger shrine. This time, it's a simple tile puzzle, where you can swap any tiles at will. So to get access to the library, you need to become a Schattenjäger, perform the ritual, and have your sins burned away. To get access to the shrine, however, you need to do that and also be able spend a few minutes arranging tiles. Inside the shrine is the book you need to start your research. So either that book is part of the shrine's normal display (which makes no sense), or Wolfgang accidentally left it there after reading it (which makes no sense), or Wolfgang intentionally hid it there to keep it from you (which makes no sense), or Wolfgang placed it there for you to find it (which makes no sense). Also, as with the skull puzzle, the technology needed to actually create this puzzle and the door-opening mechanism associated with it is astonishing.
As a general rule, the way locks work is that they keep the wrong people out while letting the right person in. The right person could be the one who possesses a physical item (a key), the one who possesses knowledge (a combination or password), or the who one who possesses the right body (iris or fingerprint scanner). A lock that only lets in people with puzzle-solving skills, on the other hand, does not meaningfully distinguish between the right people and the wrong people.
So those puzzles, to me, really weaken the game. They don't hold up to scrutiny, and thus discourage people from thinking about things. Much of the rest of the game, on the other hand, does warrant contemplation, so that's a shame.
This is another one I have a lot to gripe about. In this case, however, it's not that they changed it but that they didn't change it.
For about half the game, most of the content is just dialogue. You go to different locations and talk with different people. There's a lot of interesting stuff there, and it shows just how multi-faceted voodoo is. Unfortunately, the way it's presented tends to just be very dull. There's a face on one side idly nodding around and a face on the other side talking. This is basically the standard for adventure game dialogue (perhaps even a step up, since you don't often have the idle animation of the listener). However, most of those games don't focus so heavily on the dialogue.
To be honest, I'm not sure how to really make it engaging, especially with the technology and budget they have. I guess I'm hoping for more acting and less line reading. That's admittedly very vague. There are, however, a lot of small things that would, at least, be incremental improvements:
- Give Gabe more actual questions instead of just "What can you tell me about [subject]". This is doubly true if you can ask about the same topic repeatedly. It's just horribly stilted that Gabe would just keep asking the exact same question in order to get more information (and having Gabe just nonchalantly asking Grace what she knows about voodoo at the end of the game is unintentionally hilarious). Potentially, those multiple replies could also just be merged into one longer conversation. Also, what kind of response is he even expecting when he just generically asks people about snakes?
- Prune the dialogue tree. There are basically two ways to use the dialogue system: just ask about the yellow-highlighted subjects that you know are relevant, or ask about everything. In the latter case, Gabe will end up asking a lot of silly things, and just generally being very rude. Sometimes learning that a character doesn't know something (or at least, doesn't admit to knowing something) is interesting, but in a lot of cases, both the player and the characters really know beforehand that nothing meaningful can come from a topic. Also, if a character doesn't want to talk about a subject, there's no need for the second line about them really not wanting to talk about it.
- If the dialogue tree is currently empty, just don't let Gabe initiate conversation. Ditto for dialogue subtrees. Gabe knows if he actually has a question to ask or not.
- Right now, the volume of the background music is decreased during the dialogue. However, it's at full volume in the topic selection list. The constant up and down is unpleasant. It could just be quiet the whole time.