Editor's note: Review originally posted 07/10/09; game originally released in 1995
Jane Jensen is the best storyteller to write computer games. No one can deny it or say someone else is better. If you believe Take 2's Black Dahlia has a storyline "that blends reality and fiction in perfect rapport," then you just have to repent and pray to be forgiven ... and play Gabriel Knight 2 to see what a strong storyline should be like.
I played this game when it first came out, around 1996, and I remember going "ick" when buying it, because there was never a time in my life when I was interested in werewolf stories. I don't find them scary, involving, or even worth the time I would need to spend on them. But when I got home and put the CD in, I got unbelievably caught up in the game. But that was not all. The thing is ... I've been an adventure game player since 1987. I was brought up with the misadventures of Leisure Suit Larry and the gripping atmosphere of Police Quest. So I do have some background of adventure games. But never in my life had I seen such a compellingly detailed story, told in such novel ways. But, again, that was not all ...
What Jane Jensen and her team did was create a completely different world for the player to roam in. So the werewolf story is actually nothing more than a MacGuffin, in the Hitchcockian sense, for a historical journey through Bavaria. I believe this is the quality that makes this game a timeless classic. Read my lips: "time-less" ... You can't use that word for any other game. Or any other computer-related product for that matter ... Everything fades away in the immense pace of this hasty industry called the computer industry. But not GK2. This is one marvel of a game that is groundbreaking, trendsetting, avant garde, and, most importantly, made for adult minds (no, I'm not talking about raunchiness). Let me put it this way: They actually composed an opera for this game that would be good enough to pose as a lost one by Wagner.
On with the story: After all that happened in the first game, Sins of the Fathers, Gabriel has now moved in to the huge family mansion called Schloss Ritter in Rittersberg, Germany, not leaving his famed writers block behind. A group of people led by a couple called the Hubers from Munich come to him, saying that a little girl has been attacked by a wolf and that this is job for the Schattenjäger. Gabriel accepts and goes to the Hubers' house to investigate. Meanwhile, Grace, still in that dreadful bookshop in New Orleans, decides to go to Rittersberg to join Gabriel but sees that he's gone. So she stays in Schloss Ritter with Gabriel's new German assistant, Gerde.
There are six CDs and six chapters, and you play as Gabriel and Grace interchangeably. Your role as Gabriel is to walk up and down Munich, have chats with the family lawyer, join a few clubs, woo women, violate any rule and logic, and mainly be a stupid male chauvinist pig. Grace's part is a lot more interesting: to do research in and around Rittersberg, visit museums, meet professors, tackle weirdos, and have catfights with Gerde. That, of course, is more of an outline than a summary.
When it comes to the FMV issues: The blue-screen technique was used for GK2, and it was done a lot better than the way it was done in the original Phantasmagoria. But I still find Phantasmagoria 2's use of actual set pieces a lot better (don't hate me for this). Because, even though the overall effect is quite good, some shots in GK2 are just screaming, "Guys! We're shooting this in front of blue screens and this is not actually Bavaria!" Videos can be big or small according to the option you choose (check the first two screenshots above). This was very helpful when it first came out because my computer would cause problems when playing big movies. The big and small movies are not really different: When you choose to play big movies, blank lines are inserted in small movies to make them look big, in the usual FMV tradition.
Acting is quite good overall. My favorites are Joanna Takahashi as Grace, Andrea Martin as Gerde, and Frederick Solms as Übergrau. Dean Erickson's portrayal of Gabriel is adequately annoying; Gabriel is at his most stupid and arrogant in this game, more so than in any other of the series. By the way, that Brad Greenquist guy who acts as Georg Immerding (the Wagner fan in the museum) was Victor Pascow, the friendly ghost with brain protruding out of his skull in the original Pet Semetary. Actually, all these people have done quite interesting stuff--just pay a quick visit to Internet Movie Database to learn fun trivia like Peter Lucas's real name (which is Piotr Andrzejewski, would you believe it?) and that Andrea Martin's roots are actually Turkish (ooh! a countrywoman!).
Of course, even GK2 has negative points. The thing that comes to mind in an instant is the terrible action puzzle in the end. Maybe you won't find it annoying or time-consuming, but I truly find any kind of arcade or combat in an adventure game very bothersome. The other thing is the 3D-rendered wolves ... They look absolutely terrible; nothing more to say. And one more thing: Was anyone actually surprised to see Von Glower is the bad guy? When he first appears at the end of Chapter 1, it is unbelievably obvious that Gabriel is gonna be on this guy's neck at the end of Chapter 6.
But no matter ...
This is a very gripping game that is one of a kind. I just can't say enough good things about it. So just go and buy it, play it, recommend it.
Final Grade: A+
PC System Requirements:
486/33 (Pentium recommended)
8 MB RAM (16 MB recommended)
40 MB free hard disk space (maximum install)
2x CD-ROM drive (4x recommended)
MSCDEX version 2.2 or higher
MS-DOS 5.0 or higher
SVGA video card that supports 640x480x256 colors or better in Windows
Sound card with DAC--Sound Blaster compatible