Date: Originally written July 2008, revised July 2013
Release Year: 1999, Developer: Sierra, Publisher: Sierra, PAGODA Link
After writing the reviews of GK I and GK II years ago, I was tempted to write something about the final game of the trilogy. Although GK III was well received by most fans due to its amazing story and characters, it was also bashed by many due to ugly 3D graphics and some illogical puzzles. Unfortunately, the game is the final adventure Sierra has published and also marked the end of the GK franchise. Despite all of these facts, I think very highly of this game. Actually, if you can look over some of the design mistakes, the game is probably one of the deepest and the most complex adventure games ever produced and it is easily in my Top 20. Anyway, there is a lot to talk about this game, so let’s get started!
Adventure of a Lifetime in Only 3 Days
If you don’t own a boxed copy of the game, you will get a bit confused in the beginning. The intro movie shows a dream-like sequence and Gabriel waking up in a train with a bump on his head. Soon we learn that he is on the trail of two guys who kidnapped a baby while Gabriel was on watch. The kidnappers got off the train at Rennes-le-Château, a small French Village with strong links to the legend of the Holy Grail. Confused? Yes, the intro video doesn’t tell anything about the family of the baby and how the hell Gabriel got caught in all of this… Much later, I discovered that the boxed version of the game comes with a comic, which serves as a prelude to the game. So make sure you read that comic (it can be found on the internet) before you start the game!
Anyway, the rest of the story unfolds as Gabriel tracks down the kidnappers in the small town and tries to unravel the mystery related to heritage of the baby by making connections to Holy Grail, vampires and ancient cults. During his investigation, Gabriel stays at a small hotel which houses an eccentric group of tourists (including our old friend Detective Mosely !) who are on a guided treasure hunt. Since the investigation requires massive amount of research, Grace also joins Gabriel shortly. Their teamwork is very similar to GK II; Gabriel mostly handles interrogations and inventory puzzles while Grace handles the research and logic puzzles. However unlike GK II, where the couple was separated geographically and therefore had minimal interaction, they talk and discuss much more frequently, which adds an interesting touch to dual player gameplay.
Similar to how life of King Ludwig II and the werewolves were mixed together in GK II, GK III mixes several historical facts with supernatural themes. Rennes-le-Château is a real location and is a popular place for Holy Grail conspirators. On the other hand, we have demons, vampires and even unicorns embedded into the storyline. It is so amazing how these totally unrelated subjects are tied together in a massive story that is told in only three days. I think it is safe to say that GK III contains the biggest and most complex story ever told in an adventure game. Especially if you consult SYDNEY (the computer database that Grace brings with her) you will find a huge amount of background information on historical places and persons related to the game, as well as some encyclopedic information about supernatural entities. I would strongly suggest taking notes, otherwise you might easily get lost within the massive stream information you will encounter during the gameplay.
It is a shame that unlike GK I and GK II, the story of this game was not published in novel format. It is very funny that Dan Brown published DaVinci’s Code years after this game, which contains similar themes, and got super popular. Overall, I hold the plot of the game as Jane Jensen’s masterpiece and definitely the strongest part of GK III. Also, it is really sad that I haven’t played an adventure game released after GK III that comes close to the complexity of this game.. I really wish that all adventure game developers would study GK III in detail before designing their next product.
Looks vs Personality
The visuals and the interface of the game is very different than its predecessors. GK III utilizes a completely 3D Engine. The player is able to move Grace/Gabriel anywhere in the world with a simple mouse click and the camera can be moved/rotated by the keyboard. Personally, I just love this interface. It gives you a complete immersion with the gameworld and enables you to examine the scenes form multiple viewpoints. Plus, there are tons of extra items/buildings around that you can examine and interact with for hours. This kind of freedom and the abundance of hotspots add to the game’s realism and you find yourself wandering around just for the joy of exploration. Previous GK games (especially GK II) didn’t have this kind of flexibility in the gameplay.
On the other hand, it is hard to say the same thing for the graphics. As other reviewers pointed out, the 3D graphics look ugly and they didn’t age well at all. I think both GK I and GK II had a great visual style. Everything in GK III looks edgy and rough. Especially the facial expressions of characters are very simplistic, which is not a good thing since the game is very dialogue-heavy. There aren’t many cutscenes in the game and all of them are as dark as a bat cave. Fortunately, the game gives you option to tune some of the graphics so you can adjust some basic stuff.
The game has excellent voice-overs and music. First of all, we have Tim Curry back as Gabe! If you have read my GK II review, you know that I wasn’t a big fan of Erickson as Gabriel, so I am glad Curry is back. His performance is similar to GK I but a bit less over the top. The rest of the cast is wonderful, too. There are tons of different accents in the game and all of them are executed well. Music-wise I think the game has less music compared to the first two games, nevertheless there are some excellent tunes to be heard. Especially the music in opening and the ending movies are very deep and touching.
Best Puzzle Ever ?
GK III houses one of the most famous puzzles in the adventure gaming history, Le Serpent Rouge. Actually it is more accurate to say that it a set of interconnected geometry and research puzzles bundled in a poetic format. Yeah, it is as awesome as it sounds. Also it gets very challenging in places, up to the point that game offers you free hints for help. I would recommend not giving into temptation and solving it by yourself. When it is completed, you will feel a huge sense of accomplishment.
Other puzzles are mostly inventory or environment based. There are tons of situations where you need to be quick and trick/manipulate people. I wouldn’t say timing is extremely important, however some puzzles require a little dexterity to solve. There is also one very infamous puzzle, which requires you to combine some completely unrelated objects in order to form a disguise. This puzzle is usually used as a prime example for how adventure games contain silly puzzles which is causing the genre to die slowly. I admit that particular puzzle is quite stupid but apart from that, the game has excellent puzzle design. Especially compared to GK II, the game is very satisfying both in terms of amount of puzzles and the challenges they present.
Similar to many other Sierra titles, the game keeps track of your progress by accumulating points. I was actually surprised that by the end of my first playthrough I missed around 150 points (out of approx 950 points)! The game doesn’t really offer a relaxed exploration experience. Each day is divided into time blocks and whenever you complete the main challenges in that time block, the game moves you into the new block, which means that you have missed all the bonus points in that block unless you load a previously saved game. To be honest, I wasn’t willing to keep loading my saves until I found what I missed, so I simply learned what I missed from a walkthrough.
I can’t praise this game enough. This is one those games where the story and the puzzle design works in great harmony and gives you a very satisfying playing experience. Sure, there are some annoying design choices here and there, but overall game is very close to perfection. I really hope one day Jane Jensen gets back the rights to the IP of the franchise and we can play Gabriel Knight IV.
The Good: The most complex story ever told in an adventure game. The most beautiful multi-layered puzzle ever designed for an adventure game. Excellent voice acting and music. Tons of interactions with the environment.
The Bad: 3D graphics look ugly and lack visual style.
The Ugly: The infamous cat puzzle.