GABRIEL KNIGHT 2 / Sierra / PC
I first played (and became a huge fan of) the first Gabriel Knight shortly after it came out back in 1994; took me 18 years to get around to the sequel, however. A big part of that was because GK2 was part of the mostly regrettable "FMV craze" of the early-mid 90s, and through the whole '90s I never had a computer that was actually capable of running it. I was worried coming into this one that the FMV nature would have caused it to age even worse than most adventure games of the '90s; it certainly doesn't *help*, but this might actually be the best-executed FMV game ever made, and thus surprisingly isn't too much worse for the wear.
The feel and tone is remarkably similar to the first game despite the switch to FMV. The live actors for Gabe and Grace are surprisingly not all that jarring of a transition either. Dean Erickson (Gabriel) says he didn't really study the first game, but he's got the look right, and though he plays Gabriel a little more boyish and goofy than Tim Curry's interpretation, it's fitting and works. Joanne Takahashi (Grace) comes off a little more angry and bitchy than Grace in the first game, but also looks the part and is near enough to do the job. The real strength in acting here is that the supporting cast is remarkably solid; it appears they hired actual professional actors for even the minor parts (rather than the usual "get the janitors and the programmer's families to do it for free" approach of the period), and the result is amazing immersion for a world that's basically a bunch of video clips tied together.
The gameplay isn't much different either. You still manuever around the environment in typical adventure game style; to cut down on animations, however, a "context cursor" has been employed instead of the "action menu" style of the first game. You also have to sit down with and interview a bunch of people, and like the first game, the first 3/4 of the game is a lot of slow-paced talky-talky, but builds tension carefully and gradually to a frenetic action-packed climax in the final 1/4.
The one problematic aspect of the game isn't really the FMV, but the puzzle design. The terrible partner of the "context cursor" is usually the "pixel hunt", as it's one of the only viable ways to generate challenge in that type of an engine. GK2 isn't spared this. Each chapter seems to have at least one of those OCD puzzles where you have to run around in environments you've previously explored looking for some random change out of nowhere, a la Phantasmagoria. In chapter 2, progress hinges on the disappearance of a maintenance man, the "event triggers" of which are a ton of unrelated things on distant screens. In chapter 3, you suddenly have to buy a cuckoo clock from a shop that was previously inaccessible (this particular puzzle treads dangerously close to "cat hair syrup mustache" territory.) There's examples in every chapter, but I don't want to spoil the whole game.
So I felt like the puzzle design here was actually sub-par fairly often, but bouyed by the incredible strength of nearly everything else. Strong characters, good writing, a story that's much more tonally consistent with the first game than GK3 was with either of these two, very solid acting, good music, and an FMV-based adventure engine that actually isn't cumbersome or tediously slow and clunky.