Like other games of its type, "The Beast Within" is very linear. If you're looking to wander freely through a huge 3D environment, wasting polygon creatures with a shotgun, you'll be disappointed. Your job in this game is basically to solve brain teasers and push the plot ahead to the next mini-movie segment. I suppose there is a passive aspect to the gameplay, and I do get frustrated when I can't solve a particularly obscure puzzle and my progress grinds to a halt. But the rich storyline and sharp dialogue - courtesy of Jane Jensen, clearly a talented writer - more than compensate for any shortcomings with the game's format.
The movie segments feature several strong actors, particularly Peter Lucas, who makes for a very suave villain indeed. The underrated Dean Erickson is extremely likable as Gabriel Knight; in fact, I prefer his interpretation of the character to the oily purrings of Tim Curry in the series' first and third games. Too bad he seems to be doing real estate deals these days! Oh, and come on, hands up - who else recognizes Clabe "Preiss" Hartley as the evil Caliban from Trancers 4 and 5? Oh...nobody? I guess it's just me, then.
I won't summarize the plot much; suffice to say, it involves German history, werewolves, and homo-erotic tendencies. When I played the game as a teenager, I was a little impatient with all the background information on Ludwig II, but when I replayed the game recently I found it all pretty fascinating.
It's a shame that this type of game - that is, the cerebral type - has all but died out over the years. Hopefully, at some point, the computer game industry will climb out of its rut and start taking an interest in good storytelling again.