To certain groups of people, videogames are just violence filled distractions for pre-pubescent teens. This stereotype is steadily declining, but it's existence can't be denied. It seems ironic then that I've spent the last few days playing an adventure game that's more like an Agatha Christie novel aimed at the elderly than something like Uncharted. The Raven - Legacy of a Master Thief is a point and click adventure whodunit from KING Art, and in many ways it's here to prove that gamers are more than potty mouthed psychos. Unfortunately, it actually seems to take this role a little too seriously. I'd be surprised if this excited or interested even the most tame of gamers...or pensioners.
A mystery adventure game like The Raven is, and always will be, centred around the story. You can make inventive puzzles, brilliant visuals or an incredible UI, but if the writing isn't up to scratch, the game's going nowhere. The Raven, in this regard, is a mixed bag. While the plot itself is interesting, a whimsical tale of an old criminal who's possibly back on the hunt, the writing that accompanies the mystery is poorly crafted. Of course, almost all narrative is driven by direct speech, so I can see the difficulties that the writers faced, but to be frank there's no reason for the writing to be so slow and dull. Not only this, but it's heaped in cliche; I'm surprised the protagonist, Constable Jakob Zellner, never broke out a pipe and deerstalker and proclaimed the case to be 'elementary'. After all, he uses just about every other coined phrase in the detective book.
The characters themselves are the key issue with The Raven. Through a combination of long, dreary speech and terrible character modelling, it's difficult to really connect with any of the various characters. There are some slightly interesting diversions from the tried and tested formula, like a world renowned crime author (who might as well be Christie herself), or a plucky kid, but most of the characters are all too familiar. The mysterious doctor, the rigorous inspector, the posh aristocrat; the list goes on and on. Considering most of this first part is dialogue, it all becomes very boring, very quickly.
As I mentioned, however, the story itself is decent. While the whole 'thief on the hunt for an egyptian jewel' is, once again, covered territory, it all elevates once a murder spices things up around the mid point. As the tale moves forward it evolves well and becomes much more than the sum of its parts, which is thankful. While I cared little for the characters and events of the game early on, by the end I was properly invested in discovering the identity of the elusive 'New Raven'. Sadly, I wish I didn't have to play through the whole episode to get my first big clues.
The gameplay, as this is still a game after all, is just unbearably dull. The point and click style means there's very little to truly engage you other than the story, which of course is temperamental at best. The game works on a hint based system in which you have to inspect context sensitive points in small areas and combine picked up items with others. The interactive aspect stems from 'real world' puzzles such as trying to light a torch with random objects or working out how to escape from a trap. The core issue with the game is that working out these puzzles is both annoying and unsatisfying. Getting stuck is a possibility, and is just as frustrating as you might expect. But even if you complete a puzzle quickly, it's difficult to feel truly gratified as they're often mundane.
What also caused me an unhealthy dose of annoyance was the fact that there's really only one way to advance the game. You can do little (and I do mean little) side elements, like finding a woman's purse or building up extra evidence, but most of the non-critical contextual clicks just force the protagonist to spurt out some unfunny mumbo jumbo like, "I wish I could relax in that deck chair". Inspiring stuff. Ultimately, this is my main issue with The Raven. While games likeThe Walking Dead have given us choices that have an actual, changeable, effect on the game world, this game is just horribly linear. There's only ever one real way to solve each puzzle, so each one feels like a treasure hunt for the right combination as opposed to inspired ingenuity from the player.
Thankfully, the soundtrack and voicework are improvements to the whole package. A great theme song reminiscent of Poirot sets the stage beautifully and although it is used a little too often, really helps to develop the sense of mystery. The characters are voiced well and do a good job with the boring script, although I found the player character a little annoying. I think it might have been the mustache. Visuals are not quite as successful, if anything they've fallen in quality since KING Art's previous game, The Book of Unwritten Tales. Textures look like they've been taken from a PS2 game and animation is terrible, particularly with character facial expressions. They're serviceable, and aren't so bad they'll distract you from the game, but it would have been nice to see some good character modelling in such a character focused game.
The first part of The Raven - Legacy of a Master Thief doesn't do a lot to entice players. It doesn't shock me that you have to buy all three episodes at once. Saying that, it could be the start of something more interesting. If nothing else I want to play through the next parts to find out what happens next, I just hope they don't prove to be a slog like this first part. I'm not sure if I've just been reading too many fast paced books, but the narrative is just far too slow to fit comfortably in a game. It lends itself more to a Jane Austen novel than a mystery. It doesn't help matters that the gameplay is either annoying or mundane, locked within a linear system. Truth is, I'm actually looking forward to the next part, but only to see if they can make the game as good as the story.
- Good mystery story
- Soundtrack and voicework are good
- Has the groundwork for improved following parts
- Dull dialogue
- Visuals detract from character focus
- Heaps of cliche