There’s nothing quite like a good old fashioned mystery, especially when it’s presented in a point and click adventure game. Getting involved with solving puzzles, interrogating characters and generally just being a sleuth can be a great experience. One third of The Raven lets you experience this; the rest, to be honest, is a bit of a let-down.
King Arts are the developers behind The Raven. You may remember them from such other point and click games as The Book of Unwritten Tales, the sequel to which I covered in a recent Kickstarter article. This is not only an interesting fact, it also allows me to shamelessly plug one of my own articles.
The first chapter of The Raven, Legacy of a Master Thief, begins with the theft of a priceless jewel, the Eye of the Sphinx. We soon learn that the thief, the titular Raven, was supposedly killed several years before by an up and coming French policeman, Nicolas Legrand. So who is this new thief, this person passing themselves off as the famous Raven? All will eventually be revealed, through a somewhat convoluted plot.
The game is set during the 1960’s and there are more mystery references than you can shake a murder weapon at. Fans of Agatha Christie especially will get a real thrill out of playing this game and it certainly starts off on the right foot.
After the Museum heist, the action turns to Switzerland, aboard no less than the Orient Express. This is where Christie fans will wet their pants with delight because, as well as the familiar locations, which also involve a cruise ship, they will discover among the eclectic passengers of the train an elderly famous author who writes mystery novels. The whole game seems like an homage to a beloved genre and it is one of the most gratifying things about The Raven.
Players take control of Anton Jakob Zellner, a Swiss policeman, a bit older than middle-aged, and no-one of any particular note. He is, however an avid mystery buff and is overjoyed when he hears Inspector Legrand, the famous Raven killer, is aboard the train (as well as his favourite writer).
His offers to help are refused but after a bit of amateur sleuthing, we discover that the Inspector is transporting the second Eye of the Sphinx to a museum in Cairo, and that he is hoping to lure the Raven into a trap. To say anymore would be to spoil the plot so I’ll leave it at that.
At first glances, Zellner may seem an odd choice for an adventure protagonist. His middle-aged spread and plodding ways mean you won’t be expecting any high octane chases. But that’s not what The Raven is about. It’s about plot and character and these are what pulls the game out of mediocrity. Having Zellner as the main playable character is actually a stroke of genius; he is an amateur and you feel like you are really discovering important facts as you go along with him. Sometimes playing as a highly intelligent character, such as Sherlock Holmes, means you are left always trying to live up to something and I, despite my best efforts to build myself a mind palace, am just not that smart.
So Zellner is an inspired choice and I grew to love him. His gentle tones, often heard reminiscing over memories of an object you’ve discovered, are grandfatherly, and he is a very comfortable person to play as. I would have been very happy playing as him all the way through the chapters of The Raven. Alas, it was not to be. Halfway through the second chapter, you are thrust back to the beginning of the game, this time in the shoes of a different character, to experience events from an alternative perspective.
While I’m generally a fan of this method of storytelling when it’s done right, King Arts mess it up. Because not only do you play as a different character in the second chapter, you also play as two completely different characters in the third, never returning to Zellner. And replaying the same locations over and over again feels a bit like you’re being cheated.
My experience was marred anyway because I played this game on the Xbox 360. Controlling your character is a chore to say the least. I had Zellner staggering all over the Orient Express like he’d had one too many brandies, bumping into walls and trying not to walk into other characters. Moving the right stick highlights interactive objects but only if you’re facing in the right general direction. The point and click controls themselves are fairly straightforward to use and instructions are always highlighted. It’s just getting to them that’s the problem.
The tutorial is pretty sparse, with no instructions on how to use Zellner’s notebook to its full potential or the hint system. This works through spending points you earn as you solve mysteries. A nice touch but not fully explained.
Legacy of a Master Thief has well executed puzzles which are logical when you play through and make you feel a bit smug once you’ve cracked them. The other two chapters, Ancestry of Lies and A Murder of Ravens, are more adventure based and often require more stretches of the imagination to make the puzzles work. In particular the third chapter doesn’t sign post the answers very well and the detailed environments of the game, while pleasing on the eye, make finding objects and focusing on them difficult. You may find yourself engaging in a bit of pixel hunting, which can be tedious and likely to sap your enthusiasm for the story.
But there is a lot to enjoy about The Raven and if, like Zellner, you’re a mystery buff, you’ll probably be able to overlook these issues in favour of playing through the story and interacting with the characters. This part King Arts does very well and all the characters are well rounded, with interesting back stories. The voice acting is exceptional and there wasn’t one character who I disliked talking to or who pulled me out of the story.
The game itself looks divine; it’s bright and colourful and each location is beautifully rendered. The way the scenery flashes past on the train and the way the light falls amongst particles of hanging dust in the Cairo museum – these are the things that make me happy. The characters are also well animated, each with their own distinctive movements. Zellner moves a bit like Poirot, with small definite steps, and he moves his head to glance at others as he passes them. It’s the little details that help pull you into the game world.
The orchestral score is also very involving but, again, works best in the first chapter. It becomes repetitive as it is reused in the other chapters and often the timing is poor, such as dramatic music over placid conversations and vice versa. It would also have been nice to have a different score for specific locations, like the Cairo museum.
The Raven has a few technical issues and it will depend on your love of mysteries and the game itself as to whether these will be game breakers for you. Most of the time they amount to nothing more than a few glitches and the odd character jumping into a wall in the background but they become more frequent and obvious as you progress through the chapters, making it seem that chapters two and three were rushed out. There isn’t the same level of dedication that went into making the first chapter.
The plot is arguably the main aspect of any mystery adventure and The Raven certainly delivers an intricate story. There are pacing issues however. The first chapter is much longer than its successors, with the middle chapter being the shortest, and the sudden switch in characters means there is a climax in the middle of the second chapter, rather than at the end. Admittedly middle chapters are always difficult to get right but with so much going on here, it might not have been too hard to rearrange things a little.
The switch to other playable characters, while a novelty in the second chapter, wears thin in the third. It’s clear that King Arts were trying to make something unique and turn the usual mystery tropes on their head but that doesn’t quite work for them in the last chapter, where they start to fall back on some of those tropes, reinforcing the idea that Ancestry of Lies and A Murder of Crows were rushed.
It’s a difficult one to rate because the first chapter is so good, and so are the characters and, for the most part, the plot, though the ending will have players divided. But a point and click mystery game should have taxing puzzles and chapters two and three were woefully bereft of these. I would recommend this game for those die-hard mystery fans who love good stories and interesting characters. For those wishing to stretch the little grey cells, look elsewhere. I myself shall be playing this nevermore…
MLG Rating: 6/10 Format: PC / Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 Release Date: 8th July 2013
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks on a Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.