New from KING Art and The Adventure Company is The Raven: Legacy of A Master Thief, a three part point-and-click adventure/mystery. If Chapter 1 - The Eye of the Sphinx is any indicator, The Raven is well on its way to becoming one of the top adventure games of the year.
Growing up on PC gaming, point and click adventures were, and still are, some of my favorite games. I don't tend to them as much as I used to, although this year alone has seen a bit of a resurgence for me with titles like Cognition and The Night of the Rabbit. This weekend, I wrapped up the first chapter, or episode, of The Raven. A few weeks ago, I "played" through the free iOS teaser game which helped set the stage for this opening act of what is shaping up to be an intriguing and fun mystery game.
The iOS title introduced us to Inspector LeGrand, a detective who has come the closest to capturing the legendary Raven, a thief whose skills are almost mythological. One night, LeGrand's homework and preparations pay off, and he shoots and kills someone who everyone believes is The Raven -- but did he get the right man? Years later, and at the opening of this chapter, a precious jewel, one of the two Eyes of the Sphinx, is stolen from a British Museum. It appears the heir to the Raven's proverbial throne has arrived, but LeGrand is convinced that it's actually the original Raven coming out of the shadows after a lengthy hiatus.
It's likely this thief will try and steal the other Eye, which is inside a safe aboard The Orient Express on its way to Cairo via cruise ship. The Eyes were going to be displayed together for hte first time in some fifty years before the theft took place. LeGrand is obviously a key character, but players actually control a Swiss constable by the name of Anton Jakob Zellner, or Constable Zellner for short. Zellner is to assist LeGrand is keeping a vigilant eye out on the train, as a trap has been set for the Raven, or whoever the thief may be.
Zellner is eager to take an active role in the protection of the second Eye and in the trap and capture of The Raven, but LeGrand won't hear of it. So, Zellner decides he'll prove his worth by tackling a variety of minor police matters and inquiries that happen aboard the train. Somehow, they all seem to be a part of the bigger picture, and that's exactly how things proceed as you get to meet the occupants of the train. These occupants include young Matt and his mother Ms. Miller, whose companion is an old, but very accomplished fiction writer named Ms. Westmacott. Professor Lucien, a twitchy-nerved fellow who works in the Egyptian department of the British Museum is also aboard. The overweight Baroness and her butler, Dr. Gebhart, and a young "free spirit" type violinist are some of the other NPCs you'll meet and talk to. I found getting to know these characters interesting and almost two days removed from finishing this episode, I'm still casually trying to figure out their connections to the Raven.
Gameplay is entirely mouse-based, except for being able to press spacebar to have magnifying glass icons pop-up on objects that deserve your attention. Using this feature reduces a counter by ten points, but within an hour of starting the game, you have like 7000 points to burn so there's no real concern of running out. One of the Achievements involves not using this feature at all, or at least very sparingly. I used it about twenty times in my play-through, and I'm glad I did as there are several scenes where you'll either have to do some very diligent pixel-hunting or almost get lucky to spot an interactive object that is "hidden" next to another one or otherwise hard to see.
As with any game in the genre, you examine items until your character has nothing left to say, you pick up anything you can, and you talk to every NPC as thoroughly as possible. Unlike most point-and-click adventures I have played however, there's almost no question what you need to guide Zellner to next. A notebook can provide assistance if needed, but I never looked at it -- the design of the puzzles and the small inventory Zellner keeps makes figuring things out in The Raven almost too easy. The important point is that, at least in this episode, solving the puzzles still feels rewarding. It was refreshing to not have to wonder around aimlessly or try combing all of my inventory items with each other or some object in the game world. I liked that, when you click on an inventory object, you can avoid all of the nagging "no" or "that won't work" responses from your character because only when something will work do you even have the ability to select it (click). This may cheapen the experience for some, but in this day and age, I'm more aligned with the theory of getting through a game efficiently as opposed to mindlessly burning away hours or waiting for a walkthrough or Youtube video. For the four and a half hours that it took me to complete this first chapter of The Raven, I was making active, new progress for at least four of that.
Generally speaking, there's a lot to like about The Raven. The setting -- 1960s Europe, aboard the The Orient Express and then a cruise ship -- is familiar and classical. Fans of Agatha Christie's detectives might easily see the inspiration of Zellner when compared to Poirot, too. I happen to really like the Poirot character, so I didn't mind that Zellner shared a lot of attributes to the famous Belgian. The Raven is also extremely accessible to newcomers and for genre vets; being able to zip through dialogue (by reading the subtitles) and save progress at any time are nice, even if expected, features.
There are a handful of things that I noted that weren't positive, however. Some are minor, one or two are just apparent miscues in the story, and one other is a pretty major bug. First, at one point you meet a new NPC that you have never met before. This character knew that you were a constable, even though you hadn't told her so and you weren't in uniform -- maybe that will get explained in the next episode as that NPC is still "in play," but I thought that that was odd. Second, at one point on the train, Zellner takes a book from a table. Later on, that book is back in that same train car, even though at no point was it explained how it got back there.
I would have also liked to have seen some type of graphical indicator to inform the player when there is another area beyond what is on screen -- there are a few areas that you might not expect even exist unless you click towards that edge of the screen. Next, on just a couple of occasions on the train, there was a bad camera angle taken during a NPC conversation where the back of Zellner's head is prominently displayed; that may have been intentional I suppose. There was also some minor clipping with characters clipping through one another in a scene or two. Near the boat, when Zellner stands next to a car, the scale seems off; he seems dwarfed by the car, but this too may have been intentional and part of the "stylized reality" art direction used.
The biggest bug or problem I experienced was hard to reproduce, but it happened five or six times, and in one instance my game became frozen to where I had to use Alt+F4 to shut it down. The issue seems to be when you click on something or somewhere for Zellner to go, and his path-finding algorithm somehow screws up. What he'll do instead is start "two-stepping," as I referred to it in my notes. He'll literally take a half step one way, and a half a step another way (usually ninety degrees away from the first step). You're frozen in this state unless you can click your way out of it, but like I said at one point on the boat, the game was literally stuck. This is a bit concerning and it does put the QA team's performance under the microscope; hopefully this issue will be cleared up by the time the second episode launches, which is due in about a month.
Of note, there is an Extras section on the main menu that includes concept art and the soundtrack and some other goodies, mostly still images from development, that are unlocked as you play. Unless it was meant for another character, one of the names of the songs in the soundtrack is brazenly spoiling of a huge plot-point that is sure to be revealed in the next episode. It's too bad that the name of this song, even though you cannot unlock it in this episode, is shown here. I'll leave it at that as we head into the summary...