Review: The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief – Chapter 1: The Eye of the Sphinx

TheRaven_Chapter1_0001

I don’t know what it is about German developers and adventure games, but between King Art and Daedalic the genre is thriving as strong as it ever has. Perhaps magical adventure game fairies have sprinkled something in their drinking water. If so, I wish more developers could get a sip.

Following the successes of The Book of Unwritten Tales, King Art is back in point-and-click action with The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief, a decidedly different type of adventure game that is every bit as rich and compelling. Designed in the style of an Agatha Christie crime thriller, The Raven delivers a taut, intriguing, and rather charming mystery drama about an infamous master thief who was thought to be dead at the hands of a hotshot detective. But years after his supposed death, when a precious jewel is stolen from a museum and a raven’s feather calling card is left at the scene of the crime, the plot thickens. Has The Raven returned? Has a copycat picked up where he left off? Or was he never killed in the first place? The answer to these questions will be revealed in due time as the episodic storyline continues over the next couple of months.

For the first chapter, The Eye of the Sphinx, the story begins aboard the Orient Express (go figure!), where player character Constable Anton Jakob Zellner soon finds himself caught up in a whodunit case of thievery and murder as he learns that the train he is posted to is transporting something of tremendous importance and value–and that one of the passengers is suspected of being the legendary burglar. The Swiss policeman isn’t supposed to get involved, but his inquisitive mind, gift of gab and nose for sniffing out the suspicious lead him on his own investigation to help get to the bottom of whatever is happening.

Agatha Christie’s influences can be felt from the game’s opening moments. In fact, there’s a character in the game who just so happens to be a retired mystery novel writer most famous for her character Partout, which sounds eerily similar to Christie’s iconic detective Poirot. Coincidence? I doubt it. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that Constable Zellner invokes the same sort of spirit and demeanor as Poirot. He’s even got the same glorious moustache! All of the other characters perfectly mesh with the whodunit murder mystery motif, starting with the arrogant French investigator and moving on down the line, from the snooty baroness to the rascally young boy to the shady doctor to the spoiled daughter who has some serious daddy issues to work out. Yes, the personalities are a bit cliché, but the excellent voice acting and expressive facial animations allow the characters to endear themselves to the player in a likeable, believable way.

It’s a shame then that the character movement doesn’t achieve the same stellar quality of animation. Whether using the traditional point-and-click method of mouse control or an Xbox 360 controller, Constable Zellner walks around with the gracefulness of a tank. Playing with a gamepad is nice because click-able clue indicators automatically appear as you walk by so there is no falling into the dreaded adventure game trap of hunting for hot spots. However, actually getting Jakob to go where you want by commanding his legs in real time with analog sticks–combined with the fixed camera angle shifts–brings back bad memories of old-school Resident Evil and Tomb Raider games. Default mouse control is far more reliable for getting from point A to point B; the main issue is getting the good Constable to transition to the next area. On many occasions clicking on a door or flight of steps to proceed out of a room will send Zellner’s AI into a confused animation loop where he’ll sort of wander back and forth a couple of times or bump into nearby walls until suddenly the switch flips in his head and he sniffs out where he’s supposed to be going. It doesn’t help that the fairly standard adventure game mechanic of double-clicking on a transition point to “fast travel” to the next scene is nowhere to be found.

Fortunately this is more of a glitchy eyesore than a hindrance to enjoying the other overwhelmingly positive elements the game has going for it. Puzzle design is a definite bright spot. You won’t find any illogically kooky item combinations or out of place mini-games here. One particular puzzle where you must feed a guard a salty ham and egg breakfast and then sneakily knock over his bottle of water from a distance with a slingshot so he leaves his post due to the salt overload, is the only sort of “out there” puzzle in the game, yet within the context of what’s going on in the story at the time it actually does make sense and isn’t all that hard to figure out.

Occasionally you will need to pull a MacGyver. For example, at one point you will need to create a homemade torch using a broken chair leg, a window curtain, and some form of accelerant. Everything else in the game boils down to examining evidence and gathering clues through NPC conversations, which can even lead to a number of secret objectives and discoveries that aren’t necessary to completing the game and don’t alter the main story events, but do flesh out certain back stories to provide clearer insight on a particular character’s motivations. These optional objectives also tend to come tethered to an achievement as well as an unlockable goodie in the extras menu, like a concept art gallery or a soundtrack player.

The real detective work begins during the episode’s final act, when the setting shifts to a cruise ship and the crime shifts from simple theft to cold-blooded murder. It is during this part of the game when you will spend the most time collecting and examining bits of evidence like a true investigator, such as matching the signature patterns of two discharged bullets under a microscope or swabbing a blood sample and using chemicals to test its authenticity.

At the end of the chapter, which should take the average player in the ballpark of 4-6 hours (it took me about 7, but I was pretty anal about trying to find everything and explore every possible conversation), your skills as a detective are rated based on how many secret investigations were completed and how many Adventure Points were used. These Adventure Points can be used throughout the game to receive a hint or highlight all available hot spots, but your score will be higher in the end if you refrain from spending them. Unfortunately early on in the game I hit the clue button a couple times just to see what it did, so my final score was docked crucial points that I think prevented me from earning a couple of the rarer game completion achievements.

Like any good whodunit mystery, The Raven gives you just enough reason to question the motives and guilt/innocence of every cast member, and slowly allows you to pull back the layers and put the pieces together. I’m not particularly fond of the episodic format King Art chose for this game, but that’s mainly because the first chapter’s sudden cliffhanger ending lacks resolution and only left me eager to continue the adventure. Clearly that should be taken as a positive sign of how engaging the story is; it just stinks having to wait another month to see what happens next when all I want to do is keep playing. (And then it’ll be another whole month after that before the concluding third episode will be available.) However, if King Art is able to utilize the extra time between chapters to better optimize the gamepad controls and clean up the animation glitches, the wait could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. We’ll just have to wait and see on that, but if this opening episode is any indication, the complete tale of The Raven is going to be well worth sticking around for.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Riveting whodunit-style storyline
+ Likeable, expressive characters populating a richly detailed game world
+ Logical puzzles fit naturally within the context of the narrative
+ Optional side investigations and unlockable extras
+ Avoids many dreaded adventure game foibles like hot spot hunting and nonsensical item combinations

Cons:
– Weird animation loops and scene transition glitches
– Poorly implemented gamepad controls
– Episodic format means teasing cliffhangers and waiting a month between chapters
– Can’t double-click to jump to the next scene

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac/Linux (versions for PS3 and Xbox 360 are also scheduled for later this summer)
Publisher: Nordic Games/The Adventure Company
Developer: King Art Games
Release Date: 7/23/2013
Genre: Point-and-click adventure/mystery
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

[nggallery id=3000]

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!