We here at GamingBolt love to spread the word about all kinds of games. Whilst the big blockbusters are always exciting, we also get down with the crazy and innovative projects that aren’t quite as well publicised. It’s always a mixed bag though as, for every unknown gem there are many titles that are unknown for a very good reason. The Raven, despite its generic name, fits firmly in the former category. Rather than mimicking the classic adventure titles of old, it treads its own path with its sixties Europe setting, delicate orchestral score and classic crime narrative.
The story revolves around the eponymous Raven, a gentleman thief who pulled off the most daring and famous heists of his era. The game takes place some four years after his death, with a new thief committing crimes under the Raven name once more. You play Constable Zellner, an ageing and portly constable with the Swiss police who is stationed on the Orient Express to accompany a safe on its way to Venice. Little does he know it contains the jewel the Raven’s heir is seeking.
The narrative makes for classic crime fiction, but it is paced vigilantly enough to always remain exciting. The mystery of the Raven creates the tension required to keep you guessing, and frantic puzzle solving on exploding trains and endangered cruise ships gives the game a locked room mystery element reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s finest. The characters you are introduced to throughout really add to the game’s charm as well.
Whilst they aren’t as weird or wonderful as the famous players in LucasArts point and clicks, they have buckets of charm and enough quirks to make them memorable and believable in equal measure. Particular kudos goes to the character of constable Zellner. Too many games star healthy young American males in a vain attempt to appeal to a mass audience, and the point and click genre is no exception to this by in large. What a pleasant change of pace it is then to control the chubby and balding Swiss constable. His wit and observational one-liners make him a loveable character, but the humour never becomes so obvious or obtuse as to take him out of character. He is a joy to control throughout.
The presentation that sandwiches the dialogue together is equally impressive. For a game outside the AAA budget bracket to manage such consistently good voice acting is a commendation to KING Art’s audio department. There were only a handful of poorly delivered lines amongst generally solid vocal delivery throughout. Zellner in particular made for a soothing listen, a good thing too considering how often you hear him vocalise his investigation. The soundtrack is similarly excellent, offering a light and delicate score that fits perfectly with the gorgeous European scenery.
Despite an excellent audio treatment, the visuals are much more hit and miss. Actual backdrops and character models are lovely, with a consistent aesthetic that merges realism with the bold colours and exaggerated perspectives of a more cartoon look. It’s lovely to behold, but falters somewhat in motion. Uncanny and awkward animations belie the polish applied elsewhere, and cut-scenes struggle to run smoothly, juddering in a fashion that just isn’t seen in the main game.
Things take a general turn for the worse when it comes to the gameplay itself, arguably the weakest part of The Raven. Examining your environments and utilising items in your inventory is simple and stays true to many standards of the adventure genre. You know the formula, you talk to people and collect relevant objects in the environment, combine them in various ways and then use the results to progress through a linear story.
The Raven offers you points for completing optional puzzles. Seeing as most players will examine everything in the environments though (as is standard practice in the genre), these puzzles never did feel all that optional. You can use your points in game to highlight all interactive hotspots in the environment. It’s a good feature to have, and you always have enough points to make this a viable hint system, but I’d argue they should have just made it free to use for sake of ease and gameplay clarity.
A more conventional hints system is offered by looking through Zellner’s journal. That said, the hints are never especially helpful, a real issue when you consider how obtuse some of the puzzles are. The focus on MacGyver style puzzle solving using everyday objects gives The Raven a distinctive flavour in a genre dominated by abstract worlds and puzzles, but it often means solutions aren’t especially obvious.
This is fine for the most part, but some solutions often need you to use certain items on each other in a very specific order before you can proceed. It’s a common issue with the genre, but a bit more malleability in how you solve the puzzles would make the game much less obtuse and would offer a quicker gameplay pace.
Faster gameplay would have been a bonus as well, if only due to how slow and awkward moving through the fixed camera environments can be. Though The Raven isn’t the most user friendly of titles, I was surprised to see a Gamepad control setup offered in the options menu. Far from being unviable, Gamepad controls are actually often smoother than the mouse and keyboard setup to the point that I wound up using it for the majority of my playthrough.
Though you may think console style point and clicks are dead, developer KING Art have a very different idea. Credit to them for their ambition. A few problems persist, such as how easy it is to access a VRAM rendering menu that caused the game to crash on my system, but calling out gameplay flaws in an adventure game is like shooting fish in a barrel; easy, unnecessary and mostly pointless.
It is the story that most people will be playing The Raven for, and it looks set to be a good one. The twists and turns of this first episode look set to be bolstered by two subsequent episodes released over the next two months. Though episode one trailed off a bit by the end of my five hour playthrough, the cliffhanger ending has left me excited to see where constable Zellner will wind up in the next episode. For the price of £20 for all three episodes (cheaper if you pre-order the game), I’d argue The Raven is decent value for money (assuming all three episodes offer just as much content as this first one).
I would say though that KING Art ought to offer each episode for purchase separately, if only so players on the fence have a chance to try before they buy. Secrets and higher scores for not using hints are there for the completionists, but very little replay value is offered. That said, it really isn’t needed in a game so focused on narrative and writing. It won’t change the genre or anything so grand, but The Raven is a pleasant and highly engrossing piece of crime fiction well worth picking up for Agatha Christie fans and adventure game aficionados alike.
This game was previewed on the PC.