Point-and-click adventure games have become something of an art form unto themselves. It’s a genre based on logical thought and delicately balanced pace, making them a go-to niche for the thinking gamer interested in a well-told story. But few of them have made a graceful transition from PC, the genre’s platform of origin, to consoles. The reason is obvious: keyboard-and-mouse control schemes are often too complex to map to a standard two-handed controller. This caveat is solidified in the PlayStation 3 version of The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief–but, fortunately, the game excels in other areas to overcome its control crutch.
The game begins in medias res, so to speak, of an ongoing European crime spree committed by a fiend known as the Raven. The Raven is an expert thief with his (or her) eye on a set of three precious jewels on their way to an Egyptian museum. The only problem? The Raven was shot dead years ago. What’s more is that, in his heyday, the Raven never used lethal force to pilfer his target, unlike this apparent impostor. As the anxious, aging, charming Constable Anton Jakob Zellner, players find themselves in the middle of an investigation to expose and apprehend the hence-dubbed “New Raven.”
The game starts off slowly–there’s that delicate balance I was talking about–setting the scene with a train ride through an idyllic Swiss countryside. A series of menial tasks are meant to serve as a tutorial, but due to a lack of clear explanation, they come off as just inane. Basic gameplay mechanics are presented with the only impetus being to interact with literally everyone and everything you can. It’s a scattershot approach that leaves players uncomfortably wall-humping and button-mashing for the first thirty minutes of the game.
The game features some decently stylized graphics and detailed environments. Atmosphere can kill a point-and-click or be its saving grace, and The Raven lands right in between the two: the not-quite-realistic character models fit the dark, whodunit tone while remaining this side of the uncanny valley, and scenes and settings are distinct enough to help you avoid getting lost in a sea of clickables. KING Art Games deserves credit for nailing the 1960s Europe aesthetic. A few framerate issues and long load times crop up when moving from area to area, but they don’t take much from the overall presentation.
GETTING AROUND IN THE RAVEN FEELS LIKE A WASTE OF TIME; MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, YOU’LL GET STUCK IN AN ENDLESS VORTEX OF WADDLING TURNAROUNDS
But for all its graphical accomplishments, The Raven boasts some awful animations. They’re especially noticeable during conversations; spoken audio only plays before or after any given character animation. It doesn’t break the game, but it breaks the entire flow of an interrogation or even just interesting dialogue. More than unnatural, they’re almost annoying. Strangely, though, in-game cutscene animations are actually well-made and quite lifelike. But considering how much you’ll be talking to NPCs in the game, that kink should’ve been ironed out.
Of course, wonky animation goes hand-in-hand with tedious traversal. If there’s one negative thing you take away from this review, it should be about the game’s movement controls. Any qualms I had with the rest of the game were exacerbated exponentially when I tried and failed to actually walk toward the thing I’m trying to explore. Getting around is more than a chore: it feels like a waste of time. You’ll probably spend more time turning around (literally just rotating your character in place) than you will actually moving. Even once you’ve achieved liftoff, you’ll probably run into a camera shift and get caught in a never-ending vortex of waddling turnarounds. It’s embarrassing how many times I finished examining an object, heading for the next piece of evidence or suspicious character–and there’s poor Constable Zellner, just pulling an about-face two or three times of his own accord and for no apparent reason. Powerless to help, all I can do is watch him go around and around, which is exactly as much fun as it sounds.
Some out-of-place sequences, like lockpicking and escape patterns, just throw the gameplay off and often end up being more trouble than they’re worth. Several instances force you to interact with specific objects in a specific order with no inclination of where to start or, indeed, what at all is going on. Again, a little explanation would go a long way.
I GRIPE AND I GROAN, BUT I KEPT PLAYING BECAUSE I REALLY WANTED TO SEE WHAT HAPPENED IN THE NEXT CHAPTER–THE MARK OF GOOD STORYTELLING
Voice acting is one of The Raven‘s few strengths, and a strong strength it is. KING Art is a German developer, so it’s unsurprising that a host of international accents are pulled off flawlessly. The cast includes Brits, Swiss, Germans, Frenchmen and Americans, all of whose voices give the game a certain unexpected vitality. Each character is brought to life by voice actors who manage to give them personality without giving away their motives. Often sticking his nose where the law says it shouldn’t be, Zellner is intentionally the most empathic; he’s no superhero, often talking about his heart condition, failing lumbar and doting daughter.
Sound design is also a highlight of the game. They’re mostly everyday sound effects (with the exception of a gunshot here and an explosion there), but they’re produced with such fidelity that they stand out. The soundtrack usually fits, except for some unexpectedly jaunty elevator muzak during a murder investigation in the latter half of the game.
The highest high point of the game is its story. I already said it starts off slowly, but once you grasp the controls and push the story forward, it becomes positively engrossing. Learning a little tidbit about a traveler or inspecting a crime scene is genuinely exciting–not for completing the act itself (in fact, many of the control issues carry over the lame interactive sequences), but for finding out what comes next. The story is split into three chapters, each with story arcs that maintain a tight narrative equilibrium. The same story is told from a cast of colorful characters, some of them playable, which results in an omniscient player viewpoint. It might not be the most original story ever told, but at least it’s done gracefully and with a mastery of its various trope devices.
Wherever else The Raven fumbles, its storyline is engaging enough to see you through the rest of the game’s shortcomings. I gripe and I groan about walking and talking, but I kept playing because I really wanted to see what happened in the next chapter. When a game ignites that desire in the player, that is, to me, the mark of good storytelling.
WORTH TWO IN THE BUSH
The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief can’t stand up against powerful experiences like Telltale’s The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us, but it holds its own in charming, classic, point-and-click whodunitry. It plays as well as an Agatha Christie novel reads, and it takes that sort of player to enjoy it, too. No need to buckle your seatbelt for this one–but you might as well get comfy, ’cause it can feel like a long ride.
The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief was developed by KING Art Games and is available now for PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
- Engaging storyline
- Atmosphere, sound and overall aesthetic just click in a handsome way
- Phenomenal voice work
- Robotic animations hamper dramatic effect
- Unnecessarily, frustratingly tedious motion mechanics…
- … so bad, they deserve two minuses