Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief Chapter One review

Whilst the charts are filled with the likes of Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed, old school point-and-click adventure games are often overlooked. Sure, the HD reworkings of the Monkey Island games introduced a whole new generation to these sorts of games, and more recently TellTale Games have done a phenomenal job in reclaiming the genre. Their take on The Walking Dead is unforgettable, and with upcoming series based on Game of Thrones and Borderlands, they're just going to get better and better. In the meantime, perhaps The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief, from Nordic Games and The Adventure Company, will fill the void. It's the tale of a thief, long thought to be dead, returning to steal some priceless artefacts in a globe-trotting adventure. It has a good premise, but does it deliver with the goods? Read on to find out...

The Orient Express is making it's way through a gorgeous forest, surrounded by picturesque mountains. A grand, sweeping orchestral piece accompanies and compliments the dramatic scenery. On board the train Constable Zellner, the playable character, is reading a book. Near him, a young boy is playing with a toy pistol, and further down the carriage a violinist is fidgeting in his seat. The opening few minutes of the game are surprisingly cinematic. The graphics are high quality, the score is truly epic and could easily be in a high-budget film, and it just seems like a really well made game. It's like the start of an epic crime movie, and that's exactly how it should feel. The point-and-click genre is perfectly suited to a more cinematic approach than most, so The Raven is off to a damn good start. It's a shame then that fairly soon, you'll start to notice it's flaws.

The characters look charming enough, but they're all pretty forgettable

The story starts well. A master thief, known as the Raven, has returned to steal an Eye of the Sphinx, a very rare and expensive gem. Or has he? The last that the world heard of the Raven was that he was dead, killed by the great Inspector LeGrand. His return means that either the Inspector didn't actually kill the Raven, or there is a copycat thief. Neither is good news. The gem he stole was part of a set of two, and the other is on the Orient Express, just a few carriages down from where Constable Zellner is currently relaxing. So you would expect something dramatic to happen straight away; perhaps someone could try to steal the other Eye of the Sphinx?

Well it doesn't happen exactly like this, as you'll spend a good chunk of time looking for the train steward, trying to solve a petty crime and helping a man get back into his locked cabin. It could be seen as an extended tutorial, but it lasts far too long for that, and if it's a way of introducing characters, it's not the best. It lacks the fluidity that a game of this style needs. The movement is sluggish, the conversations dull and disjointed, and the puzzles few and far between. And when you do find a puzzle, it's usually pretty simple to solve. Either that, or ridiculously convoluted and illogical. Some sections also take place in almost complete darkness, and that's not even hyperbole. In these scenes, there are times when you can't even see your character, never mind the surroundings, and to top it off you're supposed to figure out how to complete multiple-step puzzles. If you don't turn it off out of frustration, you'll probably turn it off due to a headache after trying to see in pitch black.

Secondly, the character movement is an absolute nightmare. It takes about a second for the game to register which way you want Zellner to go, and even then you'll be lucky if he actually walks in the direction you want him to. Awkward, static cameras make it very difficult to see where you're going, and where you need to go. If you try to walk off screen, the camera will switch to a new angle, with the character at the edge of the new frame. If you don't adjust your analogue stick in time, you'll just walk straight back into the previous scene. And on more than one occasion, the camera didn't switch at all. Finally, the loading screens are unforgiveable. When games like Grand Theft Auto V are able to stream detailed and open worlds, The Raven should be able to load it's one-room-at-a-time much faster than it does. It can easily be loading for thirty seconds, often far surpassing even that. If you're making a game takes minutes to load, there shouldn't be puzzles that require you to leave the room more than once, but there are so many instances of this. 

The locations are all unique and detailed, but there aren't very many

Each problem is fairly minor individually, but they're all there, all of the time. It's incredibly frustrating, not to mention immersion-breaking. It doesn't help that you can only interact with objects if you're facing their general direction. Try to make your character face one way and he'll probably end up looking away from the object. Add various glitches to the list (long pauses between characters speaking, odd clicking sounds on loading screens, characters' face's turning inside out...) and any desire to play the game through to the end will probably leave you pretty soon.

If you're looking for a point-and-click game as clever, witty and engrossing as the Monkey Island series, you'll be very disappointed. After positive initial impressions, the game soon loses it's charm and high-budget feel due to many frustrating glitches, terrible controls, uninteresting puzzles, the worst loading times in recent years, and forgettable characters and plot. The Raven could have been awesome, but it has been poorly executed, and for that reason is hard to recommend.


by Louis Gardner

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