By John Walker on September 3rd, 2013 at 5:00 pm.
The Raven was such a nice surprise. A gentle, genteel adventure, with an unlikely lead character, and the engaging atmosphere of a Sunday afternoon murder mystery. An antithesis to so much of gaming, it was a charming tale of an almost-retired Swiss policeman, and his stumbling into a confusion of thefts and murders aboard the Orient Express and a luxury cruise ship. And then, cliffhanger ending. Rather than offering some useful resolution, we last see Constable Anton Jakob Zellner in mortal danger, and were told to wait a month for it to continue. The month is long up, so here’s wot I think of its saggy middle:
I had my suspicions, and they are proven correct. It was a mistake to break a single game into three parts. In fact, it’s just damned peculiar that if they were going to break this two-sided story at all, that it wasn’t directly down the middle. For about halfway through this halfway episode, you switch from playing as Zellner to someone else – to the Raven him/herself (if you’ve played the game, you’ll understand the deception on my part here), who’ll you’ll continue to play as throughout the third chapter. So, um, why on Earth was that not the splitting point, rather than creating this odd hodgepodge of a brief, unsatisfying chapter?
Coming in at what must be half the length of the first part, you end up with a game that’s closing up threads that should have been resolved a month back, and starting off new ones that obviously don’t go anywhere. Zellner’s participation naturally doesn’t reach a satisfactory ending either, since that’s being saved for the big finish. It’s such an odd way of going about things. What’s here is mostly the same as the previous release, with an emphasis on conversations, and a couple of okay-ish puzzles. However, it also lets in a lot of sloppiness, sequences that skip about as if scenes are missing, and fundamentally dumb design choices that frustrate in what should be a relaxing experience.
So, without spoiling anything if you’ve not finished the first part, things pick up with Zellner escaping from his immediate predicament. And immediately things feel scrappy. If you try to free yourself in the “wrong” order, you get killed (which feels a little incongruous) and the sequence starts over. The “right” order makes absolutely no sense over anything else you might have tried, and the game is off straight away on the wrong foot. Events then move on to Cairo, and the museum in which the jewels that the game is built around are to be displayed. And here it gets back into the swing of things, the same pleasingly calm Zellner sensibly and intelligently pursuing his own suspicions and avoiding the officials around him, his dry, wry wit hitting home a good number of times. It’s short-lived, but it reminded me why I’d loved the first part so much, and I was happily plugging away once more.
The sloppiness was present, though. One puzzle involves piecing together some information from various exhibits in the museum. But figure it out for yourself and tough, you still have to have stared at the right thing at the right time for things to trigger. Worse, at one point Zellner says he’s taking down notes in his notebook that don’t appear, meaning you’re left not sure what you’ve missed, until he then shows those invisible notes to someone else, somewhere else. It’s just too loose.
Then comes the switch, the game essentially restarting, this time viewed from the perspective of the thief. Except, sort of. Well, you’ll have to see for yourself. It’s odd. Anyway, from here there is what should have been the pleasure of filling in the gaps from your previous viewpoint, seeing the parallel story and allowing the two to fit together. And to a point, it does that – but a very brief, very superficial point. Leftover mysteries are explained, like the locked train compartment belonging to the doctor, and how exactly the envelope found its way on top of the safe. But these are just bullet points, not strung together with any new content. It’s like ticking off the three or four unexplained moments, and then repeating the same for the opening moments of the cruise.
Plus the puzzles become even more silly here. A dreary sequence of being forced to traipse back and forth multiple times along and above the train is made utterly stupid by your need to find a screwdriver, despite already having one on a penknife. Worse, to get the pointless second screwdriver you need a scene to trigger, but it failed to for me the first time, so I ended up going back and forth twice more until it randomly occurred. Then I was able to unscrew something I should have been able to from the start. A point driven home, incredibly, by a scene just a few minutes later in which the same character uses the same penknife’s screwdriver to get out of a box. Oh, and the first one is described by the game as “a wrench”. What?
It’s that level of messiness that has spoiled almost every European adventure of the last decade, and it was so pleasingly absent from the first part of The Raven. It’s no pleasure to find the plague has spread.
It’s pretty important to note that if you already bought the game, this isn’t going to cost you anything. The game, at £21, includes all three parts as they appear – the third and final section due at the end of this month. However, it also means it’s far harder to so enthusiastically recommend picking this up now, not knowing if the quality will continue to plummet into the third part. From the high standard and promise of the first part, the expectations were for the same qualities to continue, and indeed for each part to be about the same length. Neither has proven to be the case, which is a huge shame. A shame that will be relatively easily rectified if the third part gets things back on track, but we’ll have to wait and see now.