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Wot I Think: The First Few Hours Of Raven's Cry

And Cry, And Cry, And Cry

Well Raven’s Cry [official site] is quite the thing. It’s not too often that you get a game released in a state like this these days, without having “Early Access” excuses stamped all over it. This pirate-themed third-person RPG is quite astonishingly terrible. Here's wot I thought of the first few hours.

Welcome to the confusing not-yet-invented American accent of St. Lucian resident Mr Handsome Hairychest Pirate - your pin-wheeling Mr Magoo of a playable character – in this historical farce of clumsy controls and barely coherent menus that rather hilariously prices itself at £40.

Taking most of its inspiration from 1998’s action games, Raven's Cry also borrows a good few ideas from Sid Meier’s Pirates, including reputation meters, smuggling, and ship battles. Sadly, to the best of my knowledge, there’s no ballroom dancing. It is, however, in glorious gloomy third-person 3D, complete with broken sword fighting, broken ship boarding, broken conversations, broken interfaces, and broken spirits.

Things open, after some meandering cutscenes I only vaguely remember, with a ship battle. No explanation, just dumped right in a sequence in which you must sail between some rocks, and then fire canons at another ship. It’s clumsy, barely involving, and tiresome. Once completed, there are more cutscenes about something probably, and then you’re in a pub where you’re not quite taught how to fight, then a town where you’re being shot at by about thirty enemies. You’re armed with a sword, and a ye-olde-pistol, and a hook instead of a left hand. Sneak up unnoticed and you can take enemies out with your hook, but get spotted and it’s time to wave your sword about!

Wave wave wave! Oh gosh, it’s so, so bad. The animations are dreadful, spasmodic blips as enemies change attacks, with blocks generally achieved by fluke rather than skill. Things are so choppy that it’s hard to tell if you’re actually hitting or being hit, until one or the other of you falls over dead. Which is the Bolshoi Ballet compared to the pistol. Yes, a ten second reload time is a thing of the history, and the rifle-wielding locals are similarly inhibited. But there’s dozens of them, and one of you, so the odds aren’t really with you. Especially since the damned thing rarely works. It’s complete arbitrary whether a point blank headshot will take someone out, or just have no reaction whatsoever, as they stand there and stare blankly at you.

Get through that tedium and you arrive in your native St. Lucia, and immediately are treated with this bit of local theatre:

Absolutely everything is a mess. Characters sometimes forget to open their mouths when they talk, the animations are universally dreadful (I have become prone to snickering as I watch Cap’n Handsome stride his manly strut), and the voice actors – who vary from okay to terrible – are forced to say the most unremarkably banal nothingness.

But the interface. Oh my, what a treat there is here. Everything is awful, laid out as if in Word Art, presented without flourish nor thought. The map, for instance, doesn't tell you which island you’re currently on. And when you zoom out to the full Caribbean, the individual islands are a different shape than their zoomed in equivalents, so no hope of figuring it out that way.

And the shops! I can’t get over the shop interface. I cannot understand how a sentient human was involved with this layout:

There are such poor design decisions. When you fight someone, their health bar appears in a straight red line at the top of the screen, but the straight red line at the bottom of the screen isn’t your health, no no, yours is curved over the teeny map bottom left. But then, goodness me, if there’s one aspect we can all celebrate, it’s the XP notifications.

Look, it may seem like I’m being overly picky at this point, but when a game’s this dreary and poorly put together, you’ve got to find your fun somewhere. Rather than popping up with “100 XP” or howsoever you might expect it, you get a short story:

“100 experience points received”

It’s only disappointing they don’t write out “100” properly.

I should add, I’m fighting my way through this interface using the 360 pad, because the game’s not giving me any choice. Have a pad plugged in and it’ll insist on it, and I’m not crawling around the back of my PC for this nonsense’s sake. It’s better suited to the analogue stick for general play, but obviously its refusal to let me use my mouse is agonising in the batshit menus. And as if that weren’t annoying enough, my attempt to reassign 360 buttons to things slightly less idiotic than the defaults resulted in discovering this momentous control options screen:

That’s right. There isn’t one. Just a blank space where it’s supposed to be. £40.

Ooh, what else. There’s some sort of bonkers fish-eye on the camera view, which means that NPCs getting near the edges can start to distort in very peculiar ways. This chap has a very disturbing left arm, for instance:

Copious amounts of recorded dialogue is missing, including for the main character. And they know it too, the game switching a character to subtitles mid-monologue. And oh god, OH GOD, what’s wrong with their necks?!

Fluffed lines are left in, with characters starting a sentence, messing it up, then restarting. There are major characters for whom no dialogue has been recorded at all, leading to mad conversations with one person chatting away, the other person fluent only in subtitle, which is a peculiar experience. And a slightly more galling one when it's not the occasional mistake, but something they clearly knew they weren't even close to finishing, but thought, hell, let's sell this to the suckers anyway.

Oh, listing everything wrong with this is my new hobby. When it changes time of day, it doesn’t gradually adjust the light levels – it just becomes daytime like God flipped a switch. Out of boredom, at one point, I tried to see if I could murder NPCs in a town. I could. The game didn’t care, no one reacted. But best of all, I heard the murmuring of a small crowd a few times, killed one guy, and it stopped. Noisy guy!

One scripted fight autosaved as the chap chopped me with his sword, and it only took one more blow from him to kill me. So eventually, after multiple tries, I just ran off. Came back a minute later and he’d forgotten he was meant to be fighting me, and stood patiently still while I hacked him to death. Oh, and the exposition! It’s a joy. Conversations in which characters introduce major plot points by saying things like, “But you know that my father was killed when I was a boy and had that same shape carved into him!”

Icons on the minimap don't match those on the main map. Characters piss mid-conversation. The jump barely functions. There's just nothing redeemable here. Frankly, it's damned rude to release a game in this state.

So, Raven's Cry is available for £40 on Steam! What a treat.

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