The Raven - Legacy Of A Master Thief is the first of a three chapter adventure game (the other two coming out next month and the month after) from King Art. Previously responsible for the decent Book Of Unwritten Tales, The Raven is a completely different style of game from the team - a murder mystery in the style of Agatha Christie. And crikey, it's really rather good. Here's wot I think:
Wow. I'd almost forgotten what it was like. I've just played through a really decent adventure game, where I at no point was forced to read through walkthroughs, or chip away at hint systems, in order to progress. And I've had a thoroughly good time doing so. For the second time this week!
The Raven is an oddity in many ways. Good ways. First of all, this first lengthy chapter of three had very little to do with The Raven. Secondly, the main character is an elderly man seemingly attempting his one last chance to make a difference in his dotage. Thirdly, settings like the Orient Express and luxury cruise liners can even feature dramatic explosions and murders without things ever feeling like they're going to make you stand up from your armchair. It's an Saturday afternoon TV drama of a game, but the sort where you wouldn't dream of changing channels or seeing if the rain has stopped.
Constable Anton Jakob Zellner is a Swiss policeman, who in 1964 is on the verge of retirement. Apparently disenchanted with his career, and a lover of murder mystery novels of the like he's never personally experienced, he stumbles on a chance to be part of an investigation into the peculiar reappearance of a master thief known as The Raven. Believed shot dead a few years earlier by master French detective Legrand, the theft of a very valuable jewel in seemingly impossible circumstances - along with the raven feather calling card - leads many to believe that the wrong man may have died a few years back. Even Legrand himself. But not Zellner - Zeller sees enough differences in the crime to believe this is a copycat, and is determined to be a part of the investigation.
If it sounds like an Agatha Christie set-up, that's entirely intentional. Right down to Zellner's little moustache and not-quite-French accent, I do wonder whether King Art might have originally set out to make a straight Poirot game. As it is, it's an unashamed tribute to the style of novel, right down to including a simulacrum for Christie, Lady Clarissa Westmacott. She is Zellner's author hero, and he cannot believe his luck when she's on the Orient Express from Switzerland to Venice, at the same time as a second jewel is being transported, guarded by Legrand. Also on board are a collection of other international characters/suspects, and there the genre necessities are complete.
One of the cited goals of developers King Art was to only include realistic puzzles, and it's honestly surprising to report that they've - that anyone has - achieved this. There are lots of silly adventure tropes, like bending a wire to match the barrels of a picked lock, or conveniently finding just the tools you might need for an established puzzle in the vicinity. But there's no slotting the rabbit ears into the Large Hadron Collider to get the rubber gloves from the nun here. If there's a task to do, a logical solution gets it done, and blimey, that's a refreshing change.
Also absolutely splendid is the voice acting. And as this is a translated German adventure, that's an especially good thing. The voice cast is packed with industry regulars, and the script has been extremely well relocated - and having a Swiss lead character certainly covers any possible mistakes that might remain! The dialogue is always decent, and there have been quite a few moments where a lovely throwaway comment has made me laugh out loud.
Zellner's investigations in this first chapter take him from the train to a luxury cruise liner, where things add in the always-inevitable murder mystery element on top of the search for the thief. A great deal of the game is dialogue with the other passengers, but these lengthy conversations are invariably entertaining. It would be nice to see movement sped up a little - not Zellner himself, his moving slowly is an important part of his character - but better implementation of double-clicking an exit to automatically leave a scene. There's certainly some tidying to do, and Zellner will occasionally madly slide through a scene in order to find the right spot to begin a sequence.
Also frustrating is the chapter's ending. It's a cliffhanger, of sorts. But it's extremely jarring, and doesn't have any sense of wrapping anything up before the next chapter next month. It feels a rather artificial divide, and I really can't see a good reason why this couldn't be released as one lengthy adventure, rather than three medium-sized chunks. I had such a pleasurable time with it, and then it suddenly stopped mid-sentence, and it's a shame that's my final memory of this first instalment.
The Raven manages to be something almost unique in adventure gaming. It's a calm, comfortable experience, managing to do murder mystery without being about a sassy 20-something young female cop with a sexy haircut discovering ancient Satanic symbols in neon paint in a grimy crime scene, etc etc. Instead it's Poirot in the 60s, a TV special you'd never tune in for but can't turn away from. Later in the over-all game you will apparently play as the criminals, and see the story from the other side. It'll be interesting to see how that's handled. But for now, this first part is a genuinely lovely game, a very well crafted adventure, and a calmingly paced experience that gaming rarely offers.
The first chapter of the Raven is out on the 23rd July, with all three parts bought from a million different places for €20/£17 before release.