I’ve had a long and rather tumultuous relationship with point and click adventure games as I was growing up. I remember playing games like Grim Fandango and becoming enchanted by the world it presented, all the while struggling with the aspect of actually playing the damn thing. The characters, plot and setting were all spectacularly portrayed in painstaking detail with genius level creativity, but I never managed to finish it. I would get stuck not knowing the solution to a puzzle and eventually just call it quits, moving on to other games. The cycle continued with various other point and click games as I managed to finish only a fraction of the games I started from the genre.
In the last few years, the genre of point and click adventure games has seen a shift of sorts- mostly for the better. While “The Raven – Legacy of a Master Thief” retains most of what makes the genre great, it is also held back by its rather archaic and traditional roots.
The story opens up with a high profile robbery and a possible return of a notorious criminal who was presumed dead. Now setting his/her sights on the remaining jewel, the cat and mouse game begins anew as Constable Zellnar gets himself involved in the case hoping to prove himself to be more than a mere grunt.
First and foremost, I’d like to start by saying that the story presented in “The Raven” is intriguing in all the right ways. With just enough clues and possibilities to ponder, I was at a constant “detective mode”, where every little gesture and inflection of a person’s voice was a part of a bigger picture waiting to be uncovered. As a lover of all things mystery, I was hooked early and while the rather abrupt cliffhanger ending left me a bit unsatisfied, it also has me looking forward to the second and third episodes in the coming months.
While it is most definitely a classic “who done it” mystery, I think a scenario where the obvious and unlikely can clash with some frequency is a well written one. After all, one of the most damning things I could say about a mystery is to call it predictable. Still, even though the script is well written, the voiceover work stumbles in a few places. Most notably, the main character speaks to everyone as though he were talking to a child. It’s a difficult thing to put into words but I felt as though he was trying to do his best impression of Mr. Rogers as his carefree tone never really changed much even during the more stressful moments.
The body and face animation of the characters weren’t entirely consistent in quality either, as in one moment I felt this was one of the better looking adventure games I’ve played and in another I thought I was looking deep into the dead fish eyes of a soulless AI construct. Luckily, the latter moments were few and far between and I feel the game is a fairly polished effort.
The puzzles presented in the game ranged from easy to “well ya, obviously”. Contrary to many other games of its type, all the solutions to the various little puzzles Zellnar ran into were quite practical. Even though there were a handful of cases where he took a bit more elaborate route to get things done than necessary, I never found myself getting stuck on anything for too long. While perhaps a necessary evil to some degree to make sure people don’t get turned off from playing the game, it’s unfortunate that the developers weren’t able to find a happy medium of being practical but challenging at the same time.
That’s not to say that there is no challenge in this title at all as there certainly is in the form of unwieldy controls and UI problems. I first began playing using the gamepad settings on my big screen TV and felt it was nearly unplayable. There was a conflict between my mouse controls and my controller as it kept registering that my mouse was still active which caught me in an infinite loop where I was unable to go into my inventory until I changed the setting on the controls. I also had to adjust to the fact that things in the environment didn’t become “active” and ready to be interacted with until I was in some proximity to it.
While that seems like a normal thing, due to the positioning of many key items and locations, this made me constantly wandering back and forth an area just to select something. Zellnar controlled like a tank missing its treads as he moved slower than a rock trying to roll uphill. If that wasn’t enough, he would often walk towards the wrong direction when the camera shifted and apparently, the L3 button was mapped to a debug tool where it forced a VRAM meltdown, effectively crashing the game. After about an hour of trying to play using the controller, I tried the classic mouse settings and never looked back so I recommend everyone just start using the classic control scheme from the beginning.
The game play is a balance of dialogue, puzzle solving and investigation. What can and cannot be interacted with is left rather ambiguous most of the time, but luckily there’s a system presented where it basically pings all the interactive elements in an area at the cost of some points which are earned by solving puzzles. Oddly enough, there are many items that need to be examined repeatedly before it can be picked up and used, forcing the player to repeatedly examine basically every object in the game which is quite a chore.
There is also a bit of emphasis on some light forensic work as well but given the era the story takes place, don’t expect to play out an episode of CSI. Clocking at around four hours there’s is just enough content here to experience before it wears out its welcome.
The first episode of “The Raven” stumbles out of the gate slightly due to its archaic design and somewhat weak puzzles. Fortunately, it manages to compose itself and stands tall thanks to its strong story and an interesting cast of characters. While it’s definitely doesn’t have the mass appeal of “The Walking Dead”, I’m sure it will find an audience among the lovers of all things mystery.
Fun Tidbit– Some puzzles are optional but offer greater insight to the case at hand.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.