I lit up a smoke and took a swig of Jack when she walked in. This game was gorgeous – like a movie star, only she lived a Hollywood story.
“You that detective, Robin Wilde?” she asked, in a deep, South Carolina drawl.
“I sure am”, I answered, leaning forward and looking her straight in the eye. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but something told me this gal was going to add some Tabasco to the bland chili that was my life. Hell, she’d even got me using tortured metaphors.
“Well Mr. Wilde”, she said, slinking seductively over and sliding onto my desk, “Have I got a story for you”.
Ahem. Apologies for my hideous attempt at being all noir and brooding. It’s just that this is a mystery adventure game and I felt it would be fitting. Clearly, I was mistaken.
Truth be told, The Raven is more of an Agatha Christie inspired country house murder type of story than any kind of hard-drinking gumshoe tale. And when I say inspired, I mean cloned. The lead character, at least in the first of the three episodes, is Belgi- I mean, Swiss police officer Poir- I mean, Zellner.
Starting out with an expositionary sequence set in the British Museum, as a master thief gets away with a jewel, we’re soon treated to a sequence taking place on the Orient Express, as Zellner and his hero LeGrand try to defend a safe from the allegedly-dead thief, the Raven. I won’t spoil the rest of the plot since it’s really what drives the game’s appeal, but it’s a massively fun bit of unashamedly populist mystery that’s well worth seeing.
Of course, the meat of the game lies in its puzzles. These tend to be forensic affairs, but can have much more depth and intricacy than the rather lifeless investigative sequences of L.A. Noire.
For instance, at one point, Zellner needs to uncouple a train car, but the train is in a tunnel and he can’t see what he’s doing. He then has to climb back onto the train, fill a bowl with 80% proof rum, tear off a piece of curtain, wrap it around a chair leg he breaks off with a fire extinguisher, coat it with oily residue from the train coupling, and finally combine everything to fashion a makeshift torch with which to finally complete the puzzle. The reason this kind of thing works and is fun is because it requires intuition, but can be solved through reasonable application of logic. It avoids falling into the trap laid by so many other adventure games of trying to create difficulty through sheer obscurity – having to feed a tie through a shredder and using the resulting material to tie to a candy cane and create a broom. Or something like that.
The Raven manages to do much of what L.A. Noire could not quite manage, which was to simply tell the player “would you like to listen to a story and solve some puzzles? Because that’s what we’re going to do!” It’s just a shame it manages to fall flat in a few other areas.
Firstly, the controls. I know it’s a point and click adventure and there aren’t any quick-time events requiring precise and intuitive motions to be available at all times, but it isn’t fun to control a character who can move, at best, at a slow walking pace and who turns and reacts like he’s on heavy sedatives. He also can’t see straight, as is evident when attempting to click on small objects, which often have their hitboxes out of alignment and result in the sort of aimless jabbing usually reserved for a drunk fencer.
Luckily the environment design is so lush and colourful you probably won’t mind staring at it for so long, and to top off the whole thing is scored with a brilliant soundtrack that’s both memorable and atmospheric. The voice acting is a little off at times (unusually for a Western game, it was developed in German) but you’ll soon learn to look past that and if necessary you can mute the voices – there are subtitles!
The Raven comes very close to achieving the aim of many a game and marrying cinema with the mental demands of video games. Where it falls slightly short is in some clunky design and, for those of you with a predilection towards dark, grim thrillers, a certain mawkishness to the story. But, in the end, it’s good to encourage a genre which has fallen by the wayside of late, and for modern adventure games which exude Poirot-esque fun, you could do a lot worse than this. 76%.