We look at 5 of the most interesting games that never were.
The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief – Charming, Roguish, and Untrustworthy
Adventure games are finally experiencing a resurgence, and I’m ecstatic. I’ve already talked about how excited I am for the release of Tesla Effect, but that’s still a little ways off. So, when I was given the chance to wet my whistle by reviewing an adventure game that promised good, old-fashioned mystery, realistic puzzles, and a journey across 1960’s Europe, how could I refuse?
The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief is an episodic adventure game, and the game’s first episode, Eye of the Sphinx, was released for PC, Mac, and Linux on July 23rd, with the remaining two episodes dropping in the following two months. But they’re selling the game for full price now, at $24.99 for the standard version, and $29.99 for the Digital Deluxe version. The end result is that users are paying full price for a third of a game, with the remaining two-thirds to be filled in later.
This is kind of like paying full price for a pizza, and getting just two slices – and as you’re sputtering with rage, the pizzeria owner tells you, ‘no, don’t worry, you’ll get the rest, it’ll just take a few days, but we’ll get you the slices when they’re ready.’ I was fortunate enough to get a review copy, but if I’d paid full price for this, I’d definitely be feeling a little bit ripped off, considering I completed the first episode in just five hours.
I seriously hope that this was because they got delayed or something and didn’t want to disappoint the pre-orders, because the alternative is that this was a deliberate business decision. They want us to buy an incomplete game and the promise that they’ll finish making it later? How does this not sound absurd to them? The sad thing is they’re actually selling this as a FEATURE – they’re calling the break between episodes “cliffhangers”. In related news, I’ve decided to call this review an “orgasm dispenser”.
Episode 1, Eye of the Sphinx, takes place in 1960’s Europe, starting in the Swiss mountains on the Orient Express, and ends on a cruise ship crossing the Mediterranean. You play as Constable Anton Zellner, a middle-aged Swiss cop who feels he’s never really had a chance to shine. The titular Raven, as promised, was a legendary cat burglar who was apparently killed years ago, but as the game starts, someone is stealing priceless objects in his name again, but whether it’s an heir, a copycat, or the original Raven returned is uncertain. Your job is to catch the new Raven and stop him from stealing the second Eye of the Sphinx.
The game’s presentation is mostly fantastic. Yes, the graphics aren’t up to Crysis standards, but they’re stylized and colorful, and charming to look at, for the most part. The animation could use a little work – the characters mouths don’t quite match what they’re saying, and they can look stilted and awkward when they talk to each other. The writing and the narrative are superb, and the characters are all nuanced and interesting. I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t think I’d have much in common with Anton, but he’s such a nice, likable guy, I can’t help but root for him.
But what really takes the cake here is the sound. The music is brilliantly scored, and played by a full orchestra to boot. Every track is evocative of the sweeping, grand epic score of some 1960’s adventure movie, and I absolutely LOVED it. And the voice acting is similarly excellent – there isn’t a single bad performance among them, despite the wide range of accents from all across Europe.
The Agatha Christie influence is blatantly obvious, what with the mystery aboard the Orient Express and a character who basically IS Agatha Christie in all but name. Hell, even Anton could be outright replaced with Hercule Poirot, and nobody would really notice, but so far as at least the first episode is concerned, it’s been handled very skillfully and respectfully. The mysteries that the game tasks you to solve are engaging and thought-provoking, and the character based on Christie that could’ve easily been one-note or a parody is actually multi-faceted and interesting.
Unfortunately, the game falters somewhat when it comes to gameplay. What little there is, anyway. See, I’d estimate that 70% of the game is wandering around and talking to people. There is a LOT of talking in this game. Now, as I’ve said, between the writing and the acting, the talking is well-done, and if there was enough gameplay to balance it out, it wouldn’t really be an issue. But comparatively speaking, there really isn’t, and it makes the game feel slow and plodding at times.
On the other hand, the puzzles are done fairly well – adventure games occasionally fall victim to absurd puzzle logic, but The Raven never does. All of the inventory puzzles and solutions make logical sense. And what’s more, there are some interesting puzzle variations to boot, like shaping a wire to pick a lock, or playing a shuffleboard variant. One more good thing I can say about the gameplay is that it’s never terribly frustrating – there’s a hint system available for those who get stuck, and Anton himself is very good at doling out hints about what he needs if you examine things often enough.
Also, I can’t recommend enough that you follow the golden rule of adventure games – SAVE EARLY AND OFTEN. And I’ll add that you should have multiple saves as well. And there are two reasons for this advice – first, some of your objectives in the game are optional, and if you’re unaware of this, like I was, you can accidentally play past the point where they could be solved. I solved a puzzle, ran back to inform the Inspector, watched a cutscene, and the next thing I knew, all of the inventory items I’d picked up but didn’t know how to use had vanished and the game had moved on. I believe this affects your score, and it can affect the things characters say to you, but I have no idea if it’ll affect later events in the game, or the ending – because the ending won’t be released for another two months.
And the second reason to save liberally is because there are some game-breaking bugs that can cause the game to hang indefinitely. I’ve found two, myself – first, interacting with a crate three times turned Anton invisible until you interact with something else. Make the mistake of interacting with the crate a fourth time while invisible, however, and the game hangs. Secondly, I had a hard time picking up an important inventory item in Legrand’s room on the ship – it refused to show up in inventory, which, since the game cannot be completed without it, forced me to reload and try again numerous times. My research indicates that there are others like this at various points in the game. Though a patch has been released that may address at least some of these issues, neither of the two issues I’d found had been patched by the time of this review.
All in all, I’ve got to say I liked it, but I’m kinda disappointed. The Raven is overflowing with charm and personality, with a deep, engaging mystery, and I want so badly to absolutely love it, but being incomplete and broken is a deal-breaker. If the game was complete, and the bugs were minimal or non-existent, this would be an 8, 8.5, easy. As it is, it stands incomplete and broken, so I’ve given it the highest score that I feel I can. When it’s finished and fixed, I’ll be happy to review it again.
Until then, however, The Raven fails to get away with my recommendation.
This game was reviewed on the PC after 8 hours of gameplay. This game was provided by the publisher.