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Developer Spotlight: Raven Software
Every month Leviathyn will take a look at a developer who makes good, unique, or interesting games but hasn’t quite found the widespread acclaim or acknowledgement that we think they deserve. Our goal is to give praise to the developers we like and to also hopefully point you in the direction of some experiences you wouldn’t have otherwise found.
Raven Software is one of those companies that has probably made a game you love even though you might not recognize their name. When all their games are listed out it’s funny just how many well-loved cult classics have come out of one studio. Soldier of Fortune, Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force, Star Wars: Jedi Knight II – Jedi Outcast, Star Wars Jedi Knight – Jedi Academy, and X-Men Legends I & II are all from Raven Software. From comic book games to movie games to their own IP, Raven has proven that they’re a studio that knows how to craft games with interesting mechanics that pull you into their fascinating universes.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
A spiritual successor to Raven’s X-Men: Legends games, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (2006) is an action/role-playing/dungeon crawler/brawler featuring 25 playable characters from the Marvel Comics universe, ranging from stalwarts like Spider-Man, Captain America, and Iron Man to more niche characters like Doctor Strange, Blade, and Moon Knight. If that sentence didn’t make you squeal with excitement simply at the thought of it, I don’t know what else can sell you on this game. You choose a team of four heroes that can be controlled by up to four people, to battle your way through Marvel’s pantheon of villains. The fun here is primarily from the caliber of the heroes on screen. Being able to team up the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and any weird combination of heroes that might occur to you is a blast that arguably hasn’t been matched before or since.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Considering how many TV shows aimed at kids he’s been the star of, the concept behind Wolverine is pretty terrifying when you stop to think about it. He’s a man who can heal from pretty much any possible injury (including being reduced to nothing but his skeleton), every bone in his body is covered in an unbreakable metal, he’s been through almost every major war of the 20th century, he’s prone to uncontrollable “berserker rages,” and he has knives that come out of his hands. HE HAS KNIVES THAT COME OUT OF HIS HANDS. Anything that guy does in a fight is going to be horribly and soul-shatteringly gory. Yet most incarnations of Wolverine don’t show that at all especially in gaming. That is until X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) came out.
Based on the worst X-Men movie that everyone is pretending didn’t happen, Origins perfectly captures what it would be like to be a rage-fueled murder machine with knife-hands. And it is the most insane, bloodiest, silliest, and fun combat in a game since the original God of War. Sure, some parts of the game feel like padding, the story is convoluted, and the whole thing is a tad glitchy, but when you find yourself in a small room with a dozen weak enemies Origins becomes the ultimate comic book power fantasy. The most eye-catching feature in the whole game is Wolverine’s healing factor. When Wolverine takes damage, the effects are dynamically shown on his body. His clothes, skin, and muscles can all be destroyed sometimes to the point of showing his adamantium skeleton underneath. Avoid damage for long enough and you can watch in real time as Wolverine’s body repairs itself. With attention to detail like that, Raven has crafted the perfect Wolverine simulator.
Following Origins, Raven was given the reins of the Wolfenstein series making one well-received entry before being given the chance to make their own game from the ground up. Raven’s first foray into making a wholly original game after a decade of developing games based on established IPs was 2010’s Singularity, a cult classic now that failed to sell well when it was first released. Singularity‘s big draw is its focus on time travel. Throughout the story the player travels back and forth between the present day and 1955 watching their actions in one era affects the other. The player is also equipped with a time manipulation device, that can control time in isolated events. Need a way to get to the second story of a building? Rebuild the stairs by restoring them to a time when they were in pristine condition. Tired of using bullets to stop your enemies? Take out an enemy by rapidly aging them to death. Though it plays like an action game, Singularity also has a distinct horror vibe to it. Mutated, deformed creatures with glowing eyes, sagging skin, and an uncommon number of faces roam dark hallways and abandoned, crumbling buildings. Singularity was clearly a passion project for Raven and that dedication shows in the final product. It shamelessly apes from BioShock and other FPS giants but it’s unique tone and weapons set it apart in a the crowded FPS marketplace.
For the last few years Raven has been working on the Call of Duty games making DLC for Black Ops and Modern Warfare 3 and the multiplayer for Ghosts. Raven has shown themselves capable of making their own unique visions as well as quality licensed games (a landscape notorious for high profile disasters), so whether it’s a license or their own original IP, I hope that Raven is hard at work on their next project. I’m going to need something new to play when I get bored of watching Wolverine punch things.