The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
The resurgence of the adventure game has been facilitated by
some smart updates to the beloved-but-flawed genre. Frogwares' Sherlock Holmes
series and Telltale's The Walking Dead have carefully identified which elements
of the traditional adventure formula should be preserved, tweaked, or scrapped
for modern audiences. The first episode of The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief
perfectly illustrates the difference between classic and antiquated. The story
hearkens back to the timeless mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha
Christie, weaving a tale full of eccentric characters, plot twists, and a surprise
murder or two. The gameplay, on the other hand, is mired by backtracking,
repetition, and scouring environments for objects to solve obscure puzzles.
The first chapter of The Raven proves developer King
Art Games is more than capable of weaving an interesting mystery. The stylish opening
cinematic sets the stage: In 1964, one of two giant rubies known as the Eyes of
the Sphinx is stolen by a masked figure who may or may not be the titular
master thief, The Raven. With the second ruby set to be transported to an exhibition
in Cairo, players accompany the precious cargo aboard both train and ocean
liner while waiting for the daring criminal to strike again.
While the convoy's modes of transportation provide some
classic mystery settings, the protagonist of the story is refreshingly
different. Legendary detective Nicolas Legrand is on the case and closely
guarding the priceless ruby, but players instead take on the role of Swiss
police constable Anton Jakob Zellner. Zellner is a frumpy, over-the-hill
officer who has a penchant for detective novels but not much in the way of
actual investigative experience. Zellner butts his way into Legrand's case and
fumbles through one predicament after another, coming off as a lovable loser
that you end up admiring, but wouldn't want to be. The other characters you
interact with draw on various tropes of detective mysteries and have
interesting backstories, and the dialogue is well-written despite some sketchy
Unfortunately, The Raven's gameplay is far less compelling. Antiquated
design decisions abound; puzzles often involve triggering a frustratingly
linear series of events, so even if you think you know the solution, it may not
be available until you talk to the right people or investigate a certain object
– often multiple times, as your first interaction doesn't always provide all
the necessary information. This leads to a lot of backtracking and searching
environments for that last item to progress the story.
At one point, my progress was halted because I missed a small,
obscure box that blended into the background – unsurprising, since I had no
indication I should be searching for said box in the first place. I also ran
into trouble figuring out how to illuminate a darkened environment, which
required 10 distinct steps – only half of which were logical. In another
instance, I missed out on completing an optional objective (helping a portly
Baroness find her stolen purse) because I accidentally triggered a cutscene
that moved the story forward. The in-game hint system – which sacrifices score
points for often inane hints in your journal – does little to alleviate these
problems. Fortunately, the fan-made guides I found online were more helpful.
My bigger complaint with The Raven's puzzles is how little
they have to do with the investigations at hand. Frogwares' Sherlock Holmes
games feature puzzles that deftly call on the detective's love of deduction,
and much of your time is spent figuring out the actual cases you're on. The
Raven's gameplay is decidedly less engaging when you're spending most of your
time trying to come up with a way to unlock a door or distract a guard. The
second half of the chapter features some actual casework as you try to uncover
who offed one of the ship's passengers, but solving the mystery still makes you
feel like more of an errand boy than a detective.
Ultimately, The Raven's underlying mystery is intriguing
enough to continue traipsing back and forth between witnesses and
reinvestigating crime scenes. However, the chapter ends on such an abrupt cliffhanger
that you won't get much satisfaction out of the experience if you don't plan on
playing the next installment. Thankfully, purchasing The Raven entitles you to all three chapters, even if you have to wait for King Art to finish the remaining two. I for
one am interested in seeing where The Raven takes me next – I just hope constable
Zellner improves his investigation skills in the meantime.
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.