The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief is an Agatha Christie inspired whodunnit by rising star of the adventure gaming world King Art Games, who recently proved themselves with The Book of Unwritten Tales. The Raven follows the fortunes of Anton Jacob Zellner, a mild-mannered Swiss police constable on the verge of retirement, who finds himself caught up in an epic battle of wits with the eponymous master thief. Or at least a man claiming to be him. You see, The Raven was supposedly shot and killed years ago by French inspector LeGrand who went on to build his reputation on that coup.
Part one of The Raven, subtitled The Eye of the Sphinx, and out on MAC, PC and Linux on July 24, is also slated for release on consoles. It opens aboard the opulent setting of the Orient Express as it speeds through the Swiss Alps. Zellner has been assigned to aid LeGrand who is guarding a legendary jewel enroute to an exhibition in Cairo, which Legrand hopes to use as bait.
Whilst the level headed Zellner speculates that the new Raven is likely an imposter, Legrand is so convinced that his nemesis is back from the grave, that he is defying orders to return to Paris. Running on stimulants and working like a man possessed he begins losing his grip. His manic, dogged, and self-centered pursuit of his quarry providing a fascinating counterpoint to Zellner’s calm and considered approach to matters. Given the situation it would surely be irresponsible for Zellner not to smuggle himself on board the luxury cruise ship bound for Cairo to keep an eye on things. After all, he could certainly do with a holiday.
You really get a sense that, for Zellner, who has lived a largely uneventful life, this is an important transformative moment.
You really get a sense that, for Zellner, who has lived a largely uneventful life, this is an important transformative moment. This idea is given weight when he throws his heart medication, which has been jangling ominously around in your inventory, into the sea. Zellner shrugs off routine and embraces adventure, and potentially death, with the devil may care attitude of a man liberated from his worries. This is one of the game’s many subtle moments that builds layers upon its deep and sympathetic characters. The Raven has a breezy charm and an eye for period detail that is lent much weight by Benny Oschmann’s wonderful orchestral score which is heavy on the strings.
The Raven shares with The Book of Unwritten Tales a basis in a somewhat worn genre, and a self conscious and clever use of its conventions. Whilst The Book of Unwritten Tales uses a nicely pitched Pratchett-esque humour to achieve this, The Raven is wrapped up in the mode of a detective story, with all the trimmings you’d expect. It’s a more serious and thoughtful game, but isn’t without its moments of levity. Jan Theysen and Marco Rosenberg, who together wrote the script, carefully tread the line between parody and pastiche, ensuring that The Raven is a fantastic story in its own right. Zellner’s starting point may be Poirot (though I dare say I can also identify a little of Columbo’s deceptive reverse psychology and Wallander’s existential despair), but he becomes his own man thanks to the quality of the writing and voice actor Neil McCaul’s grandfatherly tones. In fact the voice cast is universally excellent as is the localisation.
Gameplay, as you’d expect from a point and click, is eminently straight forward, making the initial tutorial seem entirely pointless (the developers also seemed to the think so, as it amusingly takes the form of disposing of a piece of rubbish). There are only a few objects to interact with in each scene and like most modern adventure games, which fear hindering player progress like the plague, they disappear completely after yielding their usefulness. It would have been nice to hear Zellner comment on a few more things in his surroundings, but then at least the developers have laid the emphasis clearly on where it needs to be: the interactions between the characters and the excellent dialogue.
It’s a shame given how the game hits on almost every level with regard to story that it struggles a little technically. The promotional material boasts that it has five times the amount of character animations as the average adventure game, and whilst individually they are believable enough, it’s in stringing them together that the cracks start to show. Zellner, for instance, has the tendency to walk around in circles before finding the correct route. Perhaps it is because of his age, but it’s more likely the small team getting to grips with the transition from a game that uses beautiful pre-rendered backdrops, to one that is entirely created in 3D. I remain hopeful that these problems can be eliminated with some last-minute polishing.