I love a good mystery, so I was keen to pick up the latest title from KING Art Games, developer of 2011’s excellent The Book of Unwritten Tales. This time they’ve switched gears from medieval fantasy to a crime story set in the 1960s called The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief. For now following a Swiss policeman across land and sea, the debut instalment of this three-part episodic title offers a wonderfully absorbing story that’ll have you eager to play on by the time it finishes. With intriguing characters, standout voice work and a beautiful soundtrack, The Raven flutters somewhat due to mixed animation and an assortment of technical issues, but don’t let that put you off from experiencing this engaging point-and-click whodunit/heist adventure.
The titular Raven is a notorious thief who spent the 1950s stealing from every bank and museum with a prize worthy of his attention. The police couldn’t catch him, only ever finding the black feather that he’d leave at the crime scene as his calling card. The thief came to be famous in the media, but another man eventually joined him on that podium: Nicolas Legrand, the French inspector who finally shot and killed and the burglar... Or did he?
In 1963, one of the Eyes of the Sphinx, a pair of valuable jewels, is stolen from a British museum and the Raven – or someone emulating him – is behind it. The other gem is due to be displayed soon in Egypt, and is being transported there by train from Zurich to Venice, and then by boat to Cairo. Players take on the role of Constable Anton Zellner, a Swiss policeman bored of his usual beat and determined to prove himself capable of bigger things, who is tasked with guarding the Eye while aboard the famed Orient Express. Inspector Legrand is also present, waiting in ambush in an attempt to trap the ‘new’ Raven.
Zellner is a man who, on initial viewing, doesn’t fit the bill of a typical protagonist. He’s getting on a bit: losing his hair and slightly chubby, he is no doubt approaching retirement age. He’s certainly not as healthy as he once was, but his refusal to take his medicine speaks volumes for the type of man he is, and for what he lacks in stereotypical rugged good looks, Zellner makes up for in heart. With a curly, grey moustache perched above his lip, Zellner is a man with good intentions. He’s kind, polite and friendly, but firm in the decisions he makes and with a wit of cutting sarcasm.
Legrand is at first reluctant to let Zellner join the investigation. With stern eyes that peer out behind his circular spectacles, the Inspector is strict and composed, but utterly filled with self-doubt. His reputation has been built on that fact that it was he who killed the Raven, but this new robbery casts everything into question. Legrand is convinced that the famous thief has returned, while Zellner thinks otherwise. The two characters are opposing in both viewpoint and personality, and seeing them interact with each other is particularly compelling.
While on the train you’ll be introduced to some other cast members. Matt is a chirpy, slightly mischievous boy that Zellner takes a fondness to. His mother is also on board, accompanying Lady Clarissa Westmacott, a successful mystery novelist (and one of many clever nods to Agatha Christie). While the former seems on edge, the latter is perfectly happy to just soak in her surroundings at ease. While sometimes the supporting characterisation can edge too close to cliché for comfort, the cast are all genuinely interesting. After a brief conversation with everyone, I was already building up an image in my mind of their backgrounds and the type of people they are. Only in one instance did I feel underwhelmed by a character’s involvement. Barely any time is spent with a stuck-up, self-entitled young woman who joins you on the ship, but presumably she’ll be fleshed out in the later episodes.
A lot of your time will be spent talking to others on the journey. That’s not to say there’s an overwhelming amount of dialogue (there isn’t), but gradually uncovering more about the characters, their personalities and backstories is as vital to progression as puzzle solving is. This is one of the great joys of playing The Raven. From the outset there’ll be those who seem to be acting strangely. Take the young musician who has issue with you wanting to look inside his violin case – does he have something to hide, or is he just uptight? There are no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters because there are oddities about everyone you encounter, some more overt than others. They’re just human, after all.
It helps that the pacing is spot on. As you progress with your detective work, you’re slowly piecing together clues. This is a game of two halves: the former is spent on the train, the latter on the boat. While aboard the Orient Express you’ll need to help a professor get back into his locked cabin and try to recover a baroness’s purse. However, circumstances soon ramp up as the train screeches to a halt and all the cabins are plunged into darkness – and it only gets worse from there. It’s your task to create a light source and then rescue Matt from impending doom. Things settle down on the ship, but it doesn’t take long before the most dramatic event of the episode happens. Another crime is committed, creating a whole load of questions: chiefly, whodunit? Just when it seems that things have calmed for a moment, something will happen or evidence will be uncovered that will keep you wanting to play on. It’s rare these days that I want to continually keep going without stopping, but I felt that pull with The Raven. I was as hungry for the truth as Zellner.
When you’re not talking to others, you’re solving puzzles, but these obstacles are all firmly grounded in reality. If Zellner picks up an axe, for instance, he won’t put it in any magical bottomless pockets, but instead carry it by his side. He’ll also, for the most part, not pick up things without good reason. Along the way you’ll need to figure out how to get rid of a guard, enter a burning area safely and escape capture. The majority of solutions involve using your surroundings and inventory in traditional adventure style. It’s always fairly straightforward what you need to do (although not blindingly obvious), but getting bogged down with overly complicated puzzles probably would have messed with the story beats. Those looking for difficult brainteasers won’t find them here, but I can’t say I found it an issue.
There are a few instances of varying gameplay to offer a refreshing change. For example, there’s a minigame that you play against Matt in order to win something of his. The game involves sliding pucks along the floor toward a scoring grid. It has a simple control scheme, clicking and dragging in order to designate direction and power, that should prove easy to pick up for everyone. There’s another occasion where you have to use your mouse to drag a wire into shape in order to pick a lock. Again, nothing overly complicated, but these different types of puzzles help keep things interesting.Continued on the next page...