Adventure games and mystery novel plots go together like butlers and random acts of homicide. There’s nothing better than a good whodunit, especially when you’re part of the action, neck-deep in clues and yelling at innocent bystanders in the hope that one of them knows something. The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief is a decent point and click, with a story that makes you care, and a conclusion that neatly ties up all of the loose ends. Only one puzzle remains as the final credits play: how did this ever sneak its way past Sony’s quality assurance department?
It’s the sixties, a decade where debonair spies and gentleman thieves (usually played by David Niven) mingled in glittering ballrooms and spectacular scenery. The Raven was as good a thief as any, stealing priceless artefacts in ways that left policemen baffled. All good crime sprees must come to an end, though, and the light-fingered tea leaf was shot and killed.
Except, of course, he wasn’t. (Cue shocking music.)
Suddenly, someone claiming to be the master thief steals a one-of-a-kind ancient Egyptian stone, and an anonymous tip-off claims that its sister rock will also be stolen. Can the man that thought that he’d killed the Raven capture his old foe before it’s too late?
If you’ve read the above and found yourself intrigued by the plot, hold onto your wallet for just a few seconds longer. Aside from the occasional twist – almost entirely at the end of each of the three chapters – that synopsis is about as fast-paced as this game gets. While the basic outline of the plot may imply that you’ll find yourself travelling the world, chasing down a shadow that may or may not exist, what you’ll actually do is stumble around as an overweight old man, babysitting children and finding lost purses.
Those that crave constant adrenaline may call it boring, but that would be a little harsh. This isn’t really about jaw-dropping set pieces, but rather atmosphere – as a leisurely trip on the Orient Express evidences. You’ll chat with other passengers, learn about each of them, and even do a spot of handyman work. It’s hardly a game of cat and mouse.
Then you’ll go for a nice cruise, which, dead body aside, is basically a vacation. Finally, you’ll eventually arrive in a Cairo museum, where there’s a Trophy available for looking at each of the exhibits and learning about Ancient Egypt.
And here’s the thing: none of this is necessarily bad. Along the way, you’ll fall in love with the main character, Anton Jakob Zellner. The protagonist is a constable, but, despite his age, he still wants to prove himself capable as a policeman. His easy-going nature and well-acted voice will lead you thorough much of the plot – and you’ll be happy to plod along with him.
It helps that, contrary to appearances, there’s actually quite a lot going on. The old lady writer has a strange interest in her assistant and travelling companion, who has fallen for a professor at the British museum (although her son in no way approves). The violinist may just be sleeping with old rich ladies for money, and Nicolas Legrande, the genius who “shot” the Raven, is taking drugs to keep him awake and focused on his target.
All of this will often be divulged through conversation and gossip, but as you progress through your journey, so too do the non-playable characters. It’s hardly the kind of material that’ll be discussed in English Literacy classes in the future, but snooping around, poking your nose into everybody’s business is undeniably moreish. Fans of the mystery genre will also be kept happy by constant references to more famous works.
The game is split into three episodes, and about half way through the second you’ll begin the plot again, this time from a slightly different perspective. This would work better if not for slight irregularities between the two playthroughs, although it’s nice seeing crossover moments. If nothing else it helps the plot, and that’s where the focus should be in an adventure game.
Of course, it’s not the only thing that the developers should have focused on. Sadly, the game is filled to the brim with annoyances, glitches, frame dips, oddities, and robot walking; in its current state, figuring out the identity of The Raven is going to take an awful lot of effort. While many of the problems are visual (or only happen once or twice in a playthrough), there’s one thing that there’s no escaping: the controls are garbage.
It’s a strong word, but it can’t be stressed enough. Playing this game is a bit like trying to do a three-point turn in a tank in a busy car park. You’ll walk in circles, you’ll crunch to a standstill, and then you’ll crash into things. At no point will you feel at ease with the controller, except when you’re not using it. This is made worse by the fact that you’ll sometimes literally need to stride into walls to find things, which is not a pleasurable experience by any means.
You’ll be spending a lot of time trying to make Zellner walk in a straight line, so it’s a good job that his surroundings are beautiful. There’s a tranquil quality to it all that matches the “procedural” feeling throughout, and it ties in nicely to the general attitude and mood. If this release was entirely about looking at 3D models of trains and boats, it would be a hit. Unfortunately, the developer had to add movement to it – and actual characters.
Oh, the characters – the poor devils walk around like there’s a piece of string pulling them back, with their arms spread wide and their legs slightly too far apart. Furthermore, they talk like their mouths are being pulled from their face. The female protagonist that you play as in episode three manages to walk through her own dress, and, despite talking like a classically trained actress, moves like a Mancunian skinhead with a bad hip.
Don’t look at them; try to put your focus elsewhere – the scenery, perhaps. Just try not to notice that the rolling hills outside the train refresh every three seconds, and that there’s a quarter of a second where the whole backdrop seems to stop each time. In fact, it’s probably best that you ignore the moments of slowdown entirely, as it seems that you can’t walk into a location without Zellner either inexplicably jumping around the room or moving like a character from Chariots of Fire.
Alas, if those were the only issues, perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad. They’re distracting, yes, but they’re not game breaking – and who plays adventure games to stare out of windows? Instead, it’s the constant freezing that will put you off. Sometimes loading screens don’t finish properly, and other times you’ll fall through invisible holes in the ground, your character throwing themselves through concrete to an unexpected death. Other times the camera angle will inexplicably change and will refuse to move back.
These problems are mainly present in the first episode, which is significantly longer than the second two. This is especially surprising when you consider that the inaugural instalment is nearly a year old on the PC. Worse yet, a Steam achievement that people had labelled impossible to earn a year ago is still probably not going to pop for you when you play it on PlayStation 3.
This is especially disappointing, because if not for that one broken gong, this would be a fantastic game for Trophy hunters. The Platinum can be earned in a single playthrough, especially if you’re interested enough to examine everything and talk to everybody, which you’ll almost certainly do. Although it appears to be more puzzle-based than, say, Telltale’s latest games, actually there’s not a huge amount that’ll tax you. Only objects of interest can be examined, and when you’ve done everything that you can with them, they’ll disappear. As such, the odd occasion where you’ll get lost will be easily overcome by just trying everything in a given situation.
And what of the ending: is all of the technical misery worth it? After all, if the plot is the main reason to be interested in this title, then anything but a satisfying conclusion would render the whole thing a bit of a misfire. We’ll say this: the writers have managed to create a conclusion that’s both completely ridiculous but also sort of makes sense. This paradox is bound to annoy a good many who battle through to the credits, but every other thread is properly wrapped up, so the major reveal can just be ignored – or you can just decide that it may have been a dream.
The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief is a good story fixed onto a broken game. The twists and turns are delightful, and the characters are charming – but the glitches are infuriating, and the animation is comical. Despite this, though, you probably won’t regret seeing the adventure through to its conclusion. Like any master criminal worthy of a fancy fictitious name, this release hooks you in before showing you its ugly side.