The old woman is sitting in her wheelchair at the ship’s saloon. Off to the side, Inspector Legrand is grilling another passenger about his whereabouts the night before. Her eyes glimmer with interest. Is there more behind them than innocent curiosity? I ask the retired crime novelist her thoughts on the investigation and she smiles, the weathered lines revelling in the unfortunate series of events. I begin to wonder if she is as immobile as she’d like us to presume.
The thought is preposterous. She couldn’t have done it. There are far more suspicious individuals, but KING Art Games’ latest adventure title, The Raven – Legacy of a Master Thief, casts doubts on nearly everyone during the ten hour journey of its first chapter. That’s part of what makes it so engaging, as a good cast of characters is just as important as a good set of puzzles, creating a wonderful followup to the developer’s equally wonderful The Book of Unwritten Tales.
The game is set in 1964 and opens during a violent British museum heist. One of a pair of precious Egyptian jewels, collectively known as the Eyes of the Sphinx, is stolen by a master thief. Appropriately named the Raven due to the mask he wears, he is Europe’s most brilliant and wealthy criminal. He’s also supposed to be dead, fatally shot four years ago by the promising French Inspector Nicolas Legrand. Who is the Raven’s Heir? Does he or possibly she work alone? Or could the real Raven have survived his encounter with death? Regardless, the thief won’t stop with only one jewel, and so begins a hunt across the globe to bring the felon to justice.
It’s an exciting premise for an adventure game and one that comes alive thanks to its locations and well realized cast. But such a story is only as good as its hero, and Swedish Constable Anton Jakob Zellner is one of the more refreshing characters I’ve played as in some time. He’s overweight, over-the-hill, balding and battling a heart condition. It’s hard to imagine him catching a dangerous criminal, but unlike other adventure games, The Raven – Legacy of a Master Thief doesn’t make him into someone for us to laugh at.
Constable Zellner is intelligent, capable and compassionate, but most of all he’s eager. He wants to solve a big case rather than being bured behind a dull desk job. Aboard an international, aging steam train carrying a safe bound for Cairo with the famous Inspector Legrand guarding it, he knows this is his chance to do just that. All of the above makes him far more relatable and grounded than most central figures in video games. It’s enjoyable to be playing someone who isn’t a handsome, rock-jawed mass of muscles. And whether it’s his quick action in the face of a crisis, his friendship with a frightened young boy or his determination to help with the case, Zellner is easy to root for. KING Art Games couldn’t have chosen a better protagonist.
The supporting characters are every bit as important in making The Raven such an enjoyable time. They’re varied, from a gold digging violinist, a single mother and her rambunctious child, a haughty baroness and her butler, a respected British professor, the aforementioned novelist, a calm German doctor and more. The game makes you suspect a majority of them by what they say, do and even wear with solid craftsmanship. It creates a wonderfully involving, Clue-like experience, forcing you to re-examine the evidence at each new turn in the plot.
The two locations in this first chapter – the train and a World War 2 patrol boat turned cruise ship – also add to that experience. They’re richly detailed, and the 1960s decor is fun to examine. However, they’re also somewhat cramped. That leaves Zellner and everyone else trapped with a dangerous criminal. It’s a smart choice. With no escape, there’s plenty of time to question each individual and consider where they were and when.
It’s a cinematic adventure, as well, with a generally good presentation barring some rigid movement and mouth animations. The beautiful orchestral score is full of hum worthy material. Characters are well voiced with a diverse cast. And the interface is slick and minimalistic. The inventory is a simple bar at the bottom of the screen that appears only when moving the mouse down to that lower edge. The journal is full of hand-drawn notes and images.
But puzzles are another half to what goes into making an adventure game. If the puzzles are too obtuse, too difficult, then they can more draining than fun. Thankfully, The Raven‘s puzzles make logical sense, despite a few that could have been better marked. And while they’re not too challenging, with a focus more on exploration than mixing objects together in an inventory screen, its intriguing story and sense of involvement absolutely make up for any lack of brain teasers.
There are optional puzzles to solve and extra dialog to find. They don’t have any major impact on the story, but solving them brings further focus or even suspicions to several characters. They’re worth completing, though with so many objectives it can be easy to progress the story while closing out those other challenges.
In case you do get lost, there is a simple hint system built into the game. Hitting the space bar will highlight every interactable object with a magnifying glass at the cost of a few adventure points. Unfortunately, those icons blend into the scenery far too easily and disappear almost as quickly as they appeared. It can take a few presses of that space bar to catch everything.
A gamepad can be used in place of the traditional mouse and keyboard, and it works quite well. The magnifying glass appears on nearby objects without having to use the hint system. One puzzle in particular is far easier to complete with an analog stick than with a mouse. But you may want to be wary of pushing in the left stick, as doing so with our pre-release copy brought up the option to force a memory leak. The ability to close that pop-up elluded me. Hopefully they’ll remove that for the final build.
The Raven – Legacy of a Master Thief‘s first chapter of a planned three, The Eye of the Sphinx, is set for release this July 23rd on PC, Linux and MAC, and it’s an absolute delight. The attempt to solve its many mysteries is heavily engrossing, aided by an unlikely but competent and charming protagonist. If you love adventure games, I can’t recommend it enough. And if you don’t, it may be worth challenging those sentiments as Constable Anton Jakob Zellner.
9 out of 10
A copy of the game was provided to us by the publisher for the purpose of this review.