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The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief - Episode 3

(Nordic Games; US: 24 Sep 2013)

The Raven – Episode 3 opens with the protagonist still in the midst of a long flashback that also took up the second half of Episode 2. We no longer play as the Swedish Constable Anton Zellner, but we also don’t play as the softhearted thief Adil. Instead we take on another new role, which acts as the thematic anchor for the entire series.


This final episode is all about reexamination. We reexamine old environments (yet again, after having already done so before in Episode 2), exploring them from a different angle and discovering their secrets in a different order. We reexamine events, watching parallel plots unfold just beyond Zellner’s view, complicating the tidy solutions we thought we had all figured out in Episode 1. But most importantly, we reexamine the characters.


Episode 3 feels like it’s split into two halves. The first half returns to the relaxing, languid pace of the first episode, which makes sense considering that we’re still replaying through the events of that episode. During this period, the game encourages us to wander and talk with people, allowing it to focus more on character development than plot.


We take on the role of Patricia Mayers, who was introduced, then quickly forgotten in Episode 1, but as we see here, the game clearly hadn’t forgotten about her, even if the player did. In the short time we spend with her she becomes one of the best characters in the game. As a smart and chameleon-like con artist, she’s a joy to control. The voice acting for Patricia is especially great as we can hear her switch personas on the fly, slipping in and out of her high-pitched ditzy socialite voice and into her normal deeper voice. We can distinguish her inner narration from her dialogue just from her tone, something that wasn’t possible with the previous playable characters. That contrast makes basic conversations thrilling as we get to watch her scheme circles around people that we already know are clever and smart, but for all their smarts, they’re still victims of their assumptions about a pretty blonde girl in a dress and heels.


Patricia is the lens that lets us reexamine some major supporting characters. People are willing to open up to her in a way they were not with Zellner, and the game takes advantage of that. We see firsthand the much touted bitterness of Lady Westmacott, her disdain for high society, but also a subtle protectiveness and a deeper understanding of her fears and failures as a mother and grandmother. Kreutzer, the talented and sticky-fingered violinist who existed only as a subplot in Episode 1, spews his life’s story to Patricia and reveals himself to be far more interesting than the cliché he seemed at first.


However, what makes Episode 3 so great is that it isn’t just about revealing more information about these characters. It’s also about using that information to compare and contrast data with our expectations. Seeing these characters together, how they discuss and bicker and cuddle and kill each other, with the near-omniscient knowledge that comes from playing the past two episodes, it’s fascinating and sad to see how similar they all are. The Raven may be the titular master thief, but if this episode teaches us anything, it’s that we all have our secrets and lies, our past regrets and double lives.


All these side plots have been trickling and percolating through The Raven since the beginning, but seeing them together here brings them all into focus. This is what the final episode in any series should do, and The Raven does it quite well. It bounces its large cast off each other in fun and compelling ways to show us that the central mystery is just one of many and that each character has a rich life just as full of intrigue and action. By switching our perspective each episode, encouraging us to reexamine what we thought we knew, The Raven shows us that every NPC is worthy of their own game.


Once the game makes its thematic point with Patricia, the perspective switches back to Adil as he puzzles through the rest of the plot. Our reexamination of locations takes us back into Episode 2, and the pace of the game speeds up just as it did in that episode. With most of the supporting cast left behind, the game becomes more focused on physical point-and-click puzzles rather than conversational puzzles, but this is a good thing. Puzzle variety is important for any point-and-click game.


Ultimately, however, the final scene loses that tightly plotted focus that has driven the series from the start. One character is tied up and guarded yet somehow escapes, and we never see how. The game has put so much effort into (successfully) convincing us that this side character is important, yet it ignores her at this very crucial moment. It’s as if the writers wrote themselves into a corner, then waved it away because the conflict is over, nothing left to see here, move it along. It’s not a horrible ending, but it’s definitely a low point for the series.


Thankfully, the game makes its thematic point in the first half, and it does so skillfully, and that alone makes the series worth playing. The Raven is still an example of episodic gaming at its best since it effectively structures its narrative and themes around its limited resources. You’ll spend a lot of time in the same environments, talking to the same people, but you’re never doing or thinking the same things. Instead, you’re asked to reconsider these familiar faces and places, and you’ll realize they were never really familiar to begin to with.

Rating:

Nick Dinicola made it through college with a degree in English, and now applies all his critical thinking skills to video games instead of literature. He reviews games and writes a weekly post for the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters, and can be heard on the weekly Moving Pixels podcast. More of his reviews, previews, and general thoughts on gaming can be found at www.gamehounds.net.


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30 Sep 2013
Chapter 2 is less of a straight mystery and more of a short, satisfying thriller that still retains the heady mystery of an Agatha Christie novel.
2 Aug 2013
The Raven is a wonderful little mystery that doesn’t skimp on the dark undertones, but it doesn’t revel in them either.
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