[2 August 2013]
There’s a lot of back story in this first episode of The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief. In 1960, Paris was obsessed with the exploits of a master thief dubbed “The Raven” for the mask he wore. The Raven was eventually shot and killed by Nicholas Legrand, earning him widespread accolades. Years later, The Raven has returned, stealing one of a pair of precious Egyptian jewels. Now Legrand is back on the case, guarding the other jewel, wrestling with the possibility that he shot the wrong person.
Enter, Anton Jakob Zellner, a Swiss cop tasked with escorting Legrand as he rides the Orient Express through Switzerland. This third wheel is your avatar. He’s not part of the back story, he has no personal connection to the case, his involvement is tangential at best, and yet he’s the central protagonist. That outsider position makes him a fun character to inhabit. He’s an everyman who gets in over his head. Legrand doesn’t even want you around most of the time, which justifies all your solo exploration and puzzle solving. It’s also nice that Zellner is the antithesis of the video game hero, even when compared to other adventure games. He’s a kindly old man with heart problems, an observant mystery lover who knows he’s past his prime, who latches onto this case as a last chance to prove himself. It’s like playing Sherlock Holmes as an underdog.
The mystery evokes classic whodunits in the vein of Agatha Christie. The small cast is interesting and well-developed; each character gets a hefty amount of dialogue and their own back story. To its credit, the game never paints the other police officers as incompetent. You may be doing much of the puzzle solving on your own, but that’s not because Legrand is stupid. Rather, his own observations are focused in the wrong direction. The other characters are realistically nuanced as well. Indeed, none of them are stupid, which makes them all very likable.
The episode opens on the Orient Express before transitioning to a cruise ship, and the enclosed environments help keep the story on track (there’s only one objective that could be considered a side quest). But that’s not to say The Raven is fast-paced. Far from it. There’s a languid pace to the whole game that can be frustrating if you fight it but very pleasant if you embrace it. Zellner walks everywhere, so if you click across the screen, you have to wait for him to physically cross it. Before you can interact with an object, you have to look at it, which allows the game to have one-click controls, but also adds an extra step between you and the object. However, this slow pace feels right for the aged Zellner, and once you give in to it, The Raven becomes a surprisingly relaxing experience.
The stakes remain relatively low for most of the game, and everyone is rather friendly with each other. Characters might have disagreements, but they all understand that the New Raven is the real enemy, so no one is ever at each other’s throats. All the narrative tension stems from the mysterious identity of this thief. The cast is small, but one of these people is the Raven. That question hovers over your every interaction and gives even the friendliest of conversations an air of suspense.
This is where the slow pace pays off. As you discover more about each character, your suspicions change and ensure the game is never boring. Thankfully, the story also knows when to ratchet up the stakes as well. Despite the pleasant atmosphere, these characters are in real danger.
The puzzles are traditional point and click puzzles, all about finding and combining items. It can be hard to tell at times which are clickable and which are just set dressing, but thankfully there are two workarounds: you can use the hint ability to highlight clickable objects or just play with a controller. When doing the latter, you can walk around as Zellner and any clickable objects in proximity are automatically highlighted. This was my preferred way to play since it made finding things easy, and I was able to focus on the (quite sensible) logic behind the puzzles.
This first episode of The Raven tells a small scale story with little at stake, but it makes those stakes personal. It ends on a major cliffhanger, leaving me genuinely excited and worried for the future of these characters. The story displays a fine balance between its calm, languid tone, and the violence inherent in its subject matter. It’s a wonderful little mystery that doesn’t skimp on the dark undertones, but it doesn’t revel in them either. This makes for a truly pleasant experience that I can’t wait to get back into, both to see what happens next and to just chill out.