In hindsight I sort of regret posting my review for the first chapter of The Raven, the crime-thriller game from King Art and Nordic Games, way back in August. See the issue it provided is that I not only wrote an incomplete review for a measly one third of the overall game, but I also had to repeat a lot of what I said in my review for Chapter 2 and now I will probably have to say it a third time in this overall review. I was tempted, briefly, to write a review for Chapter 3 and then write a one-word review for the game as a whole, but that seems a bit unfair, so I will be including my thoughts on Chapter 3 in with this official and final MMGaming review of The Raven: Legend of a Master Thief.
Nordic and King Art did an exemplary job with Chapter 1 of the game. It was new, it was exciting, it was mysterious. The game had numerous flaws, it’s true, but I was very willing to overlook a lot of the flaws it had in the face of how good the rest of it was. The thing the game did best was it’s aura of mystery and constant pondering. It was like those very best of crime-thrillers you see on TV and, while I personally haven’t read any of her books, I’ve more than once seen the comparison to the novels of Agatha Christie. It kept you guessing, introducing new angles and only a few new characters, new evidence slowly coming to light which would incriminate one character in your mind whilst simultaneously shining the light of innocence upon who you had previously been suspecting. It was that way that the game constantly kept you just shy of the light of the identity of The Raven and so I bet anybody who played the game will have spent ages just internally trying to work out who the dashing and mysterious thief was before the big twist ending, and I bet everybody would have had different conclusions.
The game was also improved by the rather wonderful 1960’s aesthetic which was both vibrant and colourful, providing a pleasant backdrop for the mystery. It was also accompanied by some rather fine music, a tad repetitive at times, but varied enough and definitely fitting of the settings and mood. Equally good is the characters of the game, engaging, real and with a really rather good ensemble of voice actors, they were brought to life for me and set off the setting and the story excellently, from the drunk sea captain to the obsessed police detective (even if the character tropes were perhaps a tad cliche).
The well written and voice acted characters along with the good looks of the game were something which were prevalent across all three chapters. What suddenly changes in Chapter 2 though is the rather sudden reveal of the Raven, half-way through the chapter. There was none of the expected constant build to a final reveal at the end of the game, it was just a rather sudden, over-too-quickly, reveal and then suddenly you were playing as The Raven and you were performing his/her crimes from his/her viewpoint. This was an irritation in more ways than one, first off it caused Chapter 2 to seem unnecessarily jumbled and mixed up as it provided a clear cut point of finishing Constable Zellner’s plot-arch but did it with another hour of gameplay following it. As well as that, I wasn’t overly fond of the Raven as a character, not being at all how I had pictured him/her. I had related to and liked Constable Zellner and I simply struggled with The Raven. More than this, I said that interacting with the characters was one of the best bits of the game, but as you were playing through segments you had previously gone through as Zellner you weren’t able to go around interacting with the same characters for fear of messing up the timeline. Thus, there was miles less character interaction and the story was suddenly miles less engaging.
The other thing this led to was essentially a removal of half of the “gameplay”. Basically the game could be divided up into two portions. The major part is those moments those spent finding items and then using the items, in various combinations, on the puzzles which are blocking your way. The other half was the parts spent interacting with various other characters, and interacting with specific characters at certain times would often advance the story. Without the character interaction and dialogue the game suddenly felt a lot shorter and a lot less diverse. Part 3 of The Raven felt like simultaneously the shortest and the longest of the chapters. The shortest for the reason just stated, and the longest because without the immersion provided by the character interaction you suddenly become a lot more aware of the game’s other flaws.
I feel like there would have been one fix which might have sorted the issue I had with the lack of character interaction. They should have made the puzzles for The Raven more complex than the ones for Zellner, and honestly it might have been good to see some element of choice involved as well. It might have worked a lot more had you been given several options for carrying out the robberies done by the Raven and it would either be done by whichever method the player discovered first or whichever method s/he chose. I’m not talking about massive choices which would have affected the story, but it would have been cool to see several solutions to puzzles instead of just the one.
There are a few flaws which just constantly served to push me out of the experience of the game and as it progressed they succeeded more and more until I was feeling a great deal less engaged in the game. It’s genuinely such a bad problem that I’ve mentioned this twice already and am now mentioning it again, but the pathfinding done by your character’s AI is possibly the worst I’ve seen in recent memory. I said it in my review for chapter 2 that it felt like the controlled character was bugging out and getting stuck a fair bit more than they had been in the first chapter and in chapter 3 it felt like it might have been even worse. Perhaps this is something which will end up being ironed out by updates but basically as the game progresses you just end up teleporting around from room to room instead of walking, and it was just so bloody frustrating and completely removed you from the experience. Seriously… WASD… All I’ll say…
Speaking of going from room to room, when you are having a hard time enjoying parts of the game anyway you suddenly feel a lot less engaged by the sheer number of loading screens as you progress. Every time you move from one area to another you’re in another loading screen. And as you will be wanting to move back and forth across several areas for solving the puzzles it just gets really quite annoying. I spent far too much time of part 3 staring at a black screen with a clock on it, in fact that may now be one of the most stand out memories I now carry of the game.
One final thing on the gameplay mechanisms. There is an in-game hint system which you are to utilise when you get stuck, and you lose points every time you use it. While it is initially a good idea, especially as getting stuck in the game at a few times is only too likely, it hasn’t been particularly well implemented. The button you press which reveals, briefly, all the points of interaction in any given area does this reveal far too quickly and unobtrusively. At one point in Chapter 3 I had to click it half a dozen times in one area before I finally actually spotted the thing I’d been missing for a good hour before.
Even with the surprise element of the reveal of The Raven at the half-way point of the game the story still is the strongest element of the game, and in truth even with the lack of character interaction I did find myself being drawn back into the story in chapter 3. After the surprise of the reveal half-way through the game I wasn’t entirely prepared for a few more smaller twists to the story and was pleasantly surprised to find myself actually being surprised by the game. Unfortunately not all is well here because the way the game actually finished was actually incredibly disappointing and a little confusing. I know that it was intended to be a big shock reveal and twist ending but honestly it felt nothing like the sort. It felt like a cheat, like the writers had suddenly pulled the ending from nowhere to explain everything easily without really providing any basis for it. At the end of a story you are supposed to feel a moment of clarity where you feel that you could read it through again and see precursors to the ending which you only now can spot. You are not supposed to feel like the writers just invented a new character simply to square things away (as an example). Because this is, in a way, what it felt like, it felt like they had suddenly gone “actually everything happened THIS way” and when you are sitting there wondering “How?” they say “oh… I don’t know… magic I guess…”
So the game has unfortunately far too many issues for me to truly recommend it. It had a lot of troubles with gameplay and interacting with the environments it provides. The story had an incredibly strong start, strong enough to draw me far enough into the game that I wanted to see it all the way to the end, but slowly it degraded into a disappointing and overall unsatisfactory conclusion. Despite it’s problems though I would like to say that I am still reasonably pleased by the game. You see I am constantly saying that I hate games which don’t innovate, which simply churn out the same stuff year after year. Well it’d be pretty hypocritical to back out now because it’s very true that honestly, The Raven DOES innovate. I’ve never even heard of any other mystery/thriller type video games and I also haven’t seen anything done in this format before. It tried to be new and exciting and while it may not have pulled it off, the mere fact that it actually did try to be different to to stand out from the crowd makes it worth far more of your time and consideration than many big triple A titles out there.