The Raven’s old-fashioned mystery is not enough to captivate

the raven adventure game gd impressions

The truth is this–it is way easier to write about a bad game than a good game. Also, much more fun. Gushing over fantastic gameplay mechanics or a clever story is all well and good, but nothing makes the eyes dilate or lips quiver like venomous prose, the kind that pins its prey to the wall and tortures it into unconsciousness. See, already enjoying this opening paragraph greatly.

Which brings us to The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief. Well, at least the first episode (of three), developed by KING Art and published by Nordic Games Publishing, which stars Constable Anton Jakob Zellner, a soft-spoken but determined man of the Swiss police force, as he solves the mystery of The Raven, an art burglar who has stolen one of the legendary “Eyes of the Sphinx” from a British museum in London in 1964. It’s a point-and-click adventure game, though the version I played was on a console–specifically the Xbox 360–which means it is more accurately described as a control-a-character-and-move-around adventure game since there is no cursor for pointing.

The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief‘s story is middling at best. I will give the game credit for presenting us with a non-typical protagonist; in an industry built upon the burly shoulders of rugged, frowny face men wielding shotguns, Zellner comes across as a for-hire mall Santa Claus during the off-season. He’s soft-spoken, observant, and always up for a conversation. Later on, when aboard a cruise ship, it appears that he is cosplaying as the leader of a local bowling team. There are moments that I’m sure the developers would like to think of as “twists,” but they can be seen coming from a good distance away, and this first episode ends on the reveal of a character that clearly didn’t try to hide their true identity along the way.

To move the story forward, you must solve puzzles, all of which are grounded in logic and reality. They are not hard, save for a few instances where the developers try to mix things up, like introducing a one-off lockpicking puzzle or a game of shuffleboard. Truthfully, the most difficult part of solving these puzzles is finding the required items, as controlling Zellner is about as graceful as maneuvering a drunk tree. If I was playing on a PC, one could simply navigate the cursor over the desired item and click on it to have Zeller investigate; here, instead, one must walk him, using everyone’s favorite tank control scheme, over to the item, which is not as simple as it sounds. Actually, once he is close enough, the item will highlight itself with a button prompt, but only if Zellner is looking in its general direction. Something else to remember is that examining an item more than once will provide further details and clues.

Now let me tell you about the most frustrating part of Episode One for The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief. It’s around the middle, right after, spoiler, something causes the train everyone is on to crash. This plunges the game into chaos and darkness, with your first goal being to make a torch of some sort. That way you can see who needs help and what to do next. That’s all well and good, but the game, at this point, becomes so dark it is nearly impossible to tell where Zellner is walking and what items are around him. Eventually, I blasted the brightness on my television screen to full in order to see what was where, which just made everything seem extra ridiculous.

There are also a huge number of technical issues throughout, ranging from audio clipping, silly path navigation, and way too lengthy loading screens, which become a huge hassle during the third act. There, you can visit a number of screens and must do to backtracking, but going from one to another requires a long load–each and every time. The graphics certainly seem at home for an early Xbox 360 game except until one realizes this came out in 2013. Also, the dang thing froze on me once when I tried to pull up my inventory immediately after some dialogue tree. Lastly, there is an entire hint/score system that is never introduced or explained, but there none the less, like some strange afterthought.

Unfortunately, while this first episode of The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief was a Games With Gold freebie, I won’t be spending any money on the additional two episodes. Not even the crazy quick cliffhanger ending got me by the wallet. If anything, I may watch them on YouTube to see how things unfolded story-wise, but I don’t expect the gameplay or puzzles to change wildly, which is where the game truly lost me. Oh well. At least deleting this off my Xbox 360’s hard-drive won’t be as difficult as getting Zellner to talk to the suspicious man with the newspaper and not head outside the door next to him.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #38 – The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief (Episode 1)

gd 2015 games completed the raven episode 1

Catch the art burglar
As Zellner makes for Egypt
Beyond tedious

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

Five things make a post, and Suikoden III is an undeniable PlayStation 2 classic

gd bought suikoden III again on psn

Activity on Grinding Down has been sparse as of late, which is pretty much par for the course when it comes to the summer months. Truth be told, between moving from one state to another, working, burning the midnight oil, frowning over piles of paperwork, living a life, and eating up several episodes of House of Cards on Netflix every night, I’ve not been juggling many games at once, continuing to focus on my current mainstays: Pokémon Shuffle, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, and a handful of mobile entries, one of which I’m not even ready to openly admit to “playing.” What a tease!

Anyways, here’s a few–well, five, if the title of this post is to be believed–short topics I have enough words to spew about. Perhaps I’ll get back to longer, more traditional posts sooner than later, but I promise to make no promises. Except for that promise.

Onwards!

Steam Sale Has Shipped

I always imagine myself going crazy and buying game after game after game during Steam’s annual Summer Sale…but that never seems to happen. It should, as there are plenty of great sales, and I checked in on the marketplace at least once a day, almost pulling the trigger on Grow Home, but nope. This year, I spent a total of $0.74 for the Developer Alliance bundle, and of them, I’ve only got to enjoy one outing so far. The other titles are at least installed on my machine. Also, I tried out that weird meta “keep on clicking” mini-game about monsters battling, but had no idea really what the point of it was, other than contributing to unlocking additional sales.

Well, there’s always the end-of-year Holiday Sale to look forward to. Maybe I’ll spend over a dollar for that event. Maybe I’ll finally grab a copy of Grow Home before 2015 concludes. Maybe.

Welcome to tactical alien shooting

Naturally, I have a longer, much more detailed post in the works for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, but the videogame-musing words have not been very forthcoming these last few weeks. Anyways, I finally beat this last night, but the final fight took–ready for this–nine attempts. Seven with my team of agents that I’ve been playing with since perhaps the second or third mission of the game, which was frustrating as the last fight seemed designed to undermine every one of their abilities. Instead, I had to swap out my generic-but-loyal dudes for two other dudes with different classes, and yes I totally understand that these are personality-less soldiers, but, to me, to CIA Agent William Carter’s journey as a whole, it made more sense that his long-standing comrades should’ve finished the fight with him than these newbies. Oh well.

The Flame Champion once more

The Suikoden franchise, as much as it hurts to write it, is dead. And this time, there’s no late-game manner of reviving it like there was with a certain Young Master’s friend. Clearly, Konami doesn’t even want to make videogames anymore.

Thankfully, there’s been a few gasps of air over the last couple of months with the bringing of Suikoden II to the PlayStation Network as a digital download. This fantastic trend is continuing, with Suikoden III popping up this week for fans of Konami’s star-studded RPG series to eat up. Yes, I purchased a digital copy immediately for a whopping $9.99; y’all might remember the time and length it took me to finally snag a (used) retail copy, but it turns out that my used discs are a wee bit scratched and unreliable. Now I don’t have to worry about that, though I’ll have to start the adventure over. Methinks I will once I get through Final Fantasy IX.

What in the world was that?

I burned through a guessing game on my non-fancy Windows 8 phone the other week called What in the World?, which basically presents you with a category, a low detailed drawing, and a bunch of letters at the bottom. Your goal is to guess what it is, and, for the most part, the answers are pretty obvious. Harry Potter, Madonna, Paris, Spider-Man, and so on. I struggled mostly with celebrity names and automobile brands, but if you get stuck you can use power-ups to remove unused letters or even put several correct letters in their final places. In the end, I unlocked all the Achievements and then deleted the thing from my phone.

Quote the raven

Once again, I’m tasked with making room on my fledgling of an Xbox 360, as I’d really like to download Just Cause 2 and see some chaos unfold. But first, let’s complete some other Games with Gold freebies from my hard-drive. Like…um, The Raven – Legacy of a Master Thief. Well, Episode 1 at least. It’s a point-and-click adventure game…on a console. Grrr. So far, I’m glad that this was free, but generally once I start something, I need to finish it, even if it is only the first episode. My favorite subtitle typo currently has been about a train patron when she “looses” her purse, but the next line contaiedn the correct use of “lose.” Can’t win ’em all, the creators of The Book of Unwritten Tales.

That’s all for now! I have to go find some lady’s lost purse, as well as trick a violinist into opening up his violin case. Videogames–am I right?

2015 Game Review Haiku, #37 – The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

gd 2015 games completed the-bureau-xcom-declassified

William Carter must
Destroy the Outsiders threat
Tactical shoot, hide

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #36 – Out There (Somewhere)

2015 gd games completed Out There Somewhere

Time those jumps, fix ship
End boss is out there somewhere
Don’t ignore the trees

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

Your broken spaceship’s parts are Out There (Somewhere)

out there somewhere gd early impressions

Well, the Steam Summer Sale kicked off the other day, and so far, I’ve produced a haiku about it, as well as bought a bundle of four games for $0.74. I’d also like to note that the money used to purchase this bundle was generated from selling digital trading cards on the Steam marketplace, so this is a big win–in my mind–from multiple angles. The Developer Alliance bundle, which was marked down to 95% off, contained the following, all of which seemed interesting and were not already in my library at the time of purchase: Polarity, Beep, Camera Obscura, and Out There (Somewhere). Today, I’ll be waxing on and off about the last listed title there, but I do expect to try out the other three sooner than later.

Out There (Somewhere), a name that feels like it should be attached to a long-lost Asimov short story, is an action-based puzzle platformer clearly inspired by adventures like Cave Story, Super Metroid, and Portal. See, you play an explorer named Yuri stranded on a dangerous alien planet after your spaceship is damaged. Low on fuel and in desperate need of key spaceship parts, your only hope for escape is to explore and see what this planet holds. Thankfully, you have a teleportation gun, though its use is limited based on your environment. I’ll explain.

In this platformer, you can jump, as well as shoot your teleportation gun, which fires a ball of blue light. Technically, that’s you. Once that blue light hits a surface, you’ll be instantly transported there. Of course, there are some exceptions, as different colored beams of light will get in your way: red cancels your shot, blue will teleport you like any other surface, and green takes you for a ride first. This is where a lot of the puzzles come into play, figuring out how to get from one place to another using your gun. Often, you’ll have to factor in momentum too when landing a teleporting shot. Fairly early on you’ll acquire a more weapony gun, a real pea-shooter, which will help you take out enemies like bats and monster slime thingies; alas, having two different guns confused me at first, and I ended up firing the wrong one at the right time far too many times.

Evidently, I’m a sucker for games where every screen you traverse gets a name. I loved this in VVVVVV and You Have to Win the Game, and I like it here as well, though the screen names, so far, are not highly titillating (for example, Basement). The story is fairly thin, but enough to go on. As you explore, you’ll come across NPCs in the form of alien treefolk; they don’t say much, but there’s an Achievement for speaking to every one of them, and so I’ll do it. However, Out There (Somewhere) is more about the action and nifty mechanics, and the difficulty curve is surprisingly tough–but rewarding.

Part of me is bummed to learn that Out There (Somewhere) was released back in 2012. That means I’ve been missing out on this good, wholesome, teleport-your-body fun for three years. There once was a time when only a handful of games came out, and you could keep track of them all; now, not so much. Well, I’m glad then that this Developer Alliance bundle for the Steam Summer Sale caught my eye, and I’m looking forward to checking out the other titles, but only after I finish Yuri’s mission. For the meantime, I have to get back to work, and by that I mean collecting those vital spaceship parts with style.

Alfie Banks and his great opportunity in A Golden Wake

gd impressions a golden wake pca

More so than movies or books, videogames transport us to other worlds and let us interact–with things, whether they are people, plants, or places. Oftentimes, these worlds are fictional or, in the case when they are not, the narrative surrounding it or the era are created whole cloth. I’m struggling to think of a game built around something so real and true, an experience where you just recreate the past as it happened. No, the Assassin’s Creed series definitely does not count. Now, A Golden Wake doesn’t do this per se, but many of the people in it are pieces of history, as is the land boom in Florida and the illegal happenings around Prohibition. I mean, you simply can’t make up a thing like the Roaring Twenties.

You take control of Alfie Banks, a realtor for Morris & Banks in New York. Unfortunately, his realtor days are up because his coworkers concoct a cunning plot to frame him, which subsequently results in his ejection from the company. With not much to go on, Banks purchases a newspaper–with his last dime, mind you–and reads an article about the land boom in Florida. For him, a fresh start is simply a long train ride away. And off he goes, to meet an array of new characters and find his place in the big ol’ world.

A Golden Wake dives deep into its setting. You can see this from the reworked Wadjet Eye logo when the game loads up to the playful menu text when you quit back to the desktop. Despite being a work of speculative fiction, Grundislav Games makes a massive effort to be historically accurate, including notable figures from the era, such as real estate developer George Merrick and mobster Fatty Walsh. period dialogue, and a retro, ragtime soundtrack that is still stuck in my head as of this writing. This high attention to detail really helps bring the old-school and, to be honest, somewhat crude graphics to life. To put it bluntly, there were a few screens, such as the boat dock and a few one-off locations, like the golf course, that felt unfinished. Or rather, uninteresting and distant, and existing only for Alfie to click on something and go to an additional screen, where things were much more refined.

Here’s a bummer: Alfie Banks is not very likeable. The game likes to build up his so-called charm and way with words, but I found him grating, whiney, and selfish from the very first scene. There’s nothing you can do about this. It is how he is written, and when the time comes for him to make a major decision, you just sit back and watch, helping to put the pieces together afterwards. The problem is that we never get a whole lot of backstory on the man, not even when his brother shows up for a chat. Which makes a lot of his journey and grumbling as an errand boy feel a bit empty. He certainly has an impact, but ultimately feels quite unnecessary in the long run. A shame, as I did enjoy many other characters, such as Marjory Stoneman Douglas, voiced by none other than Rebecca Whittaker. Another problem is that because Alfie is constantly jumping ship, you never get to hang around with the same side characters for too long.

In stark contrast to the previous point-and-click adventure game I played, A Golden Wake‘s puzzles across Alfie Banks’ sojourn for a better life are shockingly simple. Your inventory never becomes too full, and every solution stems from a logical conclusion. Need an antenna for a toy tramcar? Use that antenna you broke off that radio earlier. There are a few spots where the “action” switches from standard pointing and clicking, with you finding “hidden objects” in a picture to condemn a house or steering a car to help Mabel Cody hop on her flying stunt plane. These certainly do break up the action, but are far from enjoyable. In the end, I only had to look up the solution to an obtuse bookcase secret passage puzzle (hint: how would a V.I.P. enter?), figuring everything out on my own. There’s also a questioning minigame–think L.A. Noire, but toned way down–where you can use Alfie’s charm and wits to unearth answers or cheat by clicking the Seller’s Intuition button; I never felt like I was doing it right, though the story just continues on regardless of the outcomes.

A few years ago, I replayed Blackwell Deception with the developer’s commentary on, and it was just as enjoyable as the first time through. I’m not ready to go back into A Golden Wake–aw, horsefeathers!–but when I do, I suspect I’ll partake of this option, as well as go for some of the trickier Achievements. There’s no difficulty setting for the puzzles, but it’ll be interesting to hear some thoughts about what went into them or why this location was used this way or that. A Golden Wake dreams big, and while it is not successfully in every corner, it is still a pretty good adventure that fans of traditional pointing and clicking can eat up, all while drowning in that deliciously sweet jitterbugging soundtrack.