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.