The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief (Chapter I) Review
A Piece of the Puzzle Missing
A while back, I proudly hosted a SpawnFirst-exclusive interview with Marco Rosenberg, who played a big role in the development of The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief. Promising a story-focused, action-oriented point-and-click adventure, I couldn’t help but grow more excited as the release date neared. Alas, the game was unfortunately delayed for nearly a month, and The Raven slowly slipped off my radar. Seemingly sneaking out of nowhere, it’s stolen my attention once again; and, although the first chapter falls flat with baffling and frustrating puzzle design, the narrative leaves the door wide open for the next release to do something special.
Set in Europe during the 1960s, The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief tells an overarching plot about… well, a master thief known as The Raven. Gentlemanly and refined, The Raven effortlessly pulled off some of Europe’s most daring heists during his prime. His days were cut short, however, when he was fatally wounded by Inspector Nicolas Legrand — who has made his entire career off that defining moment.
All is not well, though. The opening cutscene shows an invaluable gem, known as The Eye of the Sphinx, being plucked from a museum. The only evidence is a single raven feather left at the scene of the crime. It was the M.O. of the Master Thief himself, leading either to suspicions of a copycat thief, or evidence that The Raven is still at large.
Chapter One follows Constable Anton Jakob Zellner, an aged police officer with his heart set on one day solving a big case. Aboard a seemingly-mundane train, he gets tangled up with Inspector Nicolas Legrand, and becomes fully invested in the ever-thickening plot. Fueled by his love for detective novels and a penchant for adventure, Zellner has the heroic traits we see so often in protagonists. Rather than star a young, chiseled, and handsome inspector that is so often the cliche, The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief gives a refreshing take on what we view as a hero. Zellner is a pudgy, endearing, sweet, grandfatherly character, and KING Art Games takes every opportunity to make that idea stick. This isn’t Nathan Drake or Master Chief; it’s not Commander Shephard or Lee Everett; Anton Jakob Zellner is a completely different breed of video game hero, and for that exact reason, he’s become one of the most colorful protagonists of the year. His odd comments and strange observations make him a joy to play as.
Anton Jakob Zellner is a completely different breed of video game hero, and for that exact reason, he’s become one of the most colorful protagonists of the year.
Aside from Zellner, the rest of the exotic cast is similarly entertaining. While the only other memorable character is Inspector Legrand, every other star does a decent job of holding interest during dialogue. There’s a wide variety of different acts, from the annoying kid that you’d like to punch, to the edgy old novelist with a keen eye.
The narrative weaves these characters within interesting plot threads in the story. While the majority of your time spent is a relaxed experience, there are definitely moments of high tension—most often brought about through cutscenes—that build anxiety and push the paced story to brief moments of high excitement. That excitement might often die out quickly, but it still leaves enough room for surprising turns. And, while the cliffhanger ending will coax you into a smile at the plot’s intricacy (and stir hype for Chapter II), you might not ever make it that far: The basic gameplay is enough to kill your desire to find out what happens next.
For the most part, I’m a pretty smart guy. I received straight A’s in high school, I can solve X for Y, and I can spell onomatopoeia without looking it up. Something about the point-and-click gameplay in The Raven, though, made me feel like an absolute idiot. At times, it can feel like the Dark Souls of pointing a mouse, and that’s not a compliment.
My initial reaction was one of glee: I’d wander back and forth between stages, talking to characters and clicking everything in sight. I was still in the ‘getting used to it’ stage of the game, and was eager to see and hear everything it had to offer. Cue the first round of puzzle solving and, like any puzzle worth solving, I was immediately stumped. After a solid few minutes of talking to characters, trying to combine ridiculous objects, and scanning the same areas dozens of times, I would finally deduce the solution. After taking a step back and looking what I did (because it felt like I’d just solved a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle), I realized it didn’t amount to much more than ten seconds of gameplay—if I knew what I was doing.
I chalked it up to a small fluke and continued on with my enjoyment of the scenery. Conversations fill the gaps between the more adventurous portions, and that’s where The Raven is at its best. Learning about the backstory of the plot and the creative pasts of all the characters; that’s the part of the game people come to see. But, in time, the only way to advance the story is by solving more puzzles. As the game goes on, these puzzles get more confusing, and are often just downright frustrating.
I’m all for exploring levels and finding secrets, but you’ll surely hit a point where what you’re doing just doesn’t make any sense. Whether I was trying to make a torch or figuring out how to make a guard leave his post, I would come across moments where the solution was extremely convoluted. Not having the necessary items, I’d eventually have to scour the entire map four or five times just to figure out what I missed. The majority of the time, it was inconclusive what I was even looking for, let alone where I could find it. I hate to say it, but I spent the better part of a half hour trying to find out how to burn a curtain. I combined everything possible, endlessly checked the same two rooms, and screamed at my screen like a hopeless maniac…only to find out I hadn’t checked the place that I needed the the fire for. And even then, I was just aimlessly clicking without any intentions of succeeding.
In time, the only way to advance the story is by solving more puzzles. As the game goes on, these puzzles get more confusing, and are often just downright frustrating.
For this reason, if you plan on playing The Raven, I strongly recommend having a walkthrough on hand for when times get sketchy. The in-game help is by far some of the most unhelpful assistance I’ve ever had. In theory, it works great: by progressing through the story, you earn Adventure Points. These can, in turn, be traded in to uncover clues and get hints. You really never have to worry about running out of points, which is good. However, both help mechanics are deeply flawed.
Unlike what you might think, uncovering clues doesn’t highlight all the clickable objects in your surroundings. Instead, any of these objects are denoted with a dark magnifying glass that briefly hovers over an area. It’s incredibly easy to miss, and I say that from experience. The hints cost quite a bit more Adventure Points, and are meant to point you in the right direction whenever you get stuck. They could’ve been a godsend. Unfortunately they’re always ambiguous at best, and often left me even more confused. One could hope that buying successive hints would give you a less-cryptic explanation of what needs to be done. All that happens, though, is that you receive a hint to the next puzzle—whether or not you’ve even reached that point yet.
It’s safe to say, there’s a TON to be desired in the gaps between NPC conversations. Thankfully though, these are things that could absolutely be patched up in Chapter II when it arrives in the coming months.
Graphics & Sound
At first glance, The Raven has an innocent, light-hearted, and cartoony feel to the graphics and presentation. Wonderfully contrasting it’s darker tones (which span things like theft and murder), the game world and characters alike have a bright and resonant feel. Similarly, the soundtrack has its share of sun-soaked beach tunes and riveting, dramatic beats to fit the plethora of different moods that appear throughout the narrative.
Character dialogue can be a little tongue-in-cheek, but all of the ambitiously exotic characters carry their own unique accent and dialect, making each stand out in their own way. Despite the many positives about presentation, there are still some very frequent technical hiccups. Things like Zellner awkwardly sliding around the floor if you click in the wrong spot, or the background music cutting out at odd times make the experience slightly questionable; there’s a noticeable lack of polish nearly anywhere you look.
While unclear objectives will have you running back and forth between rooms countless times, it might’ve actually been quite manageable if it weren’t for the load times. Every time you enter a new room, it takes a few seconds to load. Even though it may not sound like much, trust me; it’ll wear you down over time, and discourage you from leaving a room until you’re SURE there’s nothing left to find.
To break the pace of NPC dialogue smothered with puzzle-solving, there are two minigames that are necessary to move the plot forward. Neither is very difficult, but both are very poorly explained. I lost twice at shuffleboard before I could even figure out how to hit the puck, and I’m still not quite sure how lockpicking works. While it might only be a minor inconvenience, it added to the frustrating gameplay elements.
There really isn’t much in the realm of extras. After completing the game you’ll see the total amount of Adventure Points you had left, but it’s essentially irrelevant. There’s also unlockable artwork and a soundtrack to listen to, but by the game’s end, you’ll have had your fill of those anyway.
Here’s the thing about episodic titles: Good or bad, they may not be indicative of the overall quality of the other releases. Though The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief can be aggravating at times, it can be highly enjoyable in spurts (as long as you have a trusty FAQ queued up). The narrative carries the entire title on its back. For $25 you can have access to all three chapters (once they release over the coming months), but that price seems awfully steep, especially considering you’ll only spend a measly 4-6 hours on the first chapter. Either wait for the price to come down, or for the next chapters to improve in quality.