The Raven: Chapter 2 Review: Wait, Who’s the Killer, Again?

Making episodic games can be tough, because it tends to be easy to lose track of what’s going on in any given game — even those that aren’t heavily driven by narrative — if you spend too much time away. In a title like The Raven, in which you need to keep straight the facts of an unfolding murder mystery and incredible robbery, a big lapse between episodes can mean the difference between being a brilliant detective and a bumbling oaf.

Episode 2 of The Raven, an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery story that takes players from The Orient Express to the Museum of Cairo on the hunt for an international jewel thief, includes a lot of moments that hit just the right notes of mixing logical thinking and leaps of faith. Like the first installment, it includes puzzles, character moments with its broad international cast, and a couple of great crescendos in which you’re tasked with putting the clues all together. You know that moment when Poirot/Columbo/Angela Lansbury is all, “I know who the murderer is — and he or she is in this room!”? You get that.

But while I continue to enjoy the solid writing, intertwining mysteries and well-built characters of The Raven, Episode 2 presents a couple of issues of pacing. Picking up the episode some time after finishing the first can lead to some confusion, and a mid-episode cliffhanger feels like it ratchets the story to its tensest moment, only to leave you wondering what happened while the game picks up another, somewhat less exciting thread of the story.

The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief: Chapter 2
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Mac, Linux
Developer: KING Art
Publisher: Nordic Games
Released: Aug. 27, 2013
MSRP: $24.99 (includes all three episodes)

As in Chapter 1, The Raven continues to follow the story of the titular jewel thief and the police officers hoping to catch him. Players spend about half of the second chapter continuing to play in the role of Constable Zellner, an aging Swedish policeman who sees a chance to prove his detective prowess when he gets a chance to join the Raven case.

Zellner’s come a long way by this point in The Raven, and the cliffhanger that ended the first episode is quickly paid off at the start of Chapter 2. That’s a bit of a rough patch, though — if you’re playing each chapter as they release, there’s a month between gathering all the evidence at the end of Chapter 1 and the payoff to that mystery in Chapter 2. When you finally get your big detective moment, it’s easy to forget everything you painstakingly learned, and that’s exacerbated by the fact that you have to put the clues together yourself, without much aid from in-game notebooks and the like.

To its credit, though, The Raven doesn’t leave you to stumble around too much. Explaining the ins and outs of Chapter 1′s murder is a matter of multiple choice answers, and other characters correct you if you botch the facts. And if you happen to play the two chapters back-to-back (as I did), the reveal scene ends up being very satisfying, precisely because there’s not so much hand-holding as you explain how you figured everything out.

From there, the game proceeds as planned, with Zellner arriving in Cairo with the rest of the case for the big museum reveal of the remaining Eye of the Sphinx, the super-valuable jewel that the Raven plans to steal. There are a couple new characters to meet and some more puzzles to solve in the mystery of the impending jewel theft, all of which remain at the standard set by Episode 1.

Right around the mid-point of the episode, however, The Raven abruptly shifts gears. Ending with a cliffhanger again — indeed, at the climax of the story — the chapter resets to the beginning of the game with a new player character, and begins showing the events of the first episode from an alternate perspective from Zellner’s.

It’s not that this is a bad turn for the game, but it does seem to create a massive speed bump in the story where one need not exist. The switch in characters is meant to augment the mystery, explaining things that seemed almost fantastical in the first episode, but the result feels more like getting backstory when you want to be back in the present, finding out how things are all going to shake out. Switching perspectives mid-story is an interesting device, but here it slows the action significantly, and the episode wraps up by adding new information to the growing mystery but without answering much in a way that feels satisfactory. Much of what’s here is setting up the concluding chapter, but that means we’re left in the middle with nothing wrapped up until Chapter 3 gets here.

Of course, that’s the nature of episodic storytelling, to some degree, and Chapter 2 still has a lot of interesting puzzles to solve (none of which is especially tough) and discussions to have. But where Chapter 1 made use of the episodic structure in order to end on a high note, Chapter 2 inadvertently uses it to play down some of the best moments the game has yet offered. We want to see what happened with the explosive theft in the museum — not what was going on back on the Orient Express when we were talking to the kid with the toy gun.

All that said, The Raven as a whole is shaping up to be a fine murder-mystery of a tale, with solid puzzle and point-and-click gameplay and a lot of great writing. It’s at its best when it’s dropping bread crumbs for you to collect, and it smartly avoids putting the case together for you unless you really need it to do so. While Chapter 2 might have its pacing issues, it accomplishes one thing beautifully: it leaves you wanting more, and it deftly raises new questions about the mystery just as it’s answering old ones. If Chapter 3 can stick the landing, The Raven might be one of the finer bits of interactive storytelling to come out this year.

Pros:

  • Continued strong story with great characters
  • Deftly builds the mystery, with red herrings and a chance to puzzle out clues without handholding
  • Switch in perspectives explains elements of the story and fleshes things out nicely
  • More fun puzzles
  • Sets up third installment well and is great about keeping players engaged, for the most part

Cons:

  • Pacing issues leave players at the story’s climax in order to go back to the beginning from another point of view
  • Picking up after Chapter 1′s cliffhanger can leave players struggling to remember clues and important information

Final Score: 70/100

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