The Raven Preview: Hunting a Master Thief in 1963

Probably my favorite thing about point-and-click adventure games, whether they be classics or the new, slightly thinner breed that continues to pop up on PC and elsewhere even today, is their focus on stories that don’t all feature dude-bro space marine protagonists.

Case in point: The protagonist of The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief isn’t a muscular, brooding cop with a sexy five-o’clock shadow. It’s a lumpy, aging Swedish constable desperate to try to prove himself when he happens to luck out and become part of the biggest burglary investigation of the century. Controlling the earnest and attentive Constable Zellner in a preview build of the upcoming adventure title puts players in the role of a character not unlike famous film detectives such as Columbo or Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

And even from the first, The Raven has a certain kind of not-quite-serious charm that invokes mystery literature and TV shows beautifully. Cartoonish Unity graphics and the 1960s aesthetic combine with the cast of quirky international characters are light-hearted, but the mystery unfolding also feels like it has real stakes in a ’60s cinema spy story/detective caper way. The combination makes The Raven distinct and endearing.

Zellner finds himself in a constant uphill battle in The Raven, and not only because he’s facing a brilliant master thief. When he’s assigned to help out the famous Detective Legrande guard a priceless jewel being targeted by The Raven as it’s transported across Europe on The Orient Express, Zellner has to deal with the fact that Legrande doesn’t want his help on the case. A lowly constable, he spends as much energy trying to convince the detective that his opinions and police work are worthwhile as he does actually searching for clues to the whereabouts of The Raven.

And though the Eye of the Sphinx, the priceless jewel Legrande is guarding aboard the train from Zurich to Venice, is locked away in a safe, The Raven is definitely after it. That’s the plan, after all — Legrande means to catch the thief in the act. Meanwhile, Zellner’s job is to keep an eye on the passengers, and stay out of the way.

As with all adventure games, The Raven starts off a bit slow, with Zellner talking to folks around the train and gathering information. There’s the slightly shifty violinist, the earnest American kid with a toy pistol, the cucumber-cool German doctor, the loud and frustrating baroness, the twitchy British museum researcher, the Agatha Christie-alike novelist traveling with her assistant, the boy’s mom, and the inattentive steward. Zellner’s job in the early going is to figure out what all their stories are. One of them is probably The Raven, and the caper is already afoot.

Nordic Games’ The Adventure Company has taken the standard adventure formula and kept things simple, as is common in the genre today. One click gets you everything, be it information about an object, picking up that object, using it with another object, or what have you. Conversations operate the same way, and while there are almost always dialog options, they’re less multiple choice than leading toward the same ultimately conclusion. All this is pretty well bog-standard for adventure titles today.

If there’s a place in which The Raven doesn’t necessarily meet you in the middle, it’s in showing what’s available to be interacted with on any given screen. Any given area has a number of interactive elements, of course, and you’ll often pick them up without knowing what the hell you’ll be doing with them. But finding those interactive elements can be difficult. The Raven offers a hints and a chance to highlight interactive elements, but it’s not free: instead, you’ll earn and spend “adventure points” toward hints and highlighting. Points get doled out every time you successfully complete a puzzle, so they’ll pile up pretty fast once the game gets rolling.

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