What gives a game a “feeling”? An atmosphere; an intrinsic, emotive character? Well, it’s hard to say. The very concept is difficult to define, let alone identify the elements that infuse a game with such properties. Is it the score? The art-style? The plot? The characters? Perhaps it’s a combination of all these things. But for some games the experience is never realised even with all these values present. One thing I can be sure of, however, is that King Art’s latest point-and-click adventure, The Raven, has got it. And it has got it in spades.
From the delicious opening cinematic, introducing us to the eponymous master-thief, I was immediately hooked. A peaceful night in a London Museum is shattered by an explosion, a prize jewel stolen, and only a glimpse of the masked cat-burglar is caught before he vanishes behind the game’s logo, appearing from the shadows to a wonderful score full of mystery and adventure.
Fast-forward a few weeks later and you assume the role of Swiss Constable Anton Jakob Zellner, an ageing policeman who introduces himself by his full name at all times, almost as though he does it in case he was to forget it in his old age. And so begins the first of three planned chapters, The Eye of the Sphinx. It’s 1964 and you find yourself on the famous Orient Express travelling from Switzerland to a boat, waiting to make their way to Cairo.
Right from the start the mood is beautiful, almost romantic. The train is populated by several interesting characters, each with their own role to play in this mystery. A trip to the freight car, while conversing with these travellers en-route, introduces you to Inspector Nicolas Legrand. A man famous the world over for fatally wounding the original Raven, he has laid a trap for this “new” Raven in the form of the Eye of the Sphinx, the sister stone to the one stolen in England during the epilogue. It’s hard to describe the richness of the experience, but every detail is sumptuous, each adding a distinctive flavour to the atmosphere. It’s simply a treat for the senses.
Throughout your investigations aboard the train, and subsequently on the boat bound for Cairo, it’s clear that Zellner is trying to demonstrate his relevance as the world passes him by, just as the European landscape hurtles by the train windows. As you question each character, you’re trying to find out their purpose on the train and whether or not they may be involved in the plot to steal the precious gem. Miniature mysteries present themselves in the course of your interrogations, such as missing items, and it’s up to you to decide they may be connected to the Raven.
The game plays like a classic point-and-click but it is well-refined, and pays close attention to the improvements in the genre over the years. Most actions are carried out with the left and right mouse buttons, such as walking, interacting, and combining objects. A quick move of the cursor to the lower part of the screen displays current items in your inventory, which slowly auto-hides after moving away. The same happens at the top right portion of the screen, displaying your diary and adventure points. It’s all very smoothly done, and the minimalistic UI allows the player to focus on the scene at hand without intrusive clutter.
In the diary you’ll find collected clues, observations, and hints. The previously mentioned adventure points are awarded for finding clues, solving smaller mysteries, and many other things. These can then be used to unlock hints in the diary or highlight notable objects in view. It’s a nice feature and could come in handy in more tricky situations. The true merit of the game is in its limitations: simply present the gamer with a set of actions and commands and let them explore the richness of the world themselves.
The art-style is another strong point of the game. It’s bright and vibrant, but without being overly cartoony. It’s perfect for the storyline and really adds to the mood. Scenes and locations are presented with different camera angles, but each from very well placed views. There no annoying obstructions, or awkward navigation issues; it’s near-perfect. The music is stunning, alternating between merry, orchestral flutters during interactions and intriguing and deceptive tones when investigating. It’s one of many aspects that King Art absolutely nailed, and it provides so much support for all the rest of the games more intangible elements. The script and voice acting is almost paramount in a game such as this – and it’s thankfully brilliantly executed.
The Raven may not appeal to everyone. It’s not a game that gets the adrenaline pumping, nor does it provide instant gratification – but that’s ok, it’s not that kind of title. What it does provide, is a rich story in an immersive environment with well honed gameplay. It’s fun, it’s relaxing, and it can really take you away from the outside world. There are some minor issues such as the fluidity of Zellner’s movement, but I’m sure these little bugs will be worked out for the final release. I can’t wait until the final release, and I would highly recommend others interested in a more cerebral exercise to investigate this potentially future classic when it is released this month.