by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Anyone not convinced that the Adventure genre is in the midst of a renaissance would have been a believer after visiting Gamescom this year. After two days of meetings with developers and publishers I had seen four fantastic looking adventures, each bringing something new and unique to the already lavish looking adventure table. One of these games was The Raven, a classic ‘point & click’ adventure, or is it?
Being a night guard in a museum may not be the world’s most thrilling job, but it pays the bills and you have lots of time to talk to your partner. Things tend to get a little scary when your partner disappears however, especially when shadows cast by your flashlight while searching for him come in the shape of sphinxes and dead rulers. When an overexcited cop then jumps out of the dark and grabs you from behind, no one would hold it against you if you empty your bowels. I’m not sure if the guard in the opening scene of The Raven emptied his bowels, but the video did set the mood of the demonstration of the game admirably.
The Raven, a long thought dead master thief, has returned. One of his first acts is to steal The Eye of the Sphinx, a ruby of great value and one half of a matching pair. This single event raises multiple questions. Was the wrong man killed five years ago or are we dealing with a copycat thief that simply leaves the signature raven feather behind after each crime? And if The Raven stole one of the rubies, will he go after the next?
The player follows the cop investigating the heist. He believes that The Raven will indeed go after the second ruby and embarks on a trip from Switzerland to Cairo where the second stone currently resides. It is the 1960’s and most travel is done via train and boat and these provide the two main settings for the adventure that lies ahead.
To answer the question: yes, The Raven is a classic point & click adventure but to create it, developer KING Art has done something quite remarkable. Adventures are increasingly built using 3D engines but when doing so, the games lose some of the appeal of their 2D, hand-drawn counterparts. KING Art has successfully devised a method to combine hand-drawn graphics with the Unity 3D engine.
The train scene we were shown proved to be an excellent showcase for the technology. The interior of the richly furbished 1960’s train was hand painted but the mountains it was driving past were in full 3D. You would expect these two wildly different techniques to clash and causing one to look out of place but it felt perfectly natural. The characters too looked as if they were made partly in 2D and partly in 3D showing a depth in their animation not often seen in adventure games.
When asked if anyone else has done something similar, Creative Director Jan Theysen said that he wasn’t aware of any game using this technique and that they have had quite a challenge getting it to work and making it look right. It was a risk taking this approach but it has paid off as the developers can not only combine the beauty of hand-drawn graphics with the flexibility of the 3D Unity engine but also port the game to consoles much easier to boot.
The end, is not the end
As with any good adventure, The Raven is filled with puzzles and plot twists. As the player finally unravels the mystery behind The Raven’s return, the game serves up one final twist. It switches perspective from the police officer to The Raven and lets the player relive the entire game from start to end as the master thief being chased by the do-gooder cop. Playing both characters, The Raven offers some 20 hours of unique puzzling fun in a way few other games have achieved.