Adventure games are old hat, but Brenna dons her non-ironic fedora and gets lost in the European charm of The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief.
Listen: there aren't a lot of things I want to remember past, say, last Tuesday, but here's what I've got. It's cold; the cold you only get in a timber-frame house halfway up a mountain range on the edge of a desert, when there's been no clouds for weeks and the air practically crackles when you move through it, it is so crystal. Every corner of the house is like a freezer except this one room, closed up tight and protected by the wheezing, burping hum of an air conditioner. It's fighting a losing battle; it freezes over every few minutes, and then roars back into life unexpectedly, making me jump every single time. I am snuggled into a beanbag with a doonah covering every part of me except my eyes. My mum is ironing and the air is full of the scent of fresh linen, slightly singed since she is not patient with this chore. We're watching Agatha Chirstie's Poirot, which my mum obsessively tapes onto VHS cassettes to rewatch over and over again on nights just like this. I liked Hercule Poirot, more than Agatha Christie's other investigators (I didn't even know Angela Lansbury existed but don't worry, I came around) and significantly more than the dodgy Australian cop show which was another of my mum's favourites.
It's a nice memory. As the music and scenery swelled up during the opening of King Art's new adventure, The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief, it slammed into me with the force of the train we see curling through the mountains.
Holy shit: an adventure I actually want to play rather than endure as a necessary chore.
The mystery actually starts in the British museum, with an assault on a couple of guards and a convenient policeman, the theft of a jewel and the escape of The Raven - or at least, someone who looks like The Raven, because as we learn shortly thereafter, The Raven is no more.
Moments later we're puffing through the Swiss countryside, through the exact same kinds of impossibly beautiful scenery so beloved of consciously European productions, listening to a very specific kind of orchestral score and coming to recognise a distinct era and aesthetic. The Raven perfectly captures the atmosphere of a particular kind of murder mystery; it's a very cinematic or perhaps TV-specific charm, and one that should tug on the heartstrings of anyone who grew up puzzling over Murder on the Orient Express.
The fact that we begin our adventure on a train feels like a nod to Poirot's most famous mystery, but it's more than that; the first character we meet is not an arrogant Belgian, but he is an older, dignified, European fellow, with a lilt to his speech and slightly fussy habits. However you choose to conduct the conversations that follow, he essays an air of calm, tinged with just a touch of grandfatherly twinkle. His speech is neat and precise but a little bit lyrical, and his gestures match the voice. The rest of the cast are equally well-realised, and since you get to play the thief side of the investigation as well, the dramas of the individual characters quickly becomes as central to absorption as the puzzles and overall plot.
I'm talking a lot about the atmosphere of The Raven because it is an adventure game, and if you've played even one, you know how they work; talk to NPCs, gather clues, combine items, solve puzzles, and fund out whodunnit. This isn't a triple-A level production, of course, but even so it's packed with an impressive amount of polish, from its (sensibly) stylised 3D graphics to its very film-like cut-scenes to its full voice acting. It's the feel of The Raven that makes it unique, and makes it something I actually want to see through to the end on my own, rather than giving up or turning to GameFAQS for clues.
Adventure isn't a popular genre any more, and believe me, I understand why - I've broken enough keyboards in my time after a bout of pixel-hunting and scrolling through endless, boring dialogue trees. But it's hard to look at a game like The Raven, which has been put together with such love and attention to detail, resulting in a unique and genuinely evocative piece of art, and not feel sorry that this kind of thing doesn't sit at the top of the charts next to Generic Shooter A and Likewise Bog Standard MMO B. If your heart stirs even slightly in response to the neat moustaches, natty suits and fiendish grey matter of Europe's finest detectives, you owe it to yourself to give it a go. It made me believe in adventure again.
The first episode of The Raven, Eye of the Sphinx, is available now on Linux, Mac and PC through Steam, for $25 or regional equivalent. It's coming to the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live in the next few months, with two more episodes to follow.
*Not actually a fact.