It was, for me, about five hours into The Raven Remastered that its greatest move was revealed. For the first half of the game, The Raven is more than happy to go along acting like a pretty simple Agatha Christie knock. A foreign detective with a handlebar mustache; a crime aboard a train; a death in Egypt, immediately before several characters go on a cruise on the Nile; even a character on board who’s famous for her mystery novels.
And in this part of the game, you take on the role of Constable Zellner, a Swiss detective who’s been hired as backup to help take on the Raven, a famous thief who was thought dead years ago but seems to have re-emerged. People don’t take you seriously, but why would they? You’re a dumpy older man with a funny mustache. Constable Legrand, the handsome younger detective who stopped the Raven years ago, is also on-board – if anyone’s gonna stop this re-emerged master thief, it’s gonna be him, right?
But of course, while Legrand focuses on the big picture, it’s you as Zellner who finds the smaller hints that paint a fuller picture. Why is it that this room, which was locked before its occupants could get in it, looks like someone’s already been through it? How did this door go from locked to unlocked without doing anything about it? How did this letter get planted so that everyone involved would see it only right as an explosion went off?
So we’ve all seen heist movies, right? An Ocean’s 11, an Inside Man, basically any of those movies where the hero thieves pull off an impossible heist and the cops are looking around with a shocked and confused “whuh happen?” etched in every wrinkle of their face. And then the movie shows you that ah, while you thought this was happening, this OTHER thing was happening, you absolute CLOD, you sweet babe wrapped in a blanket of ignorance! And that’s the move The Raven pulls halfway through, but instead of being a cutscene, you get to play the whole thing.
It takes you from the role of the inspector who’s trying to put together the clues for how this all fits together, to the role of the thief where you have to reverse-engineer the clues from the first half to figure out how you’d done it. And you see everything start to slot neatly in place. In an interesting way, it almost feels like it’s reversing the roles – now the thieves are using the clues you’d had access to previously to solve their OWN puzzles – and it’s a pretty excellent twist on how heist/crime related media tends to go. You’re not just treated to a 20-minute infodump, and instead get to play it in a way that works very organically. You.... BECOME the infodump!
This secondary playthrough of the events also works well for how it goes out of its way to really deepen a lot of characters, too, something that I’d had a problem with on my first playthrough and that I had my pen IN HAND to fully excoriate in this review. But The Raven knows what it’s doing and gives you some rather deep backstory even into characters who don’t particularly matter to the overall story in any way. Tales of heartbreak, disappointment, depression, and a romance I really found myself rooting for, all play well (though the attempts to make me go “oh wow this Nazi who turned in a Jewish woman he’d been hiding just cuz she didn’t want his D is so tragic” fell on uh, very deaf ears). You can, of course, skip them if you’re just looking for the next mystery, but who knows who might slip with a detail that suggests there’s more to them than meets the eye....?
I completely missed The Raven when it originally came out, but I know it was released in 2013, which was a year of pretty big change in the games industry. Consider: it’s the year of both Gone Home and Bioshock Infinite coming out. Both of these games created such huge shockwaves in critical discourse, in the medium of videogames, in that separation between the AAA and the indie game that we’re still dealing with today. We were just one year after Telltale’s The Walking Dead as well – the game so many point to as reviving and revolutionizing the adventure game, with its choices, dialogue tree, and reminders of who will remember what. And in the midst of all this change and innovation and upheaval... The Raven came out.
Far too often we seem to overlook a game that comes out and just does what it does REALLY well. We look for something to push the medium or genre forward. We look for new mechanics. We look for a greater spectacle or technical showcase than what had come before, but we often seem to underappreciate the power of a game that comes out and just stays in its lane and just executes extremely well. And that’s 100% where The Raven Remastered still fits in with conversations around the genre. It’s not really a throwback, as it heavily modernizes and streamlines a lot of how adventure games have worked in the past, in particular the notoriously fidgety puzzles. But it’s also not a leap ahead, as it doesn’t include so many of the choices du jour that were so popular in 2013, such as player choice, branching narratives, conversation trees. It just competently and confidently tells its story of murder, mystery, theft, and deceit – the fundamentals that make it still work so well today.
It’s something that annoys the hell out of me with regards to games is the way we talk about games from even just a few years ago with this tone of “wow, I can’t believe it still holds up so well.” This is the only medium I can think of where such conversations happen about something that’s maybe five years old – and it sucks! It sucks we have this expectation that we’ll go back to, say, Shadow of Mordor, a game we still hold as so innovative with its Nemesis system, and have to go “surprisingly it still holds up!” when we talk about it in any way.
So that’s where I feel like a game that takes just what it *knows* to work about a genre and makes a solid utilization of it can have an ability to age so much better. It’s not to say The Raven is a perfect game, it has some weird bugs and hitches, some spots I had to quit the game to deal with a soft lock, and there’s some odd times where I found myself just sort of stuck on some geometry or not quite in the exact right position to interact with a specific environmental piece. But the problems it has were probably also around when the game first was released, and are less “wow this game has aged weird” and are more just inherent to video games as a medium.
And so I guess that’s a really roundabout way of saying that man, I had a really enjoyable time with The Raven Remastered. It really managed to use the basics a good adventure game to make a rather gripping, enjoyable little riff on a Hercule Poirot story. And just like Agatha Christie’s novels still work well today (aside from And Then There Were None having to be retitled like three times due to varying levels of “oh dear god” offensiveness), it’s easy for me to imagine The Raven holding up another six years easily. Its strength is in the story and characters and some surprisingly excellent voice acting. The gameplay is simple, sure, but this all plays into helping it feel surprisingly fresh even in a remaster.
I’m betting The Raven flew under a lot of people’s radars, even adventure game fans, so yeah, I’d recommend checking it out if you get a chance. It’s maybe eight-hours long total, but it twists complicates its narrative, and gives a greater depth than expected in a lot of ways. It’s just a good crime story with competent gameplay and a great narrative – and you’re bound to get some joy out of it.