As a fan of 17th-century pirate history, it has always been kind of a bummer to watch the romanticization of the sea dogs into that of chipper, lenient, morally moderate sailors who merely look grizzled. Edward Teach's Jolly Roger depicted a skeleton toasting the Devil, and his life ended not in riches and glory, but as a severed head dangling off the end of the HMS Pearl.
Pirates were ruthless, murderous, unforgiving sons-of-guns who would likely rather skin all of us fanboys alive than entertain our silly interest in their undesirable lifestyles. Thankfully, at least one developer understands this, and plans on making a pirate game where the dastardly corsairs actually act like assholes.
Nitro Games has teamed up with TopWare Interactive to give us Raven's Cry, an action-adventure title where players take on the role of Christopher Raven, a cutthroat swashbuckler who sets out on a journey to avenge the death of his parents, and nothing is going to stand in his way. No, really ... if you get in his way, he'll shoot you in the face or something. F**k you, ye pox-faced bastards.
The great thing about Mr. Raven is that he doesn't take any crap from anyone, but dishes it out nonstop. Raven's Cry features a dialog system not unlike those we've seen in the games of late (Mass Effect, The Witcher 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution), although those games either provided a choice between morally ambiguous decisions, or between being a saint or a complete dickhead.
RC is very aware that a vindictive pirate has little need for politeness or cordiality, so virtually every interaction Christopher has with an NPC is unsavory. Don't worry, you still get to choose what to say and how to react, but, in the end, you're still going to be a jerk.
For instance, one scene had Christopher strutting into a tavern and speaking to an unfriendly sot for information on someone. When the patron balked, two choices were presented: Either point your gun at the guy's face, or staple his hand to the table with your knife. Too bad they left out a third option: pluck out one of his eyes with your finger, then piss in the hole. Part of me wonders if the consistent dickheadery will get a bit old (and funny) after a while, but it's still nice to see a genuine antihero in this age of plucky, upstanding protagonists ... who kill men by the dozens.
Though the majority of the game looks pretty dated, the locales are at least somewhat pretty to behold, and are indicative of the period and areas where piracy was the most prevalent. I was shown two settings, one of which was the infamous Port Royal. It was night, so not a lot was going on while Christopher walked through town. When certain things did happen, though -- like a pirate dragging a screaming wench back into her whorehouse -- the developers pointed out that such moments will mostly be uninterrupted by Chris, due to his "character."
While that makes sense, part of me wonders if this also a way for the team to cut some corners and save some development time on side quests. Not that I'm complaining, I rather enjoy the thought of a game that doesn't require my character to retrieve an apple, a bottle of milk, ten paperclips, and the ass feather of a cancerous chicken to some old woman baking a pastry.
The rest of the game, however, is a bit lacking. While the minimal HUD is a fantastic idea that I never really tire of (especially in story-driven games), the combat and gameplay seem a bit static and, for lack of a better word, constipated. The motions of each character have a fluidity that can best be compared to action games from two generations ago.
I was even shown some "stealth" gameplay -- where Christopher is able to hide behind crates and boxes -- but when it came time to kill a guard, he simply stood up, walked up behind the enemy, and then did his killing. Hiding behind things seems a bit redundant, in this case. I will admit, though, seeing the main character rip the guard's throat out with his hook hand was kind of cool.
In the words of Jim Sterling, "We need more damned pirate games." And while he happened to be talking about a different game entirely, I couldn't agree more. Buccaneers are cool, if murder and theft are your thing (which they are absolutely mine).
Even though I had some concerns about the gameplay in Raven's Cry, I'm still going to keep a watchful eye on it, for the very reason that pirates > zombies.
Get your pillagin' on when Raven's Cry hits the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 sometime next year.
Here's a half hour of the Arkham Origins Mr. Freeze DLC, if you want to watch that
11:45 AM on 04.15.2014