Pirate adventure Raven's Cry does more than just squander its potential - it's a sorry, broken mess of a game.
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Imagine, if you will, a 17th-century Grand Theft Auto. Picture a vast ocean, begging you to crest the horizon in search of treasure, infamy, and adventure. Now, imagine this baroque playground being trampled on by an abhorrent, psychotic misanthrope. Mix in obnoxious and dull combat, a cast of supporting characters that collectively have the charisma of dog vomit, and countless bugs and senseless design choices and you have Raven's Cry. It's a tragedy of sorts, because it's hard to fathom how a game with such a great premise went so horribly, horribly wrong.
Our protagonist in this dismal adventure is Chris Raven, a morally bankrupt pirate with plenty of enemies. It's nominally a tale of revenge, with Raven seeking to avenge the murder of his parents. Any sense of tension and drama is soon lost, though, as the plot drops for a noxious cocktail of clichés, with Captain Raven setting out on a path through the Caribbean to carve his way through countless throngs of stereotypes.
Your killing spree is primarily fuelled by sword-and-pistols duels, watered down with light traversal and exploration. As with any GTA rip-off, a bit of wandering is encouraged. You can look for new missions, find some shops, try and scrounge up a bit of cash to buy upgrades for gear and so forth. Any freedom, though, is entirely illusory.
Like so many other games that have failed to clone GTA's formula in years past, Raven's Cry wants so desperately to have an open world, but never quite understands why. There's a variety of locales with absolutely nothing to do in any of them, the sparse environments funnelling you towards senseless violence. Early on in Raven's adventure I was struggling to get enough cash together for some basic equipment. Lacking any other options, I massacred a village, picking the pocket change of the deceased to advance the plot.
Combat is beyond bland. With your sword, you have two main attacks - a heavy and a light - but such nuance is lost in the encounters themselves. Everyone dies without so much as a fight, and Raven has pseudo-regenerating health. On the off chance that anyone put up a substantive challenge, I could hold back for a minute and charge back up to 66 per cent, though I never quite figured out why it stopped there specifically.
Ship-to-ship combat fares better, though it's still troubled. Borrowing liberally from Assassin's Creed 3, you can fire cannons loaded with several different types of ammunition, intended to damage either the ship's hull, its masts and rigging, or soften up crew for a boarding attempt. None of these work as intended, though. Your cannons can only lob ordnance in one of five or so distinct arcs, and that level of imprecision guarantees that the outcome of most naval battles is entirely random. While boring and uninvolved, dull play is far from Raven's Cry's worst sin.
After beating a sex worker and driving a blade through the hand of her customer in order to attain some rather mundane information, I set off for a nearby island in search of some native Caribbean gold hoard. The inhabitants, none-too-happy with my meddling, ran the full gamut of racist native stereotypes. Furniture was adorned with human skulls, painted bodies covered with naught but a loincloth. Before taking the quest, I heard mention of cannibals, but I didn't expect these caricatures to be quite so mean-spirited.
After I had completed my assault on the island and collected my treasure - a golden idol surrounded by pious, chanting natives - I hit the first of many major bugs. While leaving the island, my ship stood steadfast. The wind was at my stern, my rigging was in good shape, but my boat just wouldn't budge. After a few restarts, and some finagling, I finally made it back to port to pick up my next quest. I met my contact in a pub. Shortly after he started talking, his voice was muted, replaced with badly misspelled subtitles and lips awkwardly synchronized to silence. More than once, I found quests that I needed to progress that simply didn't work. Vital NPCs would often disappear without warning, and assets would frequently refuse to load. After eight hours, I couldn't go on any more. Quite literally.
Four out of five times, the game crashes before the menu screen has even loaded. On the off chance it does start properly, I've hit a combination of design oversight issues and bugs that make further story progression impossible. So this is all I've got.
I wanted Raven's Cry to be good. I really did. I'm somewhat enamoured with the modern, idealized pirate. The freedom-loving anarchists that spout cool one-liners with a soft sentimentality to them. While the archetype is neither novel nor realistic, I had hoped however foolishly that Raven's Cry would indulge me my childhood fantasy.
Instead, there's disaster and disappointment at nearly every turn. With a team that wanted to put the effort in, that had the time or the money to build on this, we might have had an interesting game. Every time I was able to sail to a new island or port, I found myself excited. I wanted to probe around and see what wonders the locale held, but every single time my curiosity was met with tedium and mediocrity. I want to think that my eagerness to explore was a sign that there's something interesting about this setting and this world, but now I think I may have been projecting my own hopes onto a broken, buggy lump.