If the success of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is any indication of pent-up demand for a good video game based on living the life of a pirate, then Raven’s Cry from Reality Pump is a game that most certainly should have been made. In theory, Raven’s Cry is all the pirate goodness from Black Flag, without the Assassin’s Creed franchise gameplay baggage weighing it down. Unfortunately, this is only a theory, and while Raven’s Cry is that game, it’s not very good. It doesn’t scratch that itch in any meaningful way, and it’s not because the concept isn’t good, but because the execution is way off and most of the game is of poor quality.
In retrospect, the warning signs were there. Raven’s Cry was supposed to be released in fall of 2013. It was then delayed to Spring 2014, pushed back again to fall of last year, and then finally released a few days ago on Steam, with PlayStation console releases looming. Raven’s Cry has very few redeeming qualities, and feels too rough and unpolished to be asking AAA prices for entry.
Raven’s Cry is a game that just fails to realize the potential that a open-world pirate game should have. Eventhough it has all the ideas in place that should make it the comprehensive open-world pirate experience, it falls flat in so many different areas. It tries to be too many things, and whether there was just a lack of resources to pull off what was trying to be accomplished, or whether it was just a sheer lack of ability, the end result is a game that isn’t very much fun to play.
Players are thrust into the role of a dispicable figure, Chris Raven, in this third person adventure. Given very little context at the onset of this revenge tale about finding the pirates who murdered his family, it takes about an hour into the game before you really figure out who you are, and what your objectives are. There’s very little build up to the story in the early goings of Raven’s Cry, making it very hard to become invested initially. Raven’s Cry makes a bad first impression, and that impression is continually reinforced throughout the campaign.
Raven’s Cry is irredeemably bad in the story telling department, and that’s probably why the game gets off to such a slow start. The game’s cutscenes, which look ok visually, are driven by terrible voice acting. Conversations feel spliced together in unnatural ways, attempts at humor and crude comments are often attempted, but fall flat. The story, and its delivery, are also one of the first places you begin to see a severe lack of quality in Raven’s Cry. Some NPC conversations just don’t have recorded dialog to listen to. That, or the game just bugs out and doesn’t play the voices. There will be many conversations in Raven’s Cry where voiceovers cut-out halfway through a conversation, or they are one-sided.
Raven’s Cry does have all the pieces of the puzzle though. even if they don’t come together all that well. Large and varied Caribbean port cities to explore, Naval battles which have a number of different ships to fight, a massive number of main and side quests to take on, crew and resource management, and a main character to level up — there’s plenty to do here.
We’ll start with the good. If there is anything that stands out in a positive light it’s in the actual ship combat. There will be plenty of missions where you’ll be tasked with fighting other vessels in Raven’s Cry, and it’s clear that a lot of care was put into this facet of the game. Your crew must position cannons to the appropriate height, you’ll need to choose between three weapon variations and manage cool down timers for both sides of the ship, all while trying to avoid enemy fire. Each battle has you whittling down enemy ship integrity in its hull, sails, and crew. You can also attempt to board ships, which triggers a turn based game that has you managing your crew and resources. You’ll need to decide how many you want to use to board the ship or man the cannons. Once a ship has been successfully boarded and taken over, it can be looted for a number of different things like ammunition, supplies, and crew members which will be added to your own reserves.
The RPG elements of Raven’s Cry are strong here. You’ll encounter numerous classes of ships, many that are far more powerful than you at the onset. So you need to pirate to become bigger and better, tackle small Schooner ships, and recruit crew members to have a chance. Sailing the Caribbean can be dangerous, as random encounters can put you up against massive ships or multiple enemies at once. The ship combat and travel isn’t exactly open world. You’ll need to set a destination and then look at your map for ships that you’ll encounter along your charted course. You can also change your path to take on any encounter in the area by clicking on any ship or location on the map. This can be done almost endlessly if you have the money to pay your crew and your boat is in good shape. Once you do enter into an encounter, you’ll be in full control of the ship and its course. However, once the encounter is over, you’ll be back to navigating by map.
After dropping anchor Raven’s Cry is at its worst, on land. While ports or island hideaways aren’t hideous, these segments of the game rely heavily on the aforementioned awful interaction between characters and equally terrible combat and stealth sequences, and not much more. Raven’s Cry feels entirely derivative of a game like Assassin’s Creed, though not nearly as polished in either its stealth or combat gameplay.
These island destinations are familiar territory. A mini-map is labeled with points of interest, usually merchants that sell upgrades for your character or ship, persons that will progress the main storyline, or side-missions to partake in. The mission structure of the game isn’t bad, even if derivative of other games of this type. It’s just hard to take anything seriously in Raven’s Cry with so much going wrong, so often, in delivery of the story content.
When missions do take place on land, they either ask you to draw your sword and fight, or sneak around to an objective. When Raven does need to throw down, he’ll use a sword and gun combination, but whether fighting against a single opponent or many, combat is lackluster with poor hit detection, and AI that just seems unaware of your presence at times. The combat features a parry and riposte system, as well as a meter that builds to an insta-kill finishing move. Hits feel like they carry no impact, and most fights end up in button mashing, because it works. Stealth on the other hand isn’t horribly executed, but enemy AI doesn’t feel all that smart or alert to your presence. It’s unclear what exactly triggers a response from enemies, other than a symbol above their heads. There’s just not enough variety in the mission structure of Raven’s Cry to make it interesting, and what is there feels rough around the edges.
Raven’s Cry features the type of bugs, oddities, and imperfections that you would encounter from a game that was in Early Access. However, it’s not in Early Access — Raven’s Cry is a complete and finished game according to its developers. It might have had a chance to be the consummate pirate adventure had Reality Pump executed on their vision, but the game’s decent naval combat systems and ship progression can’t make up for the mediocrity found in the areas that surround them.