PAX East 2012: Raven's Cry preview
The video game world offers a look into many genres, but if I tasked you with finding a game that presented a darker overtone in the world of pirates, I bet you'd be hard-pressed to find one. TopWare is looking to change that with Raven's Cry, a surprising breath of fresh air that rids itself of the lighthearted pirate representation seen in many of today's pirate games. Instead, it presents us with the harsher reality of a grim, brutal pirate life.
Raven's Cry is a dark-themed action adventure that will completely reinvent how you view pirates. It tells the dark tale of Christopher Raven, who as a boy suffered the loss of both parents to the swords of the Devil's Tines, a notoriously bloodthirsty fleet of murderers, convicts, and deserters. Maimed and left to die after one hand had been cut off, Raven grew up with a hatred towards the Devil's Tines.
As Raven, now a hell-bent, drunken pirate himself, you will seek revenge on those who took everything from you. Throughout the game you will engage in hack-and-slash combat and ship battles as you will adventure across the Caribbean.
We weren't able to get any hands-on time with the game at PAX, but we were given a developer walkthrough of Port Royal where we saw some of the planned gameplay mechanics and decisions TopWare has decided to go with in Raven's Cry.
We can start with combat, where Raven's hook-of-a-hand will be used as a sort of weapon swapping feature. Throughout the game, you will actually be able to swap out the hook for different pieces of technology or other styled hooks that serve different purposes. For instance, it could be replaced with a small blade that applies a bleeding effect when striking enemies.
TopWare is even approaching gun combat differently. To encourage players to stick with the hack-n-slash gameplay, they are treating guns more like consumables. Basically, the developers didn't want players to just sit back and fire round after round; they want you up close and brutally hacking your way through enemies. To do this, they created a one-shot pistol system. After you fire a single round you will drop the pistol and it will be gone until you find another one. By doing this, you will treat pistols more as a luxury instead of a crutch.
There will be other type of weapons as well. Charms exist in the game as a way to incorporate the magic element. These work as supernatural bonuses without having to actually have magic spells in the game. The character also had a sword in his holster and three pistols on his back. These represent how many shots you have left with the pistol. This was a design choice to minimize the HUD and provide a less cluttered screen to help with the immersion.
Speaking of immersion, that is the goal of Raven's Cry. The game's heavy emphasis on narrative coupled with the lavishly detailed world effectively puts you into the role of Christopher Raven. TopWare told us the primary focus on Raven's Cry was to tell a dark story. While there is fast-paced action, the story remains the selling point.
With that being said, don't expect a ton of RPG elements in the game. They steered away from these to create a more simplistic combat style and cater to more of a story-driven gameplay experience. There's no character customization in terms of skill points or ability points. This is one of my few concerns as these types of games can get fairly repetitive — even with unique abilities. That's not to say combat isn't fun, although it does look fairly generic. Our preview was filled with brutal combat and gruesome killing blows. Since I didn't get hands-on time with the actual combat gameplay, I can't really comment on how it played. For the state of the game, however, it did look relatively smooth.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the game was the decision making process. Say goodbye to the "good/bad" decisions. TopWare aimed for a system that allows you to make decisions that strongly influence the game, but removes the clear cut line between "good" and "bad". This lets you to make the decisions that best fit your playstyle without worrying about making sure all of your actions fall in line with the "good" path. As someone who was always guilted into choosing the paragon path in Mass Effect, this was a welcomed change. After all, we're going to playing as pirates. There's only "evil or eviler," the developer told us. And with that we were forced to choose between letting a fellow pirate live or setting him on fire (this was after we were prompted to choose between intimidating him with a gun or driving a knife through his hand). We chose to set him on fire and, needless to say, he won't be joining us throughout the rest of the game.
Unfortunately, that's where our game demo ended, but before we left, the developers promised us open-world gameplay to a certain extent. There will be chances to explore the environments and perform side quests, but it won't be so much as to distract you from the main quest at hand. Sailing between islands, boarding ships, and naval combat are all expected to be present in the game. If true, these could provide a nice change of pace in combat, especially in action games where combat can get a little repetitive.
For those interested in the darker side of a pirate's life, you may want to keep Raven's Cry on your radar. The game, still in early development, looks to release in Fall 2012, but with a crowded release schedule around that time, it could be pushed back to Q1 2013 — possibly around January, February, or one of other typically dead season months.