The Raven was dead - or at least to begin with.
The career of the world famous "Gentleman Master Thief" came to an abrupt and unexpected end thanks to the intervention of a young, up and coming police officer by the name of LeGrand, and a several storey drop from the roof of a building that he was robbing at the time.
Flash forward a few years though, to 1964 and questions over his possible demise begin to be raised following an explosive heist at the British Museum, leading to the theft of one of the priceless jewelled "Eyes Of The Sphinx". Has the Raven returned from the dead, or is this just the work of a copycat? And why has his modus operandi changed to include violence, something which he avoided previously?
Inspector LeGrand, feted for his part in the apparent termination of the Raven previously, is put in charge of both the case and also of guarding the other Eye Of The Sphinx during its long and perilous trip from London to Cairo, where it is to be displayed, via The Orient Express and luxury ocean liner. However, you do not play as Inspector LeGrand, or even his eager sidekick from Scotland Yard. No, instead you are Constable Anton Jakob Zellner - an elderly, balding overweight Swiss policeman whose presence on board the Orient Express is the bare minumum of assistance that the Swiss government could provide and who hitherto has never done anything more exciting than walk the same beat every day of his working life - an extremely unlikely hero at first glance and which does make for a bit of a slow start to the game, with plenty of talking and very little action.
It is not until about 20 minutes in that you come across a character called Lady Westmacott, the expy of a certain other real life massively successful classic British crime author and you begin to understand that you find yourself in a lovingly constructed homage to the works of Agatha Christie. Constable Zellner is a huge fan of her work and it soon becomes apparent that he shares several traits with that of her most famous fictional detective "Monsieur Partout". He has a logical mind and a keen eye for human behaviour, and it is this that helps him get under the skins of his fellow passengers, one or more of whom may be a great deal more than they appear.
In contrast with the obsessed Inspector LeGrand, he is convinced that this Raven is nothing more than a copycat and in his own quiet way is just as determined to bring him to justice. He is also aware that this adventure may be his last chance to accomplish something worthwhile in his life, as retirement is looming and he is in poor health anyway. "If I don't do anything exciting I might have a few more years to live?" he asks, before dropping his heart tablets in the ocean while preparing to disobey orders and sneak onboard the SS Lydia to search for a stowaway. His adventures will end up taking him all the way to the catacombs of Cairo, while along the way he will save a young boy from a runaway train, survive being bombed, chloroformed, drugged and concussed (not necessarily in that order), solve the locked room murder of a Baroness on the high seas - which enabled me to live out my dream of gathering a group of suspects together before outlining my deductions - before finally unmasking the Raven.
However the game then abruptly switches narrative, changing its viewpoint to that of not one, but two different characters whose plots run parallel to that of the good Constables, overlapping with it at crucial junctures. The trouble was that by then I was really enjoying my time spent in the comfortable and soothing presence of Constable Zellner that this change of viewpoint was initially disappointing and, although it did explain more fully several key events, the game did lose some of its idiosynchratic charm in the process. One thing it did do well though is to shed new light on some of the games wide and varied cast. For example a character that is pretty much a one dimensional comic relief type in Zellner's playthrough is revealed as being old, tired and unwell and very much aware that his presence onboard ship is neither needed or particularly wanted by the crew he is supposedly in charge of, and another unsympathetic character confesses that they realise just how hollow their life is, that they are estranged from their family and that they keep their father's pistol on hand for when they want to end it all. All the separate plot strands then meet together for the climax leading to a twist ending that, while containing at least one giant plothole and relying a little too much on coincidence, was for me perfectly satisfying.
As for the gameplay, one thing I did like was the puzzles. While some of them may be a little obscure and it is worth mentioning that some of them require you clicking on an object twice as your protagonist may miss details the first time, they are for the most part logical and usually involve common objects that you would expect to find in the immediate surroundings. So while there is nothing here as brain melting as something you might find in the Sam And Max series for example, this can have the side effect of making proceedings a little too simple, there will be very few instances where you will be genuinely stuck. The score, provided by the Brandenburg State Orchestra is wonderfully filmic and, while the visuals can be workmanlike, the vocals are absolutely spot on, with the characters sounding exactly how you would imagine them to.
Now to the bugs. A quick scan of both the forums and other reviews of this game can soon unearth some real horror stories and to be fair all the glitches should have been sorted out months ago. I don't know if I was lucky or if the patches have done their job, but apart from difficulty moving from one screen to another in various spots and one instance where I clicked to perform an action and was then stuck in a loop of a character wandering round in circles until I force closed the game down I managed to get through ok. It is still worth saving regularly though, just to be on the safe side!
In conclusion then, a game with a few rough edges, but the strength of the writing and of the characters make it well worth your time. If it was an Agatha Christie novel, it wouldn't be a blockbuster like Murder On The Orient Express, but one of her lesser known yet solid efforts like A Mysterious Affair At Styles, perfect for a rainy afternoon's escapist fun.