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PAX East 2012: Raven's Cry
by Andrew Testerman

Contemporary pop culture likes to portray pirates as a bunch of fun-loving, drunken scallywags, prone to a life of adventure on the high seas, drinking, looting and choruses of "We Arrr Who We Arrr".

Octane Games, however, is about to give gamers an entirely new impression of life as naval criminals. Raven's Cry, Octane's latest third-person action game, is to pirate fiction what Game of Thrones was to fantasy; it delves deep into the several gory, unsavoury aspects of pirate life. The lovely people from Topware Interactive walked us through a demo at PAX East.

The game's protagonist ('good guy' is far too strong a word) is Christopher Raven, a man who, as a child, saw his village pillaged by pirates, leaving him missing a hand and thirsting for vengeance against the ones responsible. Storytelling alternates between in-engine cutscenes of the present day and 2D-motion comics showing Raven's past, creating a visual distinction between the two time periods.

The demo took place in Port Royal, a Caribbean harbour town teaming with pirates. True to the game's mission statement, Port Royal is a rougher neighbourhood than its portrayal in certain Disney theme park rides, with plague-ridden sailors and prostitutes slogging through the muddy streets. After walking down several dingy alleys, Raven ran into three thugs looking to collect the price on his head, forcing him to draw his sword and deal with the curs.

There's a very good chance that, were Johnny Depp to set foot in Raven's Cry's rendition Port Royal, he would be shivved on the spot.

Combat primarily uses mêlée weapons like cutlasses and sabres, with Raven attacking enemies one-on-one. Raven also had access to a pistol, but true to 17th-century firearms, each pistol possesses only one shot, and TopWare views them as more of an expendable resource rather than a primary weapon, similar to grenades in first-person shooters. TopWare also mentioned the use of voodoo charms, another facet of 17th century Caribbean life, but the specifics aren't nailed down yet.

After slicing through pirate scum, Raven enters the bar and accosts an old sea captain drowning in drink. Here, the game shows off its branching dialogue system, though don't expect to min-max 'good' or 'bad' decisions like in other games. For instance, we were presented with the option to threaten the old codger with either a gun or a knife. We opted for the knife, and Raven promptly stabbed the guy's hand through the table in order to loosen his tongue.

No matter what happens, it isn't going to be good for the bloke on the left.

Our captive eventually cracked and told us what we wanted to know, after which we were given an option to either let him go or 'deal' with him then and there. We choose to deal with him, and Raven lit the alcohol-soaked bum on fire. The reps from TopWare told us that the branching dialogue options would allow for long-reaching decisions, and not always with 'good' or 'bad' consequences; if we had chosen to let the wounded captain run free, he may have come after us with a posse later in the game. These decisions feel like a welcome break from game design where 'moral choice' often means 'make the proper decision' or 'act like an asshole.'

TopWare saw success with last year's Two Worlds II, and they hope to continue the streak with Raven's Cry. Though no official release date has been announced, Raven's Cry will shiver timbers everywhere when it launches on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC during the latter half of 2012.

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- Andrew Testerman

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