It’s finally time for the 2011 Indie Games Summer Uprising to begin.  I’ve been looking forward to this, and I was totally pleased to see that Raventhorne by Milkstone Studios was going to be the launch title for the event.  I watched the trailer with my boyfriend and was impressed by the graphics.  As for the gameplay, it looked kind of like a modern version of ActRaiser.  What’s not to love about that?

Try everything.

I’m not joking.  In the five and a half hours it took me to beat Raventhorne (including the occasional break to hold a pillow over my face and scream profanity) I could not find one single aspect of its game play that I felt would even qualify as mediocre.  This is one of the very worst games on the entire Xbox Live Indie Game marketplace.  As a game, it has no redeeming value.

Raventhorne might have briefly made me think of ActRaiser when viewing the trailer, but in reality it plays like a Double Dragon style brawler with some very mild platforming thrown in.  You play as a dude who looks like he mixed and matched a Wolverine costume with that of Hawkman’s.  He carries around a sword and a hammer and he has no memory of what he was doing, but apparently he’s some fallen Norse hero. The plot is horrible, cliched, and boring.  It sets the tone for the game play nicely.

Where to begin with the actual game itself?  How about we start with the first fucking enemy.  You fight using the X button for light attacks and the Y button for heavy attacks.  So the first baddie appears and you whack him a few times.  It doesn’t really phase him.  It doesn’t even knock him down.  He’s still free to swing at you.  So I tried throwing some heavy shots.  Still nothing.  Finally I just started mashing the buttons until he died.  Now in reality this whole sequence will take anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute, but it somehow feels longer.  And this is supposed to be the opening action hook of the game that draws you in.

Combat is all kinds of broken.  Your dude is slow to react to everything, and all the enemies move faster than you.  So if you try to dial in a combo, you’re likely to end up swinging at air while the enemies chew on your delicious ass.  While fighting, you can get knocked down, which seems to grant you some kind of invincibility.  That would great, except by time you get up the enemies have had a chance to close in and completely gang bang you.

Allegedly you have some kind of shield.  I say allegedly because it doesn’t really work.  The game claims there’s some kind of timing defense thing that will help restore stamina or life or mana or something, but either I couldn’t get the timing for it down (and I was trying, oh God how I was trying) or it’s so strict that nobody could reasonably expect to pull it off with any consistency.

By the way, we’re still only talking about just the combat.  And trust me, there’s a lot more to go over.  That shield I just mentioned?  If you hold it out, it might do the trick, albeit in a completely boring way.  More often than not you’ll have an enemy on both sides of you, so trying to defend against one is a waste of time. You can also sometimes pick off an enemy by taking a swing at it, stepping back, waiting for it to swing and miss, then walking forward and taking another swing.  Any rational person will also recognize this as boring.  But sometimes it’s the only way to fight something.  If you try to dial in combos, you’re going to get killed.

And then there’s the stamina gauge.  Every time you swing a weapon, you lose stamina.  If  your meter runs out, your guys collapses to one knee and starts sucking on wind like he’s been smoking by the carton since he was in the womb.  This isn’t a big issue early on when you’re fighting one guy at a time and taking your time lightly poking at baddies like you’re playing with a Nerf fencing saber.  But when there’s a clusterfuck of six guys fighting you, you’re going to need to attack in a brisk manner.  This isn’t possible because nobody ever introduced this bad ass hero of the people to the concept of cardio training.

There is a level up system, but I’ll be fucked if I can figure out what good it’s for.  No matter how high you climb, bad guys absorb damage like sponges and it never seems to let up.  There’s three different combat stances that allegedly change the amount of damage you dish out and the amount of damage you receive.  Again, it never seemed to make a difference.  My dude always took a boat load of damage no matter what stance I was in, and the baddies just stood there like the Rock of Gibraltar taking whatever I could dish out.  As a result, every time there’s more than three enemies on-screen at once, the game becomes a battle of attrition.

There is a spell system too.  To activate it, you hold the left bumper and press one of the four face buttons.  One will cause an electricity blast that effects all the enemies on-screen.  Kinda.  I’m guessing it doesn’t really do more damage than the average useless strong attack because all the baddies will still be upright, all still biting at you, and usually still several combos away from death.  I mean Christ, I’ve seen static electricity do more damage.  There’s also a spell that prevents you from losing stamina.  Sounds great, except it doesn’t last long and the average baddie in this game still has a health meter greater than most final bosses I’ve seen.

The other two spells work better.  You can restore your health with one.  The other boosts your attack strength temporarily.  Unlike the bullshit with the stances, this one does work.  However, the magic system also sucks because it takes too fucking long to fill up the mana meter.  You get a teeny tiny sliver of it for every bad guy you kill, and you can also pick up some crystals that restore it.  But every spell requires a full meter to use it, and thus you’ll only get two, maybe three uses of it each stage.

Okay, finally we’re done with the combat.  All that’s left is the level design.  It sucks.  You walk around, collecting gems and whacking bad guys.  Occasionally you’ll have to jump on platforms, but I’m not sure why they bothered with this since it doesn’t add anything to the game.  The jumping elements usually are limited to one or two rocks to hop across and maybe an option on which path to take.  But it adds nothing to the combat, and fights usually take place on smooth, flat terrain anyway.

Oh, and don’t expect an ending or any sort of climatic moment.  The game just ends with the promise that things will be continued.  Yea, fuck that.  Next time make sure the game doesn’t suck before leaving things on a cliffhanger.

How could one game get so many things wrong?  Hell, the law of averages says that some aspect of the game play would have come out decent, even if it was by accident.  That’s not the case here.  Nothing is fun about Raventhorne.  It’s riddled with horrible design choices that only serve to eliminate fun.  Like the stamina meter.  What purpose towards enhancing the experience does it serve?  Realism?  Right, because a fucking dude who’s already established as being dead is really going to have problems with oxygen saturation.  Besides, he runs and jumps around carrying a sword, a shield, and a god damn sledge-hammer.  He doesn’t get tired from that.  What, does he have tendonitis or something?

I can’t believe this was picked to not only be part of the Uprising, but the flagship title to launch the event.  No really, I mean that.  I literally cannot believe it.  Please, unveil the real game.  I want to play it.  We’ll call this one a mulligan.  Raventhorne was boring, plodding, slow, clunky, repetitive, unbalanced, and overall just a gargantuan pile of shit.

Graphics were nice though.

Raventhorne was developed by Milkstone Studios

240 Microsoft Points always loved that word, gargantuan, but so rarely get to use it in a sentence in the making of this review.

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21 Responses to Raventhorne

  1. Dcon6393 says:

    This is a disappointing start to the Summer Uprising. Why would you make it so hard to kill enemies and make the main character so weak to the point of where he can’t swing a few times without having an asthma attack? I agree with your statement of poor design decisions.

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  3. davidofthe1000 says:

    Hmmmm, I bought it earlier today and actually really liked it. I only played for about an hour but I was super into it. It makes me wonder though b/c I had no problems blocking enemies at the last second to get a boost. I can’t argue with your feelings on level design, redundancy and just not liking the game but I can tell anyone reading this that I had no problems with those areas and, for me, the combat works quite well. My character performed exactly as I controlled him. Try the demo before you take this review to heart. I hope the rest of the uprising is of this quality.

    • Kairi Vice says:

      Absolutely. I always challenge my readers to at least demo the game and make of their minds for themselves. But FYI you’re the first (of like dozens) of responses I’ve seen to this piece who didn’t agree with what I said about the combat.

  4. Lee says:

    I played for half an hour or so and while I liked the aesthetic, the game just didn’t grab me in any way. I’ve had this problem with other Milkstone Studios’ games… they’re always just sort of THERE. I feel bad cos they polish everything so much and are dedicated to XBLIG, but I don’t find the gameplay compelling.

    I hope the rest of the uprising bring a bit more excitement!

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  7. Starglider says:

    Raventhorne reminds me of Amiga games that concentrated solely on pretty screenshots, with flawed or weak gameplay, like Shadow of the Beast (the first one). Unfortunately in the Summer Uprising dev forums thread, there was a pretty strong ‘don’t be negative’ and ‘you can’t ask any more of devs’ sentiment. I tried to constructively criticise a couple of titles, but in retrospect we should all have been much more proactive in getting titles up to quality.

    Incidentally the dev voting results were;
    TEC 30001 : 34
    Raventhorne : 24
    Speed Runner : 24
    Take Arms : 23
    Train Frontier Express : 18
    Cute Things Dying Violently : 17
    Battle High : 16
    Doom and Destiny : 16

    Redd : The Lost Temple : 15
    Chester : 11


    Dirche Kart 2 : 15
    Progenitor : 14
    Volchaos : 13
    Avaglide 2 : 12
    City Tuesday : 11
    Katana Land : 10
    P3 : 8
    All The Bad Parts : 6

    I don’t know why Progenitor didn’t score higher, it has fairly deep gameplay and looks pretty good (I voted for it). Possibly because there was a preference for ‘pick up and play’ games (aping the DBP judges again) and people thought it was too hard to get into.

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  10. Looks like Odin Sphere. Odin Sphere sucks. Too bad, it is really pretty and compelling. I’ll give it a shot at some point.

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  18. I don’t know if they updated it since your review, but it’s 80 points now, and the combat doesn’t seem that bad. I only played the demo on medium difficulty, but it feels like you can do well just by blocking, then mashing the X button and killing the bad guys in 10 hits or so.

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