Da Vinci Code, The Download (2006 Puzzle Game)

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Based on Ron Howard's cinematic interpretation of Dan Brown's bestselling novel, this video game version of The Da Vinci Code is designed to let players experience the twisting mystery story first-hand, and to explore locations and clues not featured in the original source material. Players guide lead characters Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu to uncover secrets and speculations as old as Christianity itself.

Appropriately perhaps, the game is in the basic form of a classic mystery adventure, compete with clickable crime scenes and tricky inventory puzzles. The point-and-click pondering is punctuated with action sequences, however, in which the heroes can use stealth and surprise to take down opponents. The Da Vinci Code was developed by The Collective, known for previous license-based games such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb, and Marc Ecko's Getting Up.


No novel in recent memory has stirred more controversy and attention than Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. The main characters in the story try to solve the mysterious murder of Jacques Sauniere, a renowned curator at the Louvre Art Museum in Paris. The protagonists then find themselves in an adventure full of mystery, secret societies, danger and a quest for the Holy Grail.

This tie-in game attempts to translate the successful movie and book into a successful video game. Does the Da Vinci Code crack under the scrutiny and probing of our review, or will it fall apart under the video game investigation? Put on your gaming hats as we delve into the catacombs of the Da Vinci Code video game and reveal the findings.

The game starts off with a bang, literally, as the prominent curator of the Louvre is gunned down in cold blood by a mysterious cowl-cladded monk. Robert Langdon, a professor of Symbology at Harvard, and Sophie Neveu, a Judicial Police agent and grand daughter of the curator, come upon the freakish crime scene to discover the dead body of the curator - with a pentagram freshly emblazoned on his bare chest. Langdon is the prime suspect in the murder, while Sophie suspects that there is more to this crime than meets the eye. Sophie believes that Langdon is innocent of the crime and together, the two set out on a mission of uncovering the murderer and the quest for the Holy Grail.

The gameplay in The Da Vinci Code (TDVC) takes off on an entirely different tack in the world of adventure video games by placing a heavy emphasis on the puzzle solving aspect rather than pure action. This game is not rated "T" only because of the language, blood and violence, but due to the incredible amount of reading, listening to dialogue, and historical information that is included in the structure of the game. If TDVC is thought of as a video game mystery novel, you'll understand what the developers were trying to do with this title.

TDVC is a game of discovery and every scene and setting requires you to inspect, examine or use items to unearth clues or pertinent information in order to advance your characters in the storyline. Whenever you come to something of interest, the game automatically puts you in an "examine" mode. In this state, you are able to scan the item. Things which are of particular merit will glow white. You then have the option to manipulate your environment by opening drawers, taking objects, or further inspecting articles that you are viewing. The examine mode is your principal method of investigation.

During gameplay, you will switch off in character from Langdon to Neveu. The plot dictates which character you will be at any particular phase of the game, but the two work together to accomplish various tasks, such as getting to areas that are out of reach or to obtain items. TDVC has an enormous amount of voice acting and it is advised that you turn on the dialogue feature of the game in order to hear and read what the characters are saying. In some instances, the dialogue goes by in a speedy blur, leaving you wondering as to what was just said.

As mentioned previously, this game is primarily about puzzle solving. If this is what you are after, there is more than enough to keep you happily entertained for hours on end. Some game reviews have reported that it will take only ten hours to complete TDVC. If this is true, they either cheated or were playing a different version then what we have. If anything, you could easily find yourself logging in at least two or more hours per mission. There are eleven missions in this game, so our estimate figures in about 22 hours of gameplay. This figure will go up exponentially as you bang your head against the wall in solving some of the more difficult puzzles of this title. Other puzzles in the game are amazingly transparent. However, over-thinking some of these easy puzzles will have you grinding your teeth in search of a complex answer, when an easy solution is the way to go. You have been warned.

The puzzles range from physical puzzles to cracking and decoding lengthy secret messages. There are anagrams galore, secret code letter substitutions, logic puzzles, invisible messages, and a host of brain teasers. In some cases, items that you acquire are instrumental in unlocking or opening objects or locations. Many of the cipher codes have historical connections. This brings a certain authenticity to the game overall.

Another aspect of the title is its deep references to historical events and places. You will, no doubt, come out better educated about the Louvre in Paris, Saint-Sulpice, Westminster Abby and other points of interest. The game menu provides a synopsis on various period art, historical references, items and people. You will come out of this game feeling and sounding smarter. Not a bad after effect for playing a video game.

The action part of the game is a simple fighting system in which the characters grapple, as in wrestling, with their enemies. If you are dominant in the grapple, you will have the option to defend, attack or run. If the attack mode is chosen, a series of random button symbols will be displayed at the bottom of the attack screen. For instance, in an example of fighting mode, you may see the button symbols x, triangle, circle, and square. Hit the buttons in the correct order and you will inflict maximum damage upon your adversary. The number of attacks varies and depends on the strength of your enemy. In other cases, it is best to avoid trouble by sneaking by in stealth mode. Langdon can also pick up various objects with which to fight. In the event of running out of health, the game ends and you can start from a previous save, provided that you initiated a save before you died.

The atmosphere of TDVC is dark, and this is meant in the literal sense. The graphics are done in an overall shadowy motif, and you may find yourself playing the game in subdued light or with the brightness control of your television set turned up. The ambience is nice however, as the restrained lighting of the game brings on a rather ominous look to everything. The locations have authentic visual references - the Mona Lisa hangs on the wall behind a protective half cylinder of Lexan; looking out of one of the museum's windows offers a courtyard view of I.M. Pei's glass pyramid. However, the overall graphics of the game are average and nothing spectacular.

Control is a little clunky, with the characters sometimes getting stuck behind objects. One of the requirements of gameplay is to hide the bodies of those you have rendered unconscious in battle. Easier said than done as your partner, Sophie, has a tendency to stand too close to you and prevents you from dragging the body away. In one case, she actually pinned Landon, unintentionally of course, in the corner of a room. It took several minutes until he could wiggle out of his corner of entrapment. The game's score is haunting, ever-present and adds a good deal of ambience to TDVC.

The game is not an "action" game in the strictest sense of the word, but does provide a suspenseful, though sometimes plodding, approach to the adventure game genre. Addicts of gut-wrenching, adrenaline spiked shooters will most likely shun this game like the plague. But the game is not meant to be a seat-of-your-pants action thriller, but a different kind of game in which wits and logic prevail over bullets and guns. The storyline is engaging and will keep puzzle lovers, and mystery-detective novel fans happy with delight. The Da Vinci Code will have the greatest appeal, ironically, to those who have not read the book or seen the movie, as a strong familiarization with Dan Brown's work may actually detract from the gaming experience. For those who are familiar with Brown's work, an open mind, patience and a love of puzzles may offer a surprisingly satisfying experience.

 

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