Game Review – The Da Vinci Code

of art and assassination

WHY WAS Dan Brown’s 2003 mystery thriller The Da Vinci Code so successful? As human beings, we are curious by nature. We want to know how things work, and why things are the way they are. The Da Vinci Code delves into some interesting questions and attempts to give readers thorough, factual answers. Through an analytic lens, Brown reinvestigates commonly accepted biblical events, sheds light on secret societies, and exposes the pervasiveness of symbology, ciphers, and espionage in the lives of his protagonists- Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu. Religion and politics come to the forefront, inconspicuously stirring the waters of controversy. There’s a clash of ideas, and suddenly, people are interested, flipping through the pages to reach some sort of resolution regarding the novel’s proposed theory. Like many novels before it, The Da Vinci Code was eventually transformed into a film, and then a video game. These video game offshoots don’t exactly have the best reputation, but sometimes, they can surprise us. With that in mind I decided to check out The Da Vinci Code for PC.

BACKGROUND

The Da Vinci Code for PC was released in 2006, three years after the novel’s debut, and its graphics are certainly not too shabby for its era of choice. We’re not in the hyper-realistic stage of graphics yet, because the emphasis is more on the plot, and making sure it’s sufficiently consistent with the movie. And for the monalmost part, it is. Developed by The Collective, Inc and published by 2K Games, The Da Vinci Code is classified as action/adventure puzzle game and it definitely incorporates/replicates the same thrilling, mysterious atmosphere that was generated in the film, so two thumbs up for that. I first played this game in the pre-Steam era, when you would go to libraries, rent out a stack of PC titles, and play for hours on end. It was glorious. The amount of time you played wasn’t being logged, there was nobody ‘online’, and you didn’t need an internet connection to access the game. It was just you and your PC. These days, gaming (and technology in general) has turned into a more amorphous realm, one in which we can own a whole virtual library of games that takes up only as much space as our laptops, computers or consoles. This idea definitely has its merits for those of us seeking a more minimalist lifestyle. The push towards the digitalised ownership of games is also highly incentivised by platforms like Steam, through which players can get massively discounted games in comparison to the ones from the store. But why? The copy of The Da Vinci Code PC game I used for this review came with a CD case, and even had one of those fantastic game manuals with a character page and controls and objectives of the game. The tangibility of everything was unreal. It reminded me of the days when we would hand write essays rather than type them up and submit them via the internet. I think that tangibility of games is part of what makes them real. Even though digital games do exist in another world so to speak, having that cartridge or CD or memory card helps create a connection, and special memories.

GAMEPLAY

The game begins on a rather sombre note – we are shown brief glimpses of a dark, hooded figure, presumably Silas, and then the camera hones in on the Louvre Museum, one of Paris’s greatest treasures. Police cars have outlined the perimeter, and soon we are acquainted with Bezu Fache, the captain of the DCPJ or French Police. He is talking to Robert Langdon, a symbologist from Harvard University who just happened to be in the French capital at the wrong time. They proceed into the museum, where we see a disturbing scene of a man sprawled out on top of the floor. Who is this man, and how did he get here? Through controlling Langdon using the WASD movement configuration plus a few other hotkeys, it’s our job to find out. Langdon’s manoeuvrability could be smoother overall, but it does the job. You also use the mouse to direct his line of site/walking direction, and there isn’t any jump key unfortunately, but The Da Vinci Code relies more on crime investigation, puzzle solving and interaction with NPCs, so a jump move might not have fit into this repertoire.

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Fache and Langdon have a logical discussion regarding the death of one Jacques Sauniere

We learn that the name of the man who is now dead on the floor with an eccentric shape carved on his chest in blood – is Jacques Sauniere. Even the beautiful paintings surrounding you and the questionable police officer aren’t enough to distract from the gravity of the situation. Who would do such a thing to this man, and more importantly, why? Was he hiding something? Those are the questions Langdon must unravel as the game proceeds, and you, the player, join in on the ride.

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The interior of Saint Sulpice is beautiful but beneath its floors hide dangerous secrets

The intensity of the game quickly amps up when cryptologist Sophie Neveu reveals that Fache suspects you are guilty for Sauniere’s murder, and if you don’t want to spend days rotting in the French jails, then your best ticket to freedom is to run. It’s time to ditch the GPS that Fache and his henchmen have planted on you and make a break for it. The Da Vinci Code adopts a 3rd person perspective, which is standard fare for an adventure game. It switches from Langdon to Sophie throughout the game, which I found interesting and I believe the developers chose good moments to segue in and out of each character’s time in the limelight. Gameplay itself mostly centres around exploration, examining clues, and is interspersed with a small amount of code decryption. The codes are fairly straightforward and give the game a nice punch-substitution ciphers are fun to crack and this also stays true to the film. Then we have the action sequences, which are mildly cumbersome, but still doable. They consist of a clicking the left and right mouse in the right configuration, but it’s timed, which makes it easy to falter under pressure. Initially, the fighting isn’t too draining, and does give you a nice triumphant feeling when you pin a guard to the floor-but this changes somewhat over the course of the game.

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Sophie finds herself in her grandfather’s mansion which is riddled with clues from room to room

Even though their abilities don’t really differ, being able to switch between Langdon and Sophie gives players different perspectives on the plot. For instance, we learn that Sophie’s mysterious grandfather has left her a secret code – P.S. According to Neveu herself, this stands for Princess Sophie, a nickname her grandfather gave to her when she was a child, but Langdon isn’t convinced. He probes further, questioning whether Sophie remembers if it stands for anything else, or, more excitingly, whether it was possible that the P.S was combined with a fleur de lis symbol, an indication that her grandfather was part of a secret society calledThe Priory of Sion. The plot thickens! The Da Vinci Code is built on questions with layers upon layers of intricate detail. And you want to solve the mystery.

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Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu collaborate to solve a room puzzle at Biggin Hill Airfield

GRAPHICS & SOUND

The cutscenes are slightly more realistic than the gameplay, which seems standard in gaming, but both cutscene art and gameplay art was very satisfying. For a game released in 2003, the character desigins and animations were good, and even though I’m pretty sure Audrey Tautou does not have red hair, we will let that slide for today. I also enjoyed drinking in the wonderful scenes around the Louvre and Saint Sulpice which were rendered with a lot of detail and really added to the atmosphere of the game. I think it’s so important to just be able to roam about a game environment and stare at the beautiful background art. The best thing about The Da Vinci Code is that most of the time, you’re dealing with actual, real life paintings, and if you’ve never heard or seen one of them before, this game presents the perfect opportunity to do some art research and expand your cranium. In general, the voice acting of The Da Vinci Code is pretty good. I’m not one to complain about voice acting in general unless it’s absolutely shocking, and even though the voices of some guards were reused, the French accents lent credibility to the game and Langdon came across sounding very academic and knowledgeable, which is perfect. When he explains the origin of the pentacle, and the significance of repetition in symbology to strengthen the meaning of something, it’s almost as enthralling as the movie itself. You might as well be sitting in a lecture room with the lights dimmed, listening, devouring information so spine tingling that you have to find out what happens at its resolution. The general music of the game is appropriately ambient, and it dictates mood well. In the restoration room of the Louvre for example, you will notice a calmer, classical feel, achieved through gentle piano with touches of xylophone. And it’s infused with the perfect amount of creepiness, too. Sound is also used as a marker to indicate when you have completed an objective correctly, or discovered a hidden clue. This helped tremendously in seaming things together for what I think is a cohesive, and easy to follow objective driven game.

DIFFICULTY

If I had to sum up the overall difficulty in The Da Vinci Code, I would say it’s fair. Mostly. The missions don’t get you too entangled/confused, the checkpoint save system is automatic (foreshadowing the more modern gaming era), and even though some missions (the Nike statue in the Normandy Mansion mission) were a bit difficult to figure out, the general level of challenge is just about right. The codes/ciphers themselves are also well designed, since they’re neither impossible to solve or too discouraging for players new to the genre. It might take a few guesses to decrypt the code, but there are more often than not clues that will help out, and you can even press ‘Y’ for a hint from Miss Neveu herself. In addition to some button mashing ala Tomb RaiderThe Da Vinci Code takes things a step further with a second sequence of button + mouse movement in order to open crates, break locks and so on. This is interesting and novel at first, but more simplicity here wouldn’t hurt.

fight sequence

Now let’s move on to the battle sequences, which have been the subject of some heavy critique from other publications. Honestly, they’re ok at the beginning, but by jove, why is it that when you press the button combinations correctly that it doesn’t register? I mean, that just strips the satisfaction away right there. The absolute worst section was in Chateau Vilette, battling the albino Silas. It is more a test of being able to press the left and right mouse buttons at exactly the same time (not fun) than an actual battle, and honestly, the repetition was really frustrating. Furthermore, I feel like asking players to press either the left/right mouse button quickly just after it flashes on screen is like cognitive overload; instead of watching the fight, you’re watching the bottom of the screen just to make sure you’ve pressed the correct side of the mouse-and half the time it doesn’t work when it’s a dual click.

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Silas pops up for the umpteenth time and knocks Robert Langdon over. Sophie prepares for battle.

A better control scheme is seriously needed, which I feel will make fighting more enjoyable overall, rather than a draining, frustrating expenditure. After the amount of times I had to do this fight over, I decided to look up cheats. That made future battle events with policemen and other, tougher bad guys much easier, but the control scheme still lets gameplay down quite a lot. I appreciate the design that has been put into creating an original combat system that doesn’t mimic the rest of the pack, however, I think that even if the left click was simply ‘punch’ and right click was ‘kick’, and the timed feature was removed, the simplicity would have helped integrate the game together more smoothly with its well designed puzzles.

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Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu stand outside the Temple Church with Sir Leigh Teabing

WHY YOU SHOULD PLAY IT:

  • Ýou have a penchant for adventure/puzzle games
  • You like art, history, and anything to do with secret codes
  • You generally play video game adaptations of movies/books

THE PROS:                                                                                   

  • Great cutscenes
  • Compelling storyline
  • Brilliant, on-point music
  • Thorough exploration of artistic, historical and religious themes
  • Taps into the world of espionage

THE CONS:

  • Characters occasionally obstruct each other’s movement
  • Clunky, unresponsive battle sequences
  • Overly complex attack controls
  • Prone to glitches

GAMEPLAY: ★★★☆☆

GRAPHICS: ★★★★☆

SOUND: ★★★★☆

REPLAYABILITY: ★★★☆☆

OVERALL: ★★★☆☆

Final summation:

Just from a quick search on the internet, it’s easy to see that this game was not reviewed positively by the majority of people. Initially, with a more limited playthrough I couldn’t understand how they came to this view. For one thing, a game doesn’t have be brilliant in all technical aspects for you to like it. It does on the other hand have to make some kind of an impression on you. The Da Vinci Code is a treat for anyone who is fond of secret codes and ciphers, art history, and the intersection of religion and secret societies. However, after a more extensive exploration of the game’s various missions, I found that the glitches and the frequently occurring less than stellar battle sequences definitely detract from the overall enjoyment of the game. The Da Vinci Code succeeds in its accurate visual recreation of iconic places such as the Louvre Museum, and these graphics are teamed up with a sweeping soundtrack and richly constructed storyline that will keep players hooked on the mystery. With an overhaul of the fighting system, the game’s longevity and enjoyability would be massively improved.

Weather: This game is best played on a rainy day, preferably after watching The Da Vinci Code or anything of the like. Accompanying cup of tea and biscuit/s mandatory.

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