The Da Vinci Code
Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code has sold upwards of 40 million copies since its release in July 2005, and just last month the movie of the film notched up the second-biggest debut ever of $224 million (119 million pounds) at the global box office. With such inexorable success a videogame version of Brown's mind bending tale was inevitable. Many videogame spin-offs from projects in other mediums tend to manifest themselves as rushed and unoriginal cash-ins. However, to its credit The Da Vinci Code game does its best to introduce new ideas, though the majority are executed poorly, providing an experience much less fulfilling than time spent perusing the original book's pages.
The game's storyline mirrors that of the film and the book. Symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to the Louvre by French Interpol whilst on business in Paris. Inside lies the murdered body of the museum's curator. Scrawled next to the corpse is a mysterious cipher, which, when solved Langdon realises is the beginning of a trail of clues hidden in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci. The murdered museum employee, it emerges, was part of a secret historical society called the Priory of Sion, existing to protect the theory that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were a couple who raised a daughter, an idea with the potential to buckle the very core foundations of Christianity. Pairing up with Langdon is granddaughter of the murdered victim and French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, who discreetly informs Langdon that an amendment to the code discovered adjacent to the deceased gentleman by Interpol's Captain has made him the main suspect for the murder. The pair set off together on an adventure to crack the ancient code and the resting ground of the Holy Grail whilst keeping one step ahead of the French Police and a powerbroker working for Opus Dei - a sanctioned Catholic organisation who've always strained to discover the Priory's secret.
Much of The Da Vinci code, unsurprisingly, involves solving puzzles, exploring museums, old buildings, churches and other ominous environments, in order to progress. The story unfolds in frequent and lengthy cut scenes which often aren't the most riveting of viewing experiences, especially since the onscreen performances are executed with the passion and flair of the automated 'on the third stroke, the time sponsored by Accurist will be...' speaking clock lady. The monotony is occasionally disrupted by onscreen button-pressing prompts that aid our daredevil heroes in triumphantly bypassing obstacles such as window and even doors. You take control of both Langdon and Neveu at different times throughout, although the game decides when this happens. Each character is identical in terms of the way they conduct themselves, so there is no advantage (strength, speed or otherwise) that would have added a bit of variety and tactical thinking at different times.
If you're not exploring the environments by hugging the walls and pressing the action button continuously, then you're more than likely going to be solving a coded puzzle or beating someone up. The former tasks are genuinely taxing experiences which will test your knowledge of art and history just as much as your general intelligence. Neveu is always on hand to give you clues if you're stuck, although thankfully she stops short of completely removing the puzzles of any level of challenge. Other conundrums just involve placing object A in hole B or using item X to gain access to area Y. It's all pretty simple stuff, especially since the array of objects you carry with you is always of a limited enough number to know which to use. This fact has a knock-on effect on the direction of gameplay which is consequently fairly linear, with little backtracking or the opportunity to explore.
The Da Vinci Code's combat is the game's most bewildering inclusion, since neither the book nor the film relied heavily on the use of fisticuffs. Still, without it the game would unfold more like a pub quiz machine or an interactive puzzle book. It deviates from the original plot, but, hey, who cares about authenticity, especially if it is an element that is executed so superbly? Oh, yeah... unfortunately, that isn't true.
Conflict in initiated in two ways, either through an offensive move by you or the need for a defensive technique in the light of an opponent's advances - the individual who attacks first always has the upper hand as the fight commences. Punches and throws are instructed by responding correctly to a combination of button prompts at the bottom of the screen within a certain time limit. The more accurately you follow the instructions, the more powerful your blows will be. However, if you fail to hit your attacker, then you must follow some more onscreen symbols in order to dodge the incoming assault. It's an original concept but one that, sadly, only succeeds in detaching the player from goings on, especially as the method of combat becomes tedious after only a couple of encounters, even if there is tangible weight behind your advances coupled with some pretty nifty camera angles to catch the action close-up. Adding further insult to injury is the fact that you can only tussle with one enemy at a time, despite the fact that you are often surrounded by numerous attackers who you are completely defenseless to if already occupied. It'd be helpful if Langdon had the ability to instruct his foes to form an orderly queue before commencing in battle, or maybe just the ability to fling his arms and legs in more than one direction at once.
One area in which The Da Vinci Code game had a real opportunity to shine is in the way it looks. After all, its developers Take 2 had grand locations such as the Louvre, as well as the Parisian and British cityscapes at their disposal. Unfortunately, their efforts often do not do the real life settings any justice, in that they are more overly dull and bland. Some of the most famous paintings, for instance, look more like the smudgy creations of primary school children rather than works by some of the greatest artists the world has ever seen. Langon and Neuve are also uninspiring in appearance, with limited and awkward movement and presumably asthmatic tendencies, ones which see them huffing and puffing after running only a short distance. To be fair, there are some lovely touches in the contours and scale of some of the game's architecture and also the attention to detail in places, but it is patchy at best.
Perhaps the only area in which the game excels is in its accompanying musical score which does a brilliant job in capturing the eerie and mysterious mood of the unfolding story. It twinkles away quietly while you explore, before breaking out into a suspenseful chorus when more interesting sequences occur. When it sparks up while you hide in the shadows from a pair of guards for instance, the atmosphere and tension that it brings is definitely affecting.
For fanatics of the book who want to live out the experiences of its characters in a more interactive sense, the game might just appeal. There's about ten hours of play, much of which is an explanation of the plot, while the rest is a pedestrian and pretty boring romp in terms of game play mechanics, meaning that in the end you'll probably just want to complete the game for completing its sake. Despite the potential of the Da Vinci Code, this adaptation of the story is far from cracking.
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