Posted by Female Gamers on Jan 19, 2010
The Da Vinci Code – Review

The Da Vinci Code – Review

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Whatever opinion you hold of Dan Brown’s best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code, there’s no denying that it has considerable marketing power: it spawned a major Hollywood film as well as a game, both released around the same time. Movie or book-based games often leave something to be desired in terms of gameplay, but is The Da Vinci Code able to break through this curse and emerge as a winner?

Girl gamers can rejoice at the inclusion of a playable female character whose most important asset is intelligence instead of bra size. You play both as symbologist Robert Langdon and cryptographer Sophie Neveu as you explore various locations, solving puzzles, fighting enemies, and using stealth to unlock the mystery behind the murder of Sophie’s grandfather, Jacques Saunière. The game alternates between Sophie and Robert automatically, and it’s rather disappointing that there is absolutely no difference between the two save for their appearance. They’re controlled the same way and have the same available commands.

The majority of the game is spent solving puzzles while using discovered items to help decipher codes. The puzzles themselves, while quite interesting, prove to be on the easy side. It’s usually obvious what you need to do. This is especially true considering the fact that the game limits you to picking up only those items that have a purpose, going so far as to tell you not to bother when you try to pick up other objects. There are a few puzzles that take some thought, but these are cracked after a few sessions of trial and error.

Somewhat incongruous with The Da Vinci Code’s focus on puzzle solving, fighting is an integral part of the game. While exploring areas for clues, you’ll come into contact with policemen and fanatical monks who want to arrest you and murder you respectively, so combat is therefore unavoidable. When you’re close to enemies, you’re able to throw punches or hit them with weapons you’ve picked up. Once enemies engage you in a grappling lock, you have the option of attacking, pushing, or throwing. Whichever option you choose, you’ll be presented with a sequence of buttons to press within a time limit in order to successfully carry out the required action. Defense works in much the same way: correctly pressing a sequence of buttons results in successfully dodging blows. As you might have guessed, combat becomes repetitive after only a short while. Once you finally beat an enemy unconscious, you have the option of dragging the body to a less conspicuous spot.

You’ll have to take care to engage only one enemy in combat at a time, as rushing in to attack two enemies makes things more difficult. This is easy to avoid, as enemies always act in the exact same manner. You’ll almost always find them in pairs, but after a few minutes of small talk they’ll split up. You can either leap to the offensive and attack the enemy nearest to you, or choose to be stealthy and wait behind a wall for the enemy to walk by before throwing a punch. Speaking of stealth, it’s a gameplay element that is unrealistically implemented in The Da Vinci Code. Once you’re in the stealth position, you can walk right up to an enemy or be in their line of sight and they won’t even be aware of you. Being stealthy is one thing, but it’s quite another to be completely invisible.

The game itself is relatively buggy. At Normandy Mansion, for example, a figurine that you need to solve a puzzle is in plain sight on the floor, but you can’t pick it up until you move an object on the table above it—whereupon you’re greeted with a short clip of the same figurine falling from the table. In another instance, when you defeat an enemy near a staircase, you may encounter the floating body phenomenon: the unconscious enemy floats in the air instead of dropping to the ground. The floating body cannot be dragged, by the way.

The graphics are adequate, although nothing special. While a couple of areas have beautiful landscapes, Robert and Sophie suffer from a lack of facial expression. The soundtrack for the game sets the mood well with tense rhythms and almost melancholic tunes. The voiceovers, however, will soon grate on your nerves, with the same phrases said over and over. In addition, Sophie’s French accent is sometimes overdone.

Subtitles are available and utilized for every snippet of speech in the game, from the main narrative to overheard conversations between non-playable characters (NPCs). They continue without any player prompting and proceed at the same speed as the voiceovers, similar to movie subtitles. However, this particular quality doesn’t translate well to games: sometimes you’ll find yourself in the middle of reading an important passage when the text changes, and at other times the subtitles flash and disappear from the screen so fast you’ll barely have time to read past the first two words. There doesn’t appear to be any way of going back and replaying messages, so if you miss something from the narrative then you miss it forever. Also, note that pressing ‘START’ during a cut-scene won’t pause the game—it will cause you to skip through the entire scene altogether.

Gameplay is also plagued by a range of annoying issues. Firstly, The Da Vinci Code is an extremely linear experience—so linear, in fact, that the game almost seems to penalize you if you don’t follow its predetermined route to the letter. For example, you’ll come across items that you should be able to pick up but can’t—even when it’s obvious that you need them—until you trigger a particular clue or perform a certain action, which makes exploration a chore rather than something fun. Another frustrating aspect is when both main characters are together. You control only one of them, while the other follows you so closely that you’ll frequently find yourself trapped in corners or small spaces, trying to break free. In addition, holding a weapon prevents you from interacting with everything: you can’t pick up items, open drawers, or anything else. The camera also leaves much to be desired and, at times, it can become stuck in the most inconvenient places at the most inconvenient times. Besides moments when you find yourself staring at a wall while the camera tries to reorient itself, it’s also hopeless during combat in enclosed spaces: after jerking around crazily, the camera will invariably decide to show you a close-up of someone’s elbow. Even the way your inventory works isn’t exempt from irritating issues as it resets when you leave a particular area, emptying itself of all-but items crucial to the next point of the game. In light of this, there’s no point in saving up health-restoring bandages, since they simply disappear when you progress to another area.

Although The Da Vinci Code has an intriguing storyline, its poor implementation, extreme linearity, bugs, and host of pesky gameplay elements prevent the game from being fun and engaging. The game is relatively short and can be finished in about ten hours. Once it’s over you’ll most likely want to either give it away or shelve it—there isn’t much replay value due to its linearity, and its frustrating gameplay acts as a further deterrent.

Review by Mallika

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