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Whether you thought Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code was a brilliant thriller, utter tosh, or the work of the devil, it always had the potential to bring some new life to the moribund adventure genre when the inevitable movie brought the inevitable game. With its historical conspiracies, overzealous French police, French partner, and occasional murderous zealots, the story could almost have been a Broken Sword game, and the involvement of Revolution’s Charles Cecil must have had genre fans waiting with baited breath.
For the uninitiated (how exactly have you avoided it?), The Da Vinci Code follows Robert Langdon, an American symbologist who is called to the Louvre after the mysterious murder of its curator. Along with French cryptologist Sophie Neveu he uncovers a conspiracy that could shake the foundations of Christianity and Western society itself. So far, so Broken Sword, but does it reach the standards of its genre brethren? Not really. Perhaps it’s unfair to constantly make comparisons to classic adventure games, since The Da Vinci Code makes an attempt to marry adventure conventions with those associated with action – stealth sections and a complex combat system, for example – but some of its major failings are the very things that adventure games typically do so well.
For example, the two protagonists are just incredibly dull. None of the charisma and acerbic humour that typifies adventure heroes is to be found, as the two of them stand expressionless and give interminable lectures about anagrams and the sacred feminine which thankfully can be skipped, at the risk of missing important information. Numeric codes and transposition ciphers aren’t usually riveting at the best of times but could be made bearable if the characters and dialogue were sharper and entertaining, but they’re not. It’s as much the fault of the source material as the game itself, but still makes winging it without the benefit of a detailed explanation a hard temptation to resist.
When you’re not listening to monologues the game takes place from a third-person perspective, with you exploring the environment as one of the principal characters. Prompts identify items that can be examined or interacted with, and it is during these sections that the other gameplay styles come in to play. Stealth is simple, with the characters sneaking at the touch of a button, allowing you to slink around in the shadows and hopefully get around unnoticed. There are also combat sections, but it’s implemented in a surprisingly complex way, with a mixture of hammering the attack button and QTE-style button sequences.
The environment can also come into play, with your character able to shove enemies into obstacles to deal extra damage, and much of the combat involves launching into grapples and bashing a button to overpower the opponent. The system falls apart slightly when facing multiple opponents and never feels completely right. Credit to the developers for putting some thought into making the combat more than button mashing, but it’s hard to play without it feeling slightly tacked on and out of place. The book wasn’t full of fighting (not to mention that a scrap with the police isn’t the best way to prove that you’re innocent of murder), and it just doesn’t seem in keeping with the character of a learned scholar.
For the most part you’re not going to be fighting; you’re going to be puzzle-solving. These can be as simple as sliding picture puzzles, but are often more challenging, taking the form of anagrams and ciphers that need to be… deciphered. More obtuse puzzles such as these can be daunting, and so the game has an excellent hint system that will give a tip at the press of a button. It’s usually nothing more than telling you that the most common three-letter word is ‘the’ in an anagram puzzle and so means that some of them remain difficult, but the hint is often just enough. My only real complaint here is that some puzzles require almost the entire alphabet to be entered which can be laborious on a controller. Other puzzles are more conventional – browsing through the inventory to inspect, use, and combine items in the correct contexts – and don’t require too much thought or, mercifully, backtracking.
Overall though, The Da Vinci Code has too many flaws to be easily recommended. There are bugs that are symptomatic of a development rushed to get it out in time for the movie. Clipping and other problems with collision detection are not uncommon, ranging from characters walking through objects at one extreme to being stuck within them at the other. Audio problems are also present, with background noise pausing before it loops to give an audible gap in sound, and when characters are speaking the spacing between lines of dialogue can be off, making speech sound unnatural.
Sound glitches aren’t the only problem with the game’s audio. The low quality of the voice acting is another of several presentation problems. Despite being based more on the film than its literary inspiration, the likenesses of Tom Hanks, Audrey Tatou, Jean Reno, et al are nowhere to be found, with the characters instead represented by anonymous and bland character models with awkward animation and poor voice acting that is never more than functional. It seems like a missed opportunity not to capitalise more on the hype and controversy surrounding the film, which is ironically what most other movie to game adaptations do.
So then, another Hollywood movie, and another so-so game based on it. The Da Vinci Code has the right heritage but unfortunately suffers from the same disease as many of its ilk – it has been rushed to meet a release date without receiving the kind of polish that could have made a great game out of the subject matter. Less Mona Lisa, more GCSE art project.