Developer: The Collective
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: May 16, 2006
Licensed games can be good. Really. Just look at Chronicles of Riddick. Of course, they can also be pretty bad. Look at, say, Chicken Little. To get a game that's just slightly above average requires a license that wasn't really meant to be a video game being fairly well-implemented or something comparable. If you're used to essay and review form, you know where I think The Da Vinci Code goes – licensed content that is actually moderately good, though nowhere near amazing. Fans of the book and/or movie may want to give it a look or rental, and dedicated adventure game fans might be pleased as well.
The first thing to be made clear about this game: It came out at the same time as the movie, but it is based more on the book. Robert Langdon looks younger in this adaptation, Sophie Neveu is dressed a little more "business casual" with a red coat, and Silas actually looks albino. However, it is also distinct from the book in that it visits new locations, adds more enemies to fight, and provides lots and lots more puzzles for the two to solve, together and apart. One particularly entertaining example has Sir Leigh Teabing, depicted as being a little bit eccentric, sending Sophie all around his mansion to learn the "true" story of the Holy Grail rather than out-and-out telling her.
Let it also be clear that the game does not treat its villains well. Silas is not the near-sympathetic character he is in the novel, and Manus Dei (2K game's renaming/adjustment of Opus Dei from the film and book) has a seedy underbelly of assassin monks gladly willing to try and kill Langdon and Neveu, yet strangely incapable of besting either in a fight. It is also interesting to note that Manus Dei's monks remind clearly of the monks of Los Illuminatos, the villains from Resident Evil 4; it's not the only thing taken from that game, but we'll get to that in a minute. Los Illuminatos is, in turn, coincidentally similar in name to The Illuminati, the villains from Angels and Demons, the prequel to The Da Vinci Code.
The game leads you through a variant of the narrative of the book in 11 levels, going between basic stealth action, a very simplistic combat scheme, and figuring out all of the puzzles, which range from basic letter-substitution cryptography to item combination to Resident Evil 4-esque mini-game puzzles. When exploring, the controls and "widescreen" style will feel highly familiar to anyone who has played Resident Evil 4, though this game provides context-based button indications on the top and bottom of the screen, which are very useful for solving puzzles. It also has a simpler and somewhat cleaner inventory system; you'll never have more than one of each item, even the bandages that fix up your lifebar are few and far between (you won't need many of them, though). Additionally, the streamlined one-on-one combat is meant to be easy for non-gamers – who are likely to be a major audience of this game – to get through; push one of three buttons to attack, push, or throw, then just follow the on-screen button presses to beat up your opponent.
It's good that the controls are simple because the puzzles themselves are fiendish in their simplicity and have cryptography as a strong theme. For example, you'll memorize or write out a letter-substitution chart in one area to use in two others in the same area, or have an unknown letter cipher to decrypt. Other examples consist of item combination (figuring out which enzymes to mix to clean up a painting, then thinking to put them on a towel to clean it up) and copious use of Fibonacci sequences – not just the original one, either.
If you have the book, it's a great companion to the game to help you through many of the puzzles, although new ones have been added to throw off fans of the book. The combination feels true to the novel, which means lots of running around, though in the vein of the Monkey Island series, the overall puzzles are in discrete level-sized bits to keep things from getting too head-pounding. Further, little textual clues will help you figure out the puzzles where voices don't; your computer-controlled partner does slight animations to hold his/her own but is basically useless most of the time.
The game's graphics are solid but not quite among the PS2's best. They're solid with highly detailed (but not quite real-feeling) characters with accurate lip movements, expansive yet similarly meticulous environments, complete with the occasional set of moths around a light or rat under a set of shelves, plus detailed models of many da Vinci inventions. It's a design that's realistic but not quite cinematic in quality, and it all comes with nice, short loading times. The sound effects are serviceable, with finely composed music which fits the theme well and stays out of the way, fine voice acting, and simple sound effects with just a tiny bit of oomph.
Overall, The Da Vinci Code has three things holding it back. First, it is the overall same narrative as the book and film – if this game were released by itself, it would probably be comparably controversial. Hardcore Christians will be just as offended, and if you don't like the "conspiracy theory" feel of the book, get away from this game. Second, it is so simplistic as to drag you through the narrative; you do not often feel in charge of how you do things, except in combat, which is a little ironic, because of how abstracted it is. Third, however, is the amazing number of glitches in the game. There are so many little bugs that weren't fixed as to make you wonder if some of the time polishing the graphics should have gone into quality control instead. It's unfortunate that the title was rushed to match the film's arrival, given that it is not directly a movie license.
The Da Vinci Code is difficult in all the right areas for fans of the book's unique blend of fact and fiction, and all the wrong ones for most gamers. The huge amount of additional plot detailing and unlockable content (which has the side effect of making you pixel-hunt for small counts, globes shaped like the planets, and most sensibly models of da Vinci's inventions) together only offers a few day's play. Adventure fans, Dan Brown fans, and those looking for something really similar to Resident Evil 4 should give it a look and a rent, as it offers a distinctive twist on the work which one may or may not find more enjoyable than the film interpretation. I still think the book's the best. If 2K Games would also do games like this for Brown's Angels and Demons or Deception Point, they might be on to something.
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