Note: This review was originally posted June 13, 2006
And you too will feel betrayed by a kiss if you spend your hard-earned thirty pieces of silver on this travesty of a game.
For those two or three people in the Western Hemisphere who do not know the story behind The Da Vinci Code, it concerns professor Robert Langdon and French cryptologist Sophie Neveu and their search for the Holy Grail. A gruesome murder inside the Louvre and clues in Da Vinci paintings put in motion an epic adventure that leads to the discovery of a religious mystery – which threatens to destroy the foundations of Christianity - that has been protected by a secret society known as Opus Dei for over two thousand years.
While many consider both the book and the movie to be sacrilegious, the game - though it does make a feeble attempts at controversy with the lead character’s comments on the fourteen Stations of the Cross and the obligatory Grail explanation by Sir Leigh Teabing – embodies everything that is wrong not only with video games, but also the perverted mentality that drives (and is destroying) this industry.
It is poorly programmed, it is buggy and it is chock-full of atrocious fighting and stealth sequences that must be completed in order to progress in the game.
It is console mentality at its worst. Rather than treating the gamer who spent his hard-earned money on this game as an adult by including a save anywhere feature, you instead can save only at specific, preset checkpoints. For example, there is a sequence early on in which you must use a UV light to decipher a cryptogram inscribed on the Mona Lisa. Not only does this take a few minutes – even when you already know the answer – but you must redo this sequence every single time no matter how far you have progressed in this area until you reach the next checkpoint. I had already fought off a guard in the Mona Lisa room, taken an object from a statue, entered the main hall and studied two paintings, lifted Sophie to retrieve an object from one of the paintings, snuck down the hall to overhear a phone conversation, hid in the shadows and then snuck into an office where I finally saved the game. While searching the office for clues, a guard would invariably arrive and beat the snot out of me. You would think that as I had saved in the office this would be where I could restore my game, but you would be wrong for I was continually forced to start over again all the way back at the Mona Lisa before I had even solved the cryptogram! You are continually forced to repeat lengthy sequences ad nauseam as the game progress and the checkpoints become fewer.
But this pales in comparison to the worst fighting sequences ever – and I mean ever – in a video game. First of all, it is a shame and an embarrassment that the developers felt it necessary to even include so much fighting in a game that could have otherwise been recommended. If you are not fighting with museum guards, then you are exchanging blows with crazed monks or, later in the game – get this – killer mercenaries. Talk about bastardizing the core concept of the story.
Here’s the problem in a nutshell: most major developers and publishers are cowards who wet their britches over the complaints of some emotionally stunted 18-year old male reviewing games for a mainstream website or game magazine, “This game was really boring as their were no action sequences or gunfights.” Fortunately, these twisted opinions are only prevalent in a minute part of the industry, but unfortunately usually appear in the most conspicuous places. So the developer/publisher, instead of attempting to appeal to the intellect of the gaming community, instead tries to be ‘hip’ by appealing to the youngest and thus, supposedly, most financially influential portion of the gaming community and how better to do so, then to attempt to appeal to that group of gamers least disposed to playing their games. So in retrospect, we get a Mortal Kombat version of The Da Vinci Code, or a sequel to The Longest Journey – arguably the best adventure game of all-time – that incorporates unnecessary fighting and stealth sequences.
A large portion of why the fighting sequences are so bad can be attributed to the controls. The developers have ‘borrowed’ the control system that was so successful in Indigo Prophecy and incorporated it into The Da Vinci Code. So while there are innovate sequences where you must emulate action - such as using bolt cutters or opening a window – by pressing the correct keypad or keyboard button, there are also fighting sequences in which you must press the buttons that flash on your screen in the correct series in order to pull off a complex fight move.
When you are able to perform a special move while fighting, the lights will blink at the bottom of the screen in the order you are supposed to press them, but they blink so fast that it is next to impossible to remember their order much less press them on the keypad or controller before you are punched again. If you are going to ‘borrow’ a control system, you should at least make improvements to it and not make it more difficult. Then, after much trial and error - even when you do press them in the correct order they are more often then not non-responsive.
But it gets worse. This game is so poorly programmed that while fighting a guard, if you are losing, if you can get into stealth mode the guard will not see you even if you are crouching right next to him. At one point, while Sophie was fighting a guard in the Louvre, two other guards, who were looking for the source of the noise, walked right past the fight scene while mumbling that the noise they heard must have been rats. And if you would rather not stay and fight like a man, just instead run and hide and leave Sophie to do the fighting. She will eventually escape and join you in your hiding place.
But wait, it gets even worse! The sound effects in the fighting sequences are so brutal that I found myself cringing as two or three guards were either simultaneously pulverizing Sophie or sucker punching her face. The only thing missing was a finishing move to remove her beating heart from her chest (a long-time developer/publisher friend who I have never once hear utter a profane word had this to say about The Da Vinci Code fight sequences, “If they had just left the fighting out it wouldn’t suck so bad. But no – they had to add some lame ass jerk offing control nightmare fighting bullshit.”).
The truly sad part is that at least 50% of this game is chock-full of intriguing puzzles that adventure gamers would love. There are inventory puzzles, puzzles utilizing the environment and numerous encrypted substitution ciphers and mathematical puzzles. Unfortunately, too many of the puzzles - such as the wonderful garden maze – are absolutely ruined by lapses in which you must knock out policemen from behind (or else be forced to engage in yet another bout of fisticuffs) and drag their bodies out of view. But there are also far too many times when the item you need to solve a puzzle is only inches away.
The graphics are nothing to write to Rome about, though there is an absolutely stunning scene in a church as sunlight reflects though stained-glass windows across the pews and even your passing character. The voice-acting is passable, though Sophie sounds too much like an English speaking woman trying to speak English with a French accent rather than a French woman attempting to speak English. The dialogue is at its best during overheard private conversations between guards (especially in the sewers).
Finally, as it would take another four or five pages to describe all of the bugs and poor programming, let’s just list the ones that are most notable:
Finally, there are hidden Da Vinci inventions and coins hidden throughout the game that will allow you to access some totally useless ‘bonus’ levels once you’ve completed the game. If you’re not very good at finding hidden items, well fear not, for their locations are identified by huge, glowing symbols that even Helen Keller could not miss.
So read the book. See the movie. Play the game. No seriously, that is the order needed to fully enjoy the The Da Vinci Code. The book is a great read, the movie is passable entertainment, but by the time we reach the watered-down game (which ironically costs twice as much as the book and movie ticket combined), the grail is gone. My recommendation is that you don’t purchase this game unless you are bald, for you are sure to pull out all of your hair in frustration.
Final Grade: D