The Da Vinci Code (Xbox) review
"On the one hand, this is a satisfying way to fight that emphasis mental power over the ability to simply button mash. On the other, it just doesnít feel quite natural. Fights seem to happen in fits and spurts. Worse, fighting multiple enemies turns into a ridiculous scenario where even if you press the buttons in just the right order, one of the other goons might step in and knock you in the face because youíre in the middle of performing a combo and canít stop to deal with the obvious threat."
In this day and age, only a truly spectacular adaptation of a movie can stand apart from the crowd. The reason is simple: every time someone makes a cool film, thereís someone at work on the game (often simultaneously, in a time where games sometimes take months even to leave the drawing board). Such was the case with The Da Vinci Code, a conspiracy-theory thriller based on the movie, which in turn was based on the book of the same name by Dan Brown.
As far as books go, The Da Vinci Code is recognized as a taut thriller, the kind of story that keeps you turning pages well into the night because you want to know what narrative twist comes next. Itís perfect source material for a controversial movie and, of course, a game. Or so it would seem. However, the best moments in the game happen to be those where a story is being told, where youíre just watching and not performing any actions as a gamer. At such times, you think to yourself that youíre enjoying something pretty special. Then you actually have to start playing and youíre reminded that some stories were told first as books for a reason.
The game follows a fairly standard process. When it opens, it does so with dialogue between your character and another. You can skip such scenes, if you choose, by pressing the ďAĒ button. If you havenít watched these snippets before that would be extremely foolish (even if youíve read the book or seen the movie) because then you wonít have heard the clues that tell you most clearly what it is that you are to do next. When dialogue ends, youíre given an objective you must fulfill.
Early on, these objectives are extremely simple. Theyíre clearly meant to acquaint you with the gameplay. The developer should at this juncture be praised for not resorting to an irritating tutorial mode, but for easing players in slowly. Since the plot unfolds while you do simple things like examine the body of a slain museum curator and combine items from your inventory, the simple instruction isnít the irritant it might have otherwise been. On another positive note, the interface is relatively intuitive, clearly designed so that if youíve played many games of this sort in the past, youíll be able to jump right in.
As events progress, youíre soon introduced to the general flow of the game and expected to play with relative competence. Yes, even in the first chapter. Basically, the rest of the game follows a general sequence: you talk to someone, you solve a few puzzles, you fight someone, you reach a checkpoint and you repeat. Sometimes there are multiple fights and puzzles between checkpoints, an unfortunate circumstance that highlights one of the gameís more irritating flaws, its battle system.
You can adjust combat difficulty from the menu if you want to be a pansy about it, but even such tweaks donít prevent the occasional encounter from ending your game. This is because the protagonist fights like a lady (and in some cases is one). Much of this can be impacted by the manner in which you initiate a fight. Itís sometimes possible to run up from behind someone, mash the Ďattackí button like itís going out of style, and get the upper hand right from the start. However, fights then seem destined to go to a grapple mode.
Once you have engaged an enemy and are locked into a grapple, you have some new options. You can try to ďrun,Ē which is just plain stupid, you can throw him against a nearby piece of the environment or you can try to go on the offensive. If you fail, itís time to play defensively, while some manly thrusts and punches see you pushing your hapless opponent back while he wishes he didnít get up that morning. Either way, youíre going to find yourself instructed to press a series of buttons. This is how you advance through choreographed fights that look really good but basically just amount to how well you followed the on-screen prompts.
On the one hand, this is a satisfying way to fight that emphasis mental power over the ability to simply button mash. On the other, it just doesnít feel quite natural. Fights seem to happen in fits and spurts. Worse, fighting multiple enemies turns into a ridiculous scenario where even if you press the buttons in just the right order, one of the other goons might step in and knock you in the face because youíre in the middle of performing a combo and canít stop to deal with the obvious threat. Not only that, but you tend to be sluggish about turning to face enemies, even when you see them coming.
Fights, therefore, are a major pain in the butt. Youíll want to avoid them at all costs, but if you do so, it means you got good at playing through stealth missions. Do you like stealth games? If so, good for you. The Da Vinci Code will only be half as irritating. If you donít, wellÖ suck it up.
Of course, the game isnít just about stealth and sloppy combat. If it were, the situation would be dire indeed. There are those puzzles to consider, too. Remember? And as far as puzzles go, the ones youíll find here areÖ sufficient. Consider the first chapter, where you stumble across a painting with a mysterious code smeared across it in alcohol. You scan it with a special light, which reveals an encrypted code of sorts. The puzzle? You have to figure out what each letter really is so that you can unlock a secret phrase. Itís elementary stuff, but you actually get the feeling that youíre taking an active role in the adventure. And when you get a clue that points you to the next room, then go there and put the information to good use, the game starts to feel like it should, like an interactive mystery.
Then you have to escape and there are soldiers and one of them kills you and you have to solve the puzzle all over again. Itís not as much fun the second time.
So goes the game. The first time through any sequence, itís fresh. You are a willing participant in a great story with rather intuitive puzzles and irritating fights. All in all, that seems okay. Then one of those fights messes with your progress. Itís like youíre in a movie theater and suddenly the projectionist messes up so you have to wait twenty minutes before you can keep watching the movie. For this reason, itís difficult to recommend The Da Vinci Code as a game you should buy. Itís a competent enough piece of software, but the book is so much more.
Staff review by Jason Venter (June 11, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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