Lights, Camera, Action Button! The Da Vinci Code

Lights, Camera, Action Button! is a series exploring film-to-game adaptations in regard to their faithfulness, quality and value long after the original film may have passed into nostalgia. In this edition Jack Ford looks at The Da Vinci Code

Though the subject of much derision for its absurd plot and writing style, Dan Brown’s 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code was a major bestseller. With millions of copies sold, it seemed a film adaptation of the book was inevitable. Three years later said film version, directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, premiered.

While panned by critics for having the same shortcomings as the novel, the film also proved a major success, taking in $760 million worldwide. Being their big release of the year, Sony commissioned a video game adaptation to tie in with the film. If it seemed that a book so dense and logorrheic as The Da Vinci Code wouldn’t lend itself to film, it would probably lend itself to a video game even less. 

Still, in May 2006 2K delivered the game version of The Da Vinci Code for PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox. To the casual eye it might seem like the worst concept for a game there could be, but could the developers have actually made something genius that has been lost?

The game is a Broken Sword-style detective, pseudo-point and click affair. Players search for clues hidden throughout each location and solve puzzles, including ciphers and slide puzzles, in order to progress, as well as get closer to the big secret at the heart of the story. 

In between, there are also stealth and combat interludes as the two playable characters – symbologist Robert Langdon and police cryptographer Sophie Neveu – come under attack from the cloaked members of the enemy organization, the Opus Dei, out to prevent them discovering the biggest secret of the Catholic Church – the location of the Holy Grail.

The first level, which begins with a far more sanitized version of the film’s opening murder in the Louvre, acts as an introduction to the game’s mechanics. The victim, Jacques Sauniere, is found posed like Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and with a strange code scratched into the floor next to him. The police send for Langdon and Neveu, also Sauniere’s granddaughter, to shed light on these unusual circumstances.

This opening section actually gives hope for the game – searching for clues, exploring the environments and solving the puzzles can be fun, if the latter go on longer than needed. Yet the action-centred elements are not as successful and can look ridiculous – such as when gameplay shifts to combat and the two show their martial arts expertise to defeat foes.

“It is no more than a standard adventure game, and can rise no further than that due to a number of frustrations”.

The game so far recreates the film well, having Langdon and Neveu escape the Louvre after the police start to suspect their involvement in the murder. Proceedings then take a diversion from the film with Langdon intervening in an attack of the Church of Saint Sulpice by the Opus Dei. He must reach a hidden crypt by solving puzzles related to the church’s pipe organ and the Stations of the Cross. 

This level is symptomatic of the worst things about The Da Vinci Code: A lot of information is thrown at players, there’s a constant need to backtrack, objectives aren’t always clear and missing functions that would be helpful for smoother gameplay, such as a level map, are missed more and more. It’s an overlong section of the game that can be testing of players’ patience.

If you can make it out of Saint Sulpice with sanity intact, control shifts to Sophie as she searches Sauniere’s Normandy mansion – a location not used in the film but one of the very nicest in the game. This section begins with solving a secret code (The decipher to which is right next to it) and goes on to navigating a hedge maze to find an underground grotto, learning about all the Roman gods on the way.

After making some wild deviations from the film, the game then gets back on track by having Langdon and Sophie head to a Zurich bank. There they find a Cryptex hidden in a safe deposit box of Sauniere’s, but it’s not long after their arrival the police catch on that they are there. Using a combination of stealth and combat, though, they make their escape.

The game’s next location is the same as the film’s – the chateau of historian Leah Teabing, who explains the secrets the Opus Dei and the church are protecting. Unlike the film, he does so by having you solve puzzles about the Knights of the Round Table and completing a rhythm-action mini-game on the piano. This section is a good simulacrum of its filmic counterpart, but unlike the film, when the mansion is besieged by the Opus Dei the characters make their escape by building and using Da Vinci’s Ballista. Escaping the mansion leads to Biggin Hill Airfield, an action-oriented diversion which just sees the pair getting the generator working in order for them to fly to the next location.

What follows is easily the most frustrating and overlong section of The Da Vinci Code, set in and around a French church. The level begins with Sophie searching for clues outside, Langdon, who has been captured, escaping his captors inside. The two then reunite and start searching painfully long catacombs for shields. 

Only the very patient will make it to the next level at Westminster Abbey. The goal here is to solve five puzzles related to a poem found at the tomb of Isaac Newton. These puzzles vary, but once they are solved the action goes all Phoenix Wright, as players have to choose the right dialogue options to outwit the final enemy, giving Langdon the time needed to solve the final Cryptex. 

Like the film, the last level takes place in a French chapel, where the game has you scrutinize almost the entire interior in order to find the items needed to open a gate to the cellar. It is here, with one final puzzle, the truth of the Holy Grail will be revealed – in a big twist, it had been there all along.

Further Reading: Light, Camera, Action Button! Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

The game is actually a highly faithful recreation of the source. It does take some license, expanding some sections of the film to make new levels, but the game never strays far from the film’s plot and, for better or worse, makes good use of its mechanics to include all of the bulky historic and cultural detail that are needed for the plot.

One thing that can be said in favour of The Da Vinci Code – it’s rare to see this amount of religious content in a video game. In fact, playing the game you will learn something about theological history, science and art. How often does that happen in a video game?

Aside from that, it is no more than a standard adventure game, and can rise no further than that due to a number of frustrations. The biggest of these are poor controls and level design, ridiculous combat and clues and objective markers that can be easy to miss. 

While some trial and error can be expected in every game of this type, in The Da Vinci Code it is made worse by frustrating controls and level design and an uneven pace. Puzzles can be fun and challenging, in the right way, but they get repetitive before long.

The Da Vinci Code is one of the more bizarre games you will come across. It’s horrible to look at and so stiff to play, but beneath its surfaces is a competent if unambitious game of its genre. There’s really too much wrong with it to be a must-play, but it does enough well to make it far from the total disaster it may seem at fist glance.


Featured Image Credit.

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