How's this for a deep, dark conspiracy: we think a secret society seeks to make crappy games out of intriguing book and movie licenses. When we uncover the identities of any of the members, we're going to strap them down and force them to play through The Da Vinci Code for themselves.
As in the bestselling book and box-office powerhouse, American professor Robert Langdon and French cryptologist Sophie Neveu stumble into a murder investigation at the Louvre; a cryptic string of clues leads them to a secret so shocking that it threatens Christianity and civilization as we know it. You'll play as both characters, sidestepping both the police and religious zealots while solving ciphers, anagrams and physical object puzzles. Most are easily cracked (and since hints are free, you'll never get stuck - or even have to think for yourself) but the puzzles were clearly designed to be the focus. It's the other elements of the game - combat and narrative - that feel tacked on around them.
If you're just here to solve puzzles, you don't need to get dragged into fistfights - using stealth to sneak around gives you a fair chance to run away like a bookworm-turned-hero might. Inevitably, however, you'll accidentally alert a guard or a monk and trigger the clunky turn-based combat. Press a sequence of buttons to set up a string of attacks, then watch them play out. This was intended to make fighting easier for action-averse adventure gamers while giving twitch players something beyond brainteasers. It looked promising, but the result ultimately pleases no one.
For a game that's all about using your brain, The Da Vinci Code sure can insult your intelligence. "These symbols don't look familiar," says Langdon, whose whole life revolves around deciphering the meaning of symbols. Turns out you have to solve another puzzle first; then they're suddenly easily deciphered. Argh. And speaking of artificial intelligence, your enemies are pretty brain-dead too; it's so easy to elude the French police and murderous monks, you might as well put your hands over your eyes and scream "you can't see me!"
Usually, adventure games require you to write down the clues as you go, but here's an area where The Da Vinci Code got it right: everything you see, collect or learn in the game is recorded in an in-game database which you can check whenever you like. Inventory objects like cell phones and raw meat (don't ask) can be rotated in 3D too; sometimes inspecting them reveals further clues.
While the Xbox and PS2 versions feel largely the same when it comes to controlling your characters, the PC interface is the worst of the bunch; it's clearly just the console version awkwardly mapped to a keyboard and mouse. The result is a too-floaty mouse that can't be adjusted and text puzzles that can't be solved simply by entering letters on the keyboard. Just another sign of a rushed spam product.
The actors (not from the film cast) sound utterly bored throughout their lengthy speeches; the only thing that trumps the highly questionable French accents is a guy who actually says "woof woof" on behalf of a virtual dog. Once it gets going, the puzzles make it palatable, but the undercooked Da Vinci Code certainly had more potential than it actually delivers. Only the most desperate adventure gamers will even want to bother.