Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) - nature scientist, scholar, inventor,
draughtsman, painter, sculptor and writer - a universal genius. A lot of what he
discovered and invented half a millennium ago is still valid today, is being applied and
under further development. His intriguing mechanisms are the cause of numerous wild
theories, although I, personally, would rather assume that they are technical experiments.
As for his encrypted writings? Well, a man of his knowledge surely has been seen as a
potential threat by others, now and then - stupidity has always feared wits - so Leonardo
would have felt the need to protect some of his discoveries and even personal information,
let alone his relations and friendships with powerful personalities of his time. To be
honest, I am surprised that Leonardo's works have never before inspired game developers to
produce an adventure as his life and work provide more than enough material for
interesting stories and puzzles.
The year is 1522. Three years after the death of Leonardo da Vinci
the Château du Clos Lucé, where the master spend the final years of his life, is
inhabited by Marie Babou de la Bourdaisière, the mistress of King Francis I. of France.
We take over the part of Valdo, a young Italian, who has fallen from grace with his master
Francesco Melzi, himself a former student of and also heir to da Vinci, because he copied
one of Leonardo's paintings and tried to sell it. Valdo is hired by a mysterious stranger
to search the estate for a secret manuscript, which the master supposedly has hidden there
and which is commonly thought of as never having even existed at all. Due to his education
Valdo is the best suited man to look for the document inside the house and its extensive
park under the cover of wanting to study da Vinci's inventions without raising any
The Secrets of Da Vinci installs quickly, flawlessly and
completely from two CD's, one of which has to remain in the drive while playing. The main
menu offers all the well-known and necessary options including the possibility to adjust
graphics, sound and mouse-speed. Sound adjustment, though, is a little too minimalist for
my taste. There is no possibility to change the levels of speech, effects and music
separately, which is not that bad but I found the music too loud at times. You can safely
put aside the keyboard while playing and use the space for a notepad instead. The motto is
'grab your mouse' and hold on to it. :-)
The French lily as the cursor will show us the way and will be
extended by an icon matching the actions we can carry out at a hotspot like take, examine
or manipulate. Four companies have been involved in the development of this adventure but
those of you, who have played 'Return to Mysterious Island' and/or 'Voyage' aka 'Journey
to the Centre of the Moon' will recognise at once that their designer Kheops Studio is
responsible for the inventory of 'The Forbidden Manuscript'. The heart of it consists of
125 compartments to sort all our collected items. Above that lies an open book, which
receives documents we find from time to time. It also serves another important purpose but
I will get back to that later when I talk about the puzzles; same with a whole new feature
- a conscience scale with a score panel - nicely and very appropriately decorated with a
little angel and a little devil. In the top right corner we have a portrait of our alter
ego serving as a kind of mannequin to be outfitted according to the game's requirements
and just beneath we find Valdo's journal as a help to remind us of our immediate tasks but
it also serves to keep track of the information we gather on the other characters. Last
but not least, we can access the main menu by clicking the compass in order to save, load
or quit the game.
An often occurring criticism in adventure games is a weak story
later designed around the puzzles or puzzles having been implemented subsequently into a
finished story in an illogical manner. 'The Forbidden Manuscript' cannot be reproached
with any of these mistakes because story and puzzles / puzzles and story definitely build
a natural alliance based on the topic already. It is Valdo's - and therefore our - task to
deal with Leonardo's writings abd inventions, to understand them and make them work or
else use them. The large inventory already hints at it - we can and have to collect,
combine and use a lot of items. Just as in the two other games I mentioned earlier it is
possible to either buy, find or even produce items ourselves.
Some of the instructions we can gather from da Vinci's documents.
But they also represent a very interesting part of the puzzles. For example, when we have
to make an equipment work, the plan of which Leonardo has left behind as a technical
drawing including all the necessary elements. We can click on the parts on the paper and
then have to drag them to their correct positions in the plan. During the process we can
always click the actuation to check whether everything is in place and works. Then, some
spare parts yet have to be manufactured in the master's workshop. For that we can use some
remaining tools; and even a printing press is at the ready.
There's also a laboratory for mixing and brewing substances in
Leonardo's private office. On the other hand, we can talk to Marie or Saturnin, the
steward, to gather information of any kind. However, the Renaissance technician also left
us some physical mechanisms to decipher and on top of all this we 'may' even prove our
painting skills but in a very unusual way. In short, there are puzzles for everyone, also
those involving switches and slider puzzles and one sound puzzle even I was able to solve
without problems - I usually never manage those!
To add one more interesting aspect to all this variety we can at
times choose how we would like to act in certain situations. If we act nicely it adds to
the angelic side of the above mentioned scale and if we don't, well, it increases the
devil side, of course. On the other hand, we will score points on a separate counter for
every task we solve successfully. Using these as a kind of payment we can adjust the
balance of the two halves of our 'conscience' and alter the course of our adventure.
A remark: usually, I do not include other people's experiences in my
reviews. This one, though, seems important to me. You should definitely refrain from
trying to produce things as long as you don't have all the necessary ingredients in your
inventory because that might lead you to a dead end only an earlier save game can get you
Our adventure takes place in September. The warm autumnal red and
brown shades used for the pre-rendered backgrounds match the season as well as the subject
of the game. They remind me of a Renaissance painting just like the 2D locations, which
are given a sense of extent by a 360° view and are designed with a loving attention to
detail. Although they sometimes seem just as stiff as a picture there are quite a few
realistic animations with matching sounds that make them come to life.
Sometimes the music becomes a little annoying when it gets louder
and there is no option to either turn it down or off. In the beginning, I found the faint
sound of nearby footsteps we hear from time to time quite fitting because they increase
the tension - after all we are on a secret mission. But after a while the loop repeats
itself too often and the result rather turns into the opposite. The NPC character
animation, on the other hand, deserves special mentioning because they are rather unusual
for this kind of game graphics. As soon as you approach one of the other characters they
will turn their heads in your direction. Another example would be the cover of the
printing press - in similar games the object would always look the same, no matter, if we
left the cover open or not - in this game, however, an object always looks like we left it
behind. A fire, which we lighted on one day, will only show glowing ashes the morning
after. So, 'Secrets of Da Vinci' is far from a 'cheaply' made 1st-person game.
The game's highlight, however, definitely is the Château du Clos
Lucé itself. Da Vinci's home has been reconstructed true to the original near Amboise in
France and already I am very much tempted to travel there and explore it myself one time.
Unfortunately, it's probably not allowed to fool around with all of Leonardo's inventions
there or to discover and explore secret passageways. But that's what the game is for,
isn't it? And there's one more plus for the game - it's when we have found one of Da
Vinci's documents that a cut scene starts in which the master himself will tell us a part
of the story and also provides a little information on his actions and maybe some hints
for our search. All characters have been professionally dubbed by well casted voice
actors, which unfortunately still isnt standard by now.
'The Secrets of Da Vinci - The forbidden Manuscript' is a solid
adventure game, which will entertain even experienced players very well for at least 15
hours. An interesting story and challenging puzzles form a natural entity supported and
supplemented by beautifully designed locations and well animated characters. This is how I
like my adventure games to be and I can recommend it not only to those, who enjoyed the
other games by Kheops Studio but to everyone, who likes historical settings and inventory
puzzles in their adventures.