Hi everyone. Well I finally got my review written (I had posted about struggling with it the other day) and now that I'm finished I'm happy to report that I really enjoyed the game.
Before playing this game, I honestly knew nothing about Leonardo DaVinci, except that he was a famous painter. Like alot of people I recognized his works and thought they were gorgeous, but beyond that I never thought much about the man. Now that I've had a taste of what his life in France might have been like via "Secrets of DaVinci: The Forbidden Manuscript", I find that I want to learn more about him....I also want to climb into my computer screen and live in his beautiful mansion!
Since I've obviously fallen in love with his home, let's start with the graphics. Graphics are almost always my favorite part of any adventure game. Getting to explore any environment I want without having to leave my comfy computer chair always makes me happy, and in this case, the exploration was not disappointing. The mansion that rises up to meet you as you arrive is one of the most beautiful creations I've ever seen in a computer game. The colors alone are dizzying...beautiful blues for the roof mixed with shaded reds and browns for the bricks make for a creation that is truly worthy of the master himself. Just for fun I sat here staring at the mansion for ages before even beginning game play just so I could imagine myself as mistress of the manor. But as much as I loved the outdoor glimpse of the DaVinci's old home, the interior was every bit as enticing. Wandering from room to room my eye was caught by the soft flickering of candlelight from the many candles sitting about, and the gentle blaze of firelight kept the darker rooms from being too gloomy. Upstairs in the bedroom there were vivid red bedclothes and shelves of colored books just begging to be plucked and touched. In the study there are images of DaVinci's works, all in perfect detail, all capable of stirring the heart of any art lover and making them wish they could time travel so as to watch their maker in the middle of their creation.
Moving outdoors there are thunderous, moody clouds above the estate, evoking a mood of intrigue and desolation, a mystery to be solved. While at the same time, a full, white moon shines balefully over the manor, trying in vain to bring light to the gray evening in which the player finds himself. Everything is lovingly created, and although I don't know very much about the 1500's, the setting of the home, the objects, clothing of the other characters, seems genuine for that time period. The graphics in this game were for me, pure sensuous pleasure, and I'd have to give that part of the game an A.
Onto the story...you are Valdo, the former apprentice of Francesco Melzi, who in turn was a student of Leonardo DaVinci himself. A secret benefactor has decided to place you in his employ in order to search the estate for a secret document. There is a hitch however...the manor is no longer empty. A woman named Babou de la Bourdaisiere is now living under DaVinci's former roof, and you must provide a believable reason for being there. Your story is that you are Melzi's apprentice and you are interested in examining Leonardo's artwork and inventions. Perfectly plausible, considering Melzi's connection to the great man. But as you wander about secretly searching for the manuscript, you must actually find and use the inventions that surround you, solving puzzles as you do so. You must also interact with various characters along the way, choosing different conversation options which will have more of an effect on your game than you may realize at first. You may lie, wheedle and scheme, or play the perfect angel, but either way your choices will be recorded as the game plays on.
There is a system, an "angel/devil" system if you will, where you can see your own progress. If you are honest, do not steal and generally behave yourself, the angel side of the system will rise. If on the other hand you are a bold-faced liar, take things that don't belong to you, and make a total pest of yourself, the devil side will rise. Each side looks a bit like a thermomenter with red for evil (of course) and white for good. While each side may not seem to make a big difference in your general game play, you will be able to see the results of your actions at the end of the game. There are four separate endings and the one you reach will depend on whether you were angelic or devilish during your journey. Which one did I get? Well...I guess I can tell you...after all, it's just between us, right? I have to admit, I was unable to make myself be "bad" during this game. Although part of me wanted to, my conscience (real and imagined) kept getting in my way and so I had a "good" ending with the lovely Babou wanting to leave the manor to be with me as I flew off into the sunset. Now that I've finished the game, I'm seriously thinking about playing it again so that I can see what a "bad" ending would look like. Maybe in the end I'll get to tell the fair maiden that she's just not my type (after all, I'm a woman and married at that!) and then I'll jump into Leonardo's flying machine and give her the big kiss-off. Sounds like fun doesn't it?
My grade for the storyline of this delightful game would have to be an A.
Gameplay is non-linear and you can meander about wherever you want, for the most part, without having to use certain items or have certain conversations before the next portion opens up to you. This was a real relief to me because I have found it frustrating in other games to have to dance to the game creator's tune before being rewarded by the next level or stage. In "Secrets" you are for the most part free....granted, some doors are locked until you find their key and certain secrets, documents and objects aren't available until you fix DaVinci's old inventions, but to me that's just fun gameplay. Solving puzzles is one of my favorite things about adventure games, and in this, the game succeeds. The puzzles aren't too difficult and they make sense. Granted, some of the inventions and objects aren't familiar to us today given that they were created back in 1522 or earlier, but most of them are common sense and not very hard to figure out. I was personally amazed that Leonardo DaVinci created so many varied and beautiful creations! I never knew that he did anything beyond painting, and so this was not just a game for me, but a lesson in history as well.
Movement in the game is done using point and click, and the cursor is a pretty, gold fleur-de-lis that bounces gently forward when you click on it. It's lovely and very easy to use, plus there is panning that allows the player to slowly circle the room and take in everything in his or her own time. Some games have panning that's too fast--they tend to give me whiplash and make me a little queasy (lol), but the panning was just right for me in this game and I think alot of other players will enjoy this aspect as well.
Using objects is very easy...you move the cursor over the object, for example a drawer, and a small picture of gears comes up. If you can open the drawer, the gears will be turning, if not, they will be still and crossed out. Viola. Very simple and very easy to use. Another feature of the gameplay that was helpful was the diary. You can save up to five pages of objects that you collect along your journey, plus, record the manuscripts you've picked up as well as conversations with other characters. Everything you've seen and done as Valdo is saved and so at any point in the game you can go back and recall where you've been and what's occurred. I really enjoyed this feature and used it alot...my only quibble was that there were SO many pages of objects, it was sometimes time-consuming to scroll through all of the pages to get to the object I needed. Honestly though, this wasn't a huge problem. And the graphics of the diary are so beautiful I didn't mind coming briefly out of the gameworld to stare at them while I searched for my items.
My grade for the gameplay portion of this game is a definite A.
Now onto the sounds. The music was (for me) suitably "medieval" sounding. Occasionally jounty, oftentimes moody, it suited the time frame of the game perfectly. I could just picture maidens dancing in a circle while bearded men in gold and red suits played the obo. The voices too were good...better that many games I've played recently, and I especially liked Babou's voice. Sultry, with a French accent, she sounded like a combination of a courtesan and a "lady of the evening". Saturnin, a guardian of sorts, sounded a little like a British stage actor trying for a French voice, but the King of France's voice was fairly good. Along with the voices, there were occasional sounds like water dripping, doors shutting, inventions turning, and each had the ring of authenticity. The creators did a very nice job with this game's sounds and I'd have to give them an A for effort!
For me the most important aspect of a game is entertainment value. Am I going to love it? Lose myself in it? Actually become the character I'm playing and care about the world and its people? These are things I think most gamers feel, especially when it come to adventure games, and I think that in general, they'll be pleased with this aspect of "Secrets". This game was not your garden-variety adventure, and so the entertainment was different than with say a "Syberia-Kate Walker" kind of character. In this game, it was more about intrigue. Let's play detective and see if we can't get caught. Let's sneak around where we aren't supposed to be and see what we can discover. Oh yes, and lets take things, many things, that don't belong to us....aren't they pretty and wouldn't they be fun to keep? Oh yes, I felt entertained alright. The pure fun of just getting to see Leonardo DaVinci's home some 500 years after his death was enough for me, but then to get to sneak around and "live" in this world....well it was more than I expected and I enjoyed the heck out of it.
I had a wonderful time pretending to be a medieval snoop, and I think that other gamers will too. While this is not a game I'd replay over and over again, it was a great deal of fun. More intellectual than emotional, certainly, but fun nonetheless. Now that I've safely escaped the manor with my mission accomplished, I'd have to give this game a resounding A!