A unique and especially talented man:
Before saying anything about the game itself, I would like to say a few words about Leonardo da Vinci. I’m sure that you all know him -or at least you have heard a few things about him. However, since lately his name has been mixed up with mysterious affairs, conspiracies and religious intrigues, because of a talented novelist, I would like to make it clear that Da Vinci was a man worthy enough to cause a storm in our brains even without being caught up in such affairs. A man who represents the incarnation of the Homo Universalis, who with his brilliance and unlimited imagination worked on various fields of the Arts and Sciences, and for that has deservedly won recognition. A man with multiple talents who worked on -besides painting- architecture, music, researching the natural world, anatomy, design of war machinery, and more. A man who has left such a major lifework that, even until today, centuries after his death, scientists, historians and art critics are passionately studying his works.
Kheops Studio, wishing to honor such a unique and truly remarkable mind, as Da Vinci’s, decided to create an adventure dedicated to the man, the artist, the scientist, the inventor. Not the occultist and the hypothetical member (I do not know whether it is a fact or not) of a religious cult. And I find this really wonderful! This is a game that tenderly involves some secrets, but it definitely is more a game with which you will remember and come closer to the major inventor, the artist, the scientist, and generally the unique mind of Leonardo da Vinci through some of his notes, works and inventions.
Valdo, a young man from Florence, visits the last residence Leonardo da Vinci had, Manoir du Cloux, which now is being occupied by Marie Babou, the lover of the King of France according to many rumours. His purpose is to study Leonardo’s inventions and to find and take back to his master and Leonardo’s heir, Francesco Melzi, the drawing of ‘Battle of Anghiari’. Or so he said to Madam Babou in order to gain access into the manor and most of its apartments. His real purpose is obviously a different story since he is no longer a student of Melzi. Six months ago Melzi had dismissed Valdo when he discovered that his young pupil had copied one of Da Vinci’s paintings and had sold it for an important sum of money. Valdo’s real purpose is to discover -without drawing any attention on himself- where Leonardo hid a forbidden manuscript before dying three years ago. For whom he works for, what is the context of the manuscript, and why his employer wants it, is of no interest to Valdo. His natural curiosity and his attraction to actions slightly immoral are enough to keep him going.
Valdo will meet Babou, a woman who is quite fond of Da Vinci’s work and knows a lot about it, but who, at the same time, is rather cold towards Valdo. So he will have to gain her trust through gifts and favors. He will also meet Saturnin, a man responsible for the preservation and the maintenance of everything in the manor. Valdo will find him suspicious from the very beginning. Moreover, he will meet the King’s trusty Hector, as well as the King of France himself. What was their relationship with Leonardo? Which of these people can Valdo trust now? Where is the forbidden and much desired manuscript hidden? And mostly importantly, what is contained within the manuscript? While trying to answer these questions, Valdo will come across many clues Leonardo left behind, and even more enigmas that surround them. If he wants to succeed, he will have to understand Leonardo’s work, his way of thinking, and the codifications and tricks he so much liked to use as to protect his thoughts.
Once more Kheops Studio presents a game that is being characterized by its inventive, lovely, and rational puzzles. This time the stunners are the puzzles that you have to solve in the inventory. And of course I do not mean the simple combination of items in order to create a new one. Besides, SDV follows the steps of ECHO, where you cannot combine any items in the inventory. On the contrary, in the various hot spots that you come across you will be expected to combine two or more items in order to create a new one, like gold coins for example. So, what kind of puzzles do you have to solve in the inventory?! Part of your inventory’s screen (the central upper part to be exact) consists of a briefcase in which all of Leonardo’s notes, that you find while exploring the Manoir du Cloux, are being added. However, those notes need to be processed if they are to reveal their hidden context. In some cases you just have to decrypt them while in others you have to reconstruct the drawing of a mechanism or unveil the well hidden information that they contain on a page that seems blank and unwritten at first glance. Last but not least, Valdo himself is depicted in a portrait in the upper right corner of the inventory screen and you need to ‘readjust’ his appearance (his clothes and the accessories he is bearing) in order to solve certain puzzles in the game.
Another stunner is the gauge of conscience that SDV includes. This gauge leans towards either good or evil depending on your actions while playing. The way you will choose to obtain certain objects, to react with the game’s characters, and to collect valuable information determines the values of the gauge. Depending on what the values are on the gauge, the game enables or disables some courses of action (something which I have not seen personally since I have not had the chance yet to play SDV again). This of course could not be functional if you could not resolve a situation in different ways. And indeed you can. Let’s see an example: say that you need sugar for some reason. Are you going to search for the necessary ingredients to create sugar in the laboratory? Are you going to buy some sugar from Saturnin without tormenting yourself in searching the area? Or maybe you are going to steal the needed component so that you will obtain some sugar without wasting any of your few valuable little gold coins? In any case, this is not a walk in the park, and you will have to face the consequences of your actions. You want to create sugar in the laboratory and do everything yourself? You will have to search for all the necessary ingredients. You want to buy anything you may need? Sooner or later you will have wasted all your valuable gold coins and you will have to find ways to obtain new ones. Maybe you prefer to steal everything and not lacerate yourself? Then deal with your meager score in the point system! ;-)
There is one feature that I think is common in all of Kheops Studio’s games: their difficulty level. So once again, the majority of the game’s puzzles are between easy and medium difficulty, and few puzzles are fairly more demanding. In my opinion, the most demanding of all is a puzzle regarding the Mona Lisa. Among other things you have to do in order to solve this puzzle (copy the Mona Lisa that is!), you have to confront a slider puzzle, which I must admit was quite hard since the picture you have to recompose is rather blurred. Nonetheless, even this particular puzzle is lovely since it engages you to the copy of such an ingenious piece of art. Surely it was not easy for Da Vinci to paint this portrait. Should it be easy for you to copy it? Maybe it should; and maybe the fact that there is a slider puzzle -especially a hard one to solve- will get on your nerves. Personally, however, I loved it even though it frustrated me for quite a while. Maybe just knowing that almost each and every puzzle in SDV is based on the notes, the inventions or the paintings of Da Vinci, is a challenge powerful enough to make you get down to solving any puzzle you come across without ever complaining about anything. Who wouldn’t want to have Da Vinci’s notes in his or her hands and mess about with alchemy or manufacture things based on the Master’s very notes?
In short, SDV is a game rich in puzzles. Not only mandatory puzzles that you need to resolve in order to proceed with the story, but optional puzzles as well that you can solve in order to (besides the eternal joy of solving a puzzle) raise as much as you can the score in the familiar and beloved point system, which always provokes you to reach the maximum score possible. However, do not let yourselves be disappointed if your score is not that high. Perhaps the maximum score is not what you suppose it is! ;-)
Graphics - Music:
SDV is realized using a first person 360° view. The locations one visits in the game, though few in number, are well-designed, full of detail, and incredibly harmonious to the era that they represent. One of the graphic’s details that I personally enjoyed a great deal is the plethora of Da Vinci’s paintings, drawings and drafts that adorn the whole game. Da Vinci’s paintings and the various tapestries adorn the walls of the manor while revealing one of Leonardo’s most vivid characteristics: his artistic nature. His personal apartments are graced with an abundance of Da Vinci’s drawings and sketches, reminding other aspects of his restless spirit, like those of an explorer, an anthropologist, an astronomer, a mechanic, an inventor, and in general those of a scientist. What’s more, within the inventory all the extracts of his writings and the way in which he used to encrypt them so that not everyone could decipher them -or just because he was left-handed, define him to us as a man who was truly unique. I feel that all these graphical details give the mark of Leonardo and render the game an intellectual challenge just by this aspect. Finally, the music background of SDV, having calm periods and tense moments to point out the powerful scenes of the game, is satisfactory, without being, however, anything extraordinary.
SDV is a (rather short) game that wants to present you or remind you of a unique man: Leonardo da Vinci. A game that offers the opportunity to everyone who admires Leonardo’s multifaceted mind, to buckle down with his encrypted notes, to recreate the most famous of his paintings, to see a large sum of his sketches and paintings, and to rebuild or repair some of his inventions.
In conclusion, I would say that this definitely is one of the better-designed and remarkable games from Kheops Studio. A game that will sweetly lacerate you with its puzzles while presenting you Da Vinci and part of his work. However, I’m afraid I have to say that this is not a game which I would recommend to every adventure gamer. Those of you, who prefer story based adventures and strong characters, will not find much of a challenge in this game. The rest of you... get ready for another adventure full of challenging puzzles!
The final grade is 85/100.