While in lockdown, I've visited a number of places throughout history without leaving the slight discomfort of my cheap gaming chair. From Ancient Rome to China's Garden of Perfect Brightness, the virtual holidays are a perfect way to satisfy any unrequited wanderlust. Recently, I travelled to Versailles circa 1685 thanks to a little game by Cryo Interactive Entertainment.
Hailing from 1996, Versailles 1685: A Game of Intrigue marked the first in a series of historical adventure games with an educational bent using Cryo's in-house Omni3D engine. During the reign of Louis XIV, Monsieur Bontemps, first valet de chambre to the King, has uncovered a conspiracy to tear down the beautiful and newly built Palace of Versailles, which was previously a hunting lodge for the previous Louis. Being in charge of security and royal secrets, he tasks one of his underlings - you - with uncovering the plot and thwart the would-be terrorist.
Over the course of a single day divided through eight chapters, you play as Lalande as he explores the impressively ornate palace looking for clues. These come in the form of pamphlets, parchments or papers detailing cryptic messages hidden in otherwise innocuous documents. One such clue is the old lemon writing trick. Hold it up to a candle to reveal the message. Another is hidden among a sheet of music, though you'll need to ask a composer to decipher it.
Uncovering a clue written in lemon juice.
Be careful not to burn other documents as it will lead to a game over.
Sadly, that's how much of the game progresses. Any otherwise interesting brain teasers are passed on to other characters to solve. This is doubly frustrating considering a fairly extensive encyclopedia is also included. Why hand over a portfolio of sketches to a random Frenchman to find out which one is the odd one out when it'll be likely much more fun to figure it out for yourself? The historical information learned would be more likely to stick around too! As such, the game has a use-everything-on-everything design that is just boring. Surely, if I wanted to know about the past in such a fashion, I would've have stayed awake during History class.
To make matters worse, the promised intrigue of the title isn't all that intriguing either. It's as if this anachronistic story is secondary to humdrum events of history. Each chapter begins with a cutscene, but all that is entails is the King's daily routine with a scholarly narrator doing his best to sound uninterested. Those encyclopedia entries are also unnecessarily dry.
There are apparently 2000 paintings hanging on the walls to gawp at.
So, there's little incentive for anyone to play Versailles from either a gameplay, story or educational standpoint. So how about as a virtual tour of a historic location? While I was sucked in by the immersive grandeur of it all, I do have some reservations. Sadly, each chapter limits you to a small area with many doors locked, blocked or simply unclickable. I know the palace contains a load of fake doors, but I'm talking about the real ones here. Some rooms are simply ignored as you walk past them to reach the room the game wants you to get to.
Being in the first-person, you do have a pretty good view of the pre-rendered rooms you're actually allowed to see. Each room has one or more nodes in which you have a complete 360-degree view of your surroundings. It makes for an immersive experience even it the technology has dated quite a bit by today's standards. In a nice touch, each node is linked with a fully animated transition that adds to the sense of location you might not have had if they went with the still photo route. You do get a little bummed as you saunter past a room or decoration you find interesting but the game just forces you to walks on past. There are a number of clickable points in each node, including close-ups of around 2000 works of art and paintings, though most of them are simply links to an in-game Wiki page.
There's an extensive encyclopedia that can be found contextually in-game
or in a complete version from the main menu.
All NPCs have their own page too, whether it be about a specific person or simply the job they represent. It took me a while to realise you could actually talk to some of them too. In order to do this, you have to aim the cursor at their heads where it will change into either a pair of lips or an ear. The mouth means you can converse with them while the ear means you can eavesdrop on their conversation. Either way, the camera will shift to a close-up view that truly displays how bad the character models are. Being 1996, the use of CGI was still somewhat new but even so they could've made the French aristocracy look a little less like pompous potato heads.
Versailles 1685 doesn't bode well for future visits in Cryo's series, which would go on to feature Egypt, China and Jerusalem up until the company's closure in 2002. The only thing I enjoyed out of it was the location itself and that alone was probably the reason why it was a financial success, garnering re-releases on the PlayStation and PC-DVD over the next few years. In my opinion, it isn't particularly worth it.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses ScummVM to allow the game to run on modern PCs. Manuals, Map and Inlay included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 893 Mb. Install Size: 1.03 Gb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Watch the Video Review Below
Versailles 1685: A Game of Intrigue is © Canal+ Multimedia & Cryo Interactive
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me