The House of Da Vinci – Mona Lisa guile

Certainly better than a Dan Brown novel

How inventive is The House of Da Vinci?

Recent years have seen something of an uptick in the escape room genre in video games. Likely following the popularity of real-world ones, they take what would have historically been a point & click game approach, and has you solve challenging, and frequently confusing, puzzles to progress through the story. This is nothing new, of course. You could argue that the likes of Myst were doing something similar decades ago, but on an island rather than in a room. 2012’s The Room brought that concept to a more modern audience and created a really rather excellent series of solving esoteric puzzles in a small environment, often focussing on strange devices that initially seem mundane. The House of Da Vinci attempts something incredibly similar but with a historical conspiracy theme, rather than that of a Lovecraftian pursuit of madness. It certainly has some inventive puzzles, but it doesn’t do much to separate it from what clearly inspired it.

You play as an apprentice of the great Leonardo Da Vinci and have been summoned to his home and workshop. Upon arrival, you receive a note that indicates the inventor may be in danger, and you are to find your way through his workshop to find him, and possibly unravelling why mysterious parties are pursuing him. Cue a loud noise and an object falling from the tower attached to Leonardo’s workshop, and you run inside to find out what happened.

The House of Da Vinci
Many of the puzzles might appear to have simple solutions, but often there’s more to them than meets the eye.

Now, there is a story in The House of Da Vinci, but it’s not terribly well told. There are a few notes you find that indicate some people want one of his inventions and Da Vinci doesn’t want them to have it, but that’s about it. Ultimately, you do find what this device is, but motivations aren’t terribly clear or interesting. This is more of a game that focuses on the puzzles, and the plot is more set dressing.

If you’ve played The Room or its ilk, you’ll know what the structure of this game will be. If not, you’ll work your way around a room, finding odd objects that will have hidden switches and compartments that will provide you with items that can be used to interact with other objects in the room. Ultimately, you’ll want to unlock the way out of the current chamber to move forward to the next chapter and the next set of challenges. Each room you visit is unique, and increases in complexity. Starting in the library with some simple sliding tile and code breaking challenges, you’ll eventually find your way to the workshop’s tower containing maths problems and microscope shenanigans.

The puzzles are enjoyable to complete for the most part. Finding a box in a room, looking around it, and finding a small switch that opens up a hidden panel feels satisfying, as does discovering that the hidden panel contains a new item that you know how to use. There’s a lot of this to find over the five-ish hour story, with lots of boxes, desks, and mechanical marvels to explore. You’re also given two eyepieces that allow you to see things differently. One gives you an X-ray view of certain walls and objects so you can see what effects are happening out of sight. This is nice from a narrative perspective, as Da Vinci hiding the inner workings of his machines makes sense and you as his student would need to be able to see those to allow you to solve his puzzles. 

The House of Da Vinci
The environments themselves look pretty good, and are more varied than you might expect for something taking place in someone’s house.

The other lens you receive gives you a view of the past in certain places. This is really just used to show solutions to certain puzzles. It’s an odd inclusion, as it simply shows you answers by using a little dial that moves time backwards and forwards. It’s thematic for the story at least. There is the annoyance that every time you use this lens you need to trace a line before it reveals anything. It’s not a big issue unless you need to go back to check different elements of a solution as you have to redraw the line every time rather than the game simply remembering that you’ve accessed it once already. Maybe it’s encouraging you to write it down on paper.

The only other complaint I have is that the controls are a bit weak on a controller. You can tell that this has been designed with touch screens or a mouse in mind, as trying to pull levers or turn dials the right way isn’t always reliable with a controller. It’s more of a nit-pick as you aren’t really under any time pressure, but I did find it a bit annoying to have to wiggle the analogue stick around to get a device to do what I wanted.

With that out of the way, I will say that the puzzles are mostly fun to solve, especially when you have that little “eureka” moment as you figure out how everything works. Even if you aren’t sure, there’s a pretty robust hint system, much like in The Room that gives you enough information to get your brain going in the right direction before drip feeding you more should you still be struggling. There were a few too many puzzles where you need to brute force a solution – at least as far as I could tell – when you’d have to guess the order to do things in. Other than that though, they were pretty good.

The House of Da Vinci
The lenses allow you to see puzzles in a different way. Occasionally it’s hard to find the next stem due to tiny objects you may not thing to interact with though.

The visuals are solid enough, although the character models of the occasional other human you see aren’t terribly impressive. Puzzle animations are very strong though, with devices whirring to life or boxes opening as you release a catch. The sound helps here too thanks to nice chunky “clack” sounds when a wooden switch is pulled. Music is nice enough, but if you spend a long time in a chapter then you might start to find it a little grating.

The House of Da Vinci is a solid alternative to The Room if you’ve already worked through those games and are looking for something new or with a different theme. Fun puzzles and nice looking environments come together to make a fun experience, even if the story is a little weak. There are even blueprints for Da Vinci’s inventions to find that you can then tinker with via one of the menu options. Puzzle fans will probably enjoy this, and those that do could even look into the sequels on PC.

The House of Da Vinci is available now on PC, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, Android, and PlayStation.

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