It wasn't all that long ago that the game Titanic: Adventure out of Time, came along and invited us to experience a slice of history strolling the decks of the Titanic and admiring the grandeur of that ill-fated vessel. Versailles 1685 is in some ways similar as this game once again offers the opportunity to steep yourself in a moment of history, in this instance the heady days of the Palace of Versailles during the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV.
As with Titanic: Adventure out of Time that faithfully represented the splendour of the Titanic, this game sumptuously represents Chateau de Versailles in 1685 and it truly is a wonder to explore. There is so much to fascinate with oodles of works of art to admire, palatial rooms to explore, chandeliers, glorious painted ceilings, grand staircases, not forgetting the magical Hall of Mirrors. Visually this one can't possibly fail to stir a sense of awe and wonder and this wonderment is heightened by glorious music from the pens of contemporary composers dominated by Jean Baptiste Lully.
All this is accompanied by a thorough expose of the Court, and of political life in Versailles at the time. This is accessed throughout the game as the Chateau is populated with numerous figures from the period, click on them to learn their place in the scheme of things then follow more links for information relating to their occupation. For instance, select Alexandre Bontemps the First Valet of the King's Boudoir or Charles Le Brunn the most influential courtly painter and you will also find information on the King's personal toiletry and the Arts in Versailles respectively.
Added to this, each significant room has an accompanying commentary with more links to information on related topics. There is also a central point of access to a bank of information, The Documentation Zone, where there is a Chronology of the life of Louis XIV plus a wealth of other information on Versailles, including a grand plan of the palace complex.
If you have even a mild fascination for courtly life in Versailles, then this title is a good place to begin to well and truly whet your appetite. Still, this is an adventure game so along the way, of course, there is a story to experience as well.
It all begins with a mysterious cryptic message of doom which prophesies the burning of the palace. You, Lalande, a humble Valet of the King's Bed Chamber, are ordered by your superior, Bontemps, to look into the matter. A little odd, I thought, the King's Royal Person in danger and you, a mere valet, entrusted to conduct the investigation ...oh well, that's the way it goes ... and the intensity of intrigue in the palace (who can be trusted?) does provide something of an explanation.
Bontemps issues your order with a reminder that you must complete your investigations in one day. It's early morning and a gong ominously sounds eight and a half hours of the clock ... don't, whatever you do, imagine that this means that your journey will be one long race against time. It isn't. Time ticks over only when you have completed each section in turn. The tyranny of the ticking clock only enters the picture in the last chapter (number seven) so for the first six chapters you can just relax and soak up the atmosphere.
The game is mouse controlled with a small inventory that pops up when the cursor is dragged to the bottom of the screen. Movement is smooth scrolling 360 degrees with vertical movement as well so you can check out the ceilings and the beautiful parquetry floor. A tap of the space bar will jump you from room to room if the ornate decoration is too rich for your liking, although I found myself leisurely traipsing around checking out all the works of art in close-up view.
The actual gameplay in this title is relatively simple. Just as you might expect a valet runs messages for palace dignitaries so there's a bit of running around to do and in the process you will gather up more strange messages and poison pen letters and learn more about the palace intrigues and jealousies. It's fairly easy to follow the story and, if in doubt, Bontemps will smartly set you on course. There are several keys to find, and other objects such as a light will come in handy at the end of the game, so there is some searching to do. Also, there's a cryptic scroll that will have you chasing your tail around the maze to extract an all important coded message. This I thought was the most fun part of the gameplay, bearing in mind that I do like mazes.
For conversations a mouth cursor will appear and there is a choice of questions to ask. There are text translations of all the dialogue, although, as with many other games, there is no text option for the commentary during chapter transitions. All conversations are very easy to understand although, quite ridiculously, I found myself wishing that they weren't quite so clear. Or at least, instead of English with an English accent which I understood very well, I thought it might have worked better if the actors had spoken with a French accent. English accents broke the spell of the Versailles magic just a bit.
Versailles 1685 comprises two CDs and is a wonderful experience for anyone interested in Versailles and with an appreciation of art, flamboyance and classical music. On reflection it was the virtual tour aspect of the game, the experience of exploring the palace, and the wealth of information provided that was this title's strong point. This is probably reflected in my review and explains why I began there. The gameplay itself is fairly straightforward (except for the maze) and not particularly enthralling. To my mind, being confronted continually with formal, encyclopaedia-like abstracts describing persons and places, made it difficult to suspend disbelief and imagine I was experiencing a story in the French court in 1685. Check out this one for the opportunity to look around Versailles and see the game as a little bonus thrown in.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1997.
All rights reserved.
PC 486DX2/66mHz, 8MB RAM, 2MB on hard disk, Mac 68040, 8MB RAM, 2x speed CD-ROM drive, 256 colours or more at 640x480, 16 bit sound card