Versailles 1685 would be at its best teaching 9- to 13- year-olds a little French history.
When is a game not a game? When its mission seems to be to educate, rather than entertain.
Cryo Interactive's Versailles 1685 is essentially a series of history lessons about the court of Louis XIV, strung together with a simple plot line and even simpler puzzles. Your first-person perspective is that of Lalande, a valet of the bedchamber who's assigned by his boss, the first valet, to discover who's behind a series of threatening notes found around the palace.
As a court flunky, your access to areas and characters depends on what the king is doing at any given time. His day is rigidly structured by protocol, and the game is divided into acts according to his schedule. For instance, while he's enjoying an afternoon stroll in the gardens, you're allowed to wander around in the orangerie and maze looking for clues.
Most of the puzzles are extremely easy and feature non-challenges like finding a key and opening a cabinet, using a pool cue to reach a note, and so on. The only times the game becomes frustrating are when other characters order you, a lowly servant, to run errands back and forth (and back and forth, and back and forth) and all you get in return is a tiny bit of help. After a while, you want to ask, "What, are your legs broken?" (Actually, the game's characters are weirdly doll-like, and rarely move at all.) And if you don't have anything to offer them they say things like, "Cease this harassment instantly or I shall have you chastised on the spot."
One highlight is the game's lovely sound track of French baroque music. While sopranos trill in the background, the detailed graphics bring the palace to life and allow you to tour many now-demolished rooms. And Cryo's proprietary OMNI-3D engine provides smoothly organic 360-degree panning as you take in your opulent surroundings. You can even zoom in on over 200 paintings to get a better look, though most of them seem to depict such cheery biblical subjects as "Thomiris Plunging Cyrus' Head in Blood" or "Saint Francis of Assisi Comforted After Receiving the Stigmata." Not to worry, parents, the paintings contain the only violence in the game.
Versailles 1685 would be at its best teaching 9- to 13- year-olds a little French history. Anyone else will find it heavy on scholarly footnotes and light on engaging gameplay.