Lost: Via Domus
Lost is without a doubt my favorite television show. It’s one of the only shows that I make sure to watch weekly, so when Ubisoft revealed that they were developing a game based on the series, I was instantly intrigued. Details were scarce, but I followed the game to release with unbridled excitement and anticipation. I try not to let myself get too caught up in my own expectations, but I was willing to make exceptions because it was Lost, after all.
When Lost: Via Domus was finally released, I was quickly sucked into the game. In order to present an original plot for the video game, in Lost: Via Domus, you don’t actually play as a character featured on the television show. Nope, you don’t get to trek around the jungle as Locke, or play Doc as Jack. Instead, you’re an amnesiac with a serious problem: you’ve crash landed on an island in the Pacific Ocean, you can’t even remember your own name, you’re seeing a ghost and – the best part – someone is trying to kill you.
Welcome to the Island.
Despite the rather cliché amnesiac protagonist storyline, it does set up what could have been a compelling, entertaining narrative. Unfortunately, it really doesn’t work out that way. The game is broken down into episodes (7 in all) that you work through. Like the television show, in addition to exploring the island, you also travel back into your past as bits and pieces of your memory return to you. Most of the time, your character is alone as he struggles to figure out what happened in his past and tries to find a way off the island.
While this would be fine if this weren’t a licensed game, this “lone wolf” gameplay mechanic doesn’t really mesh with the way the storylines unfold in the television show. On the show, clues and answers are generally revealed through character conversation. Lost is a very dialogue heavy television series, and while that’s fine for TV, it doesn’t really work in video games. Video games just simply can’t recreate the same experience. It may seem unfair to punish Lost: Via Domus for that, but it is justified because it doesn’t seem like the developers tried all that hard to create a compelling dialogue system to begin with.
Most conversations that occur between characters are simple question-and-answer exchanges. You ask them a question from two or three available to you, and they answer in one sentence. Ask them the same question again, and they give you the same answer again. What they say is usually uninteresting and I found myself quickly growing bored with even talking to other characters other than to progress the plot. There are a few cutscenes where your character acts out parts of the plot. These are usually at the beginning and end of each episode, and they are more interesting than the user-controlled conversations.
Talking to other characters is essential to triggering events that you need to unfold. Lost: Via Domus is an adventure game, which means you’re going to have to solve some puzzles here and there and you aren’t going to shoot a whole lot. The entire game will last you about four hours or so, which makes me entirely sad that I have to say, despite how short this game really is, it still manages to get repetitive. Not only do you frequently backtrack to the same locations over and over again, you also can’t actually explore beyond a limited jungle area that separates each location (so, beach -> jungle -> hatch).
Another gripe I have were the puzzles. I actually liked one puzzle – you have to replace fuses in a broken electrical panel, which is somewhat reminiscent of some of the events of the TV show. The problem is, I had to do it probably five or six times over the course of four hours, and there wasn’t much else to challenge me outside of a few math problems. Much like with the dialogue system, it seems like the developers took the quick way out instead of trying to develop a more complex puzzle system.
I should try to be nicer, because despite my own over-anticipation, this game does do some positive things. One particular gameplay mechanic that I did enjoy was sprints through the jungle while being chased by the Black Smoke. It is genuinely exciting to run through the jungle, jumping over logs, sliding under fallen trees, and quickly and carefully navigating narrow walkways, all while the Black Smoke is right on your tail. These sequences aren’t very complex and you’re given a number of falls before you’ll see the “Game Over” screen, but they’re still fun and are nicely juxtaposed with the slower adventure sections. I also enjoyed exploring the caves of the island. Armed with just a lighter, walking through the atmospheric black caves, with bats flying at you and chasms threatening your existence, well – it works.
The environmental graphics also work. I have to classify that because the characters aren’t quite up to par. The environments certainly aren’t as detailed as Crysis, but are still quite lush and robust. The ground is covered with foliage and the trees rise high into the sky. Small streams splash over rocks. It creates an attractive scene that, while not perfect, appropriately sets the mood of the game. Sadly, the character models stick out like a strange, foreign addition to the environment. Character animations are stiff and uncomfortable.
The facial expressions also aren’t very good, but mostly because they don’t sync up well with the mood and emotion of the dialogue. Characters will sometimes tell you something terrible or sad, and, as soon as they’re done saying their line, they go right back to an awkward and soulless smile. The character models are all modeled to look like their TV show counterparts, though the sheen on their face reveals the illusion. But while the characters may look similar to the stars that play them on the small screen, the developers didn’t get all of the original stars to provide the voices, which really hurts the game more than any other flaw. It just totally takes away from the experience of Lost fans to have their favorite characters not sound like they do on TV.
The appeal of this game, to fans of Lost, is the storyline. Fans want to know clues and answers to help them solve the puzzle. Sadly, nothing of great consequence is introduced in this game, which ends well before the events of the current season. Solving extra puzzles (solved by taking pictures of key items found during your exploration) does nothing but unlock a few pieces of concept art for the game. Ultimately, there’s no real reward, no incentive, no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – there is literally no reason to play this at all. It’s very, very average, way too short, has an underdeveloped plot, and only a few good gameplay segments. It could have been a much better game if more time was taken to flesh out the plot and character interactions, but it appears that this was rushed through development like seemingly every other licensed game. Hopefully one day someone will come along and do Lost the justice it deserves. Unfortunately, this game wasn’t up to that task.