Lost: Via Domus Review
You may be wondering if we really needed a video game based on the hit TV show Lost. While the show has a legion of fans, they've already got their hands full with the alternate reality game that went around and tons of mysteries still going on in each episode. But here comes Ubisoft with a licensed game, whether we like it or not. And frankly, unless you enjoy both light adventure games and the actual show, you'll probably not make it through this one. But for that narrow combination of fans of both, this can wind up being a pretty solid game.
Lost: Via Domus has you take on the role of a new character, one that's just inserted into the plot for the sake of the game. His name is Elliott, and right before the famous plane crash that starts the show, some mean-looking guy was getting out of his seat to rush over and attack him. Turbulence knocks the guy out and before long the plane's in pieces, crashing into an island in the Pacific. Elliott wakes up in the jungle on the island shortly afterwards with total amnesia. He doesn't know his name, how he got there, or his past. Much like the show's characters did, though, Elliott starts seeing someone who isn't actually on the island. Through exploration, puzzle solving, a little action, and a unique way to remember his past, Elliott begins to find his way.
Lost combines traditional adventure game conventions with the pacing and most of the production values of the show to a pretty decent effect. The jungle looks excellent, but wandering out there alone can be really dangerous - the black smoke is out there and if it gets near, you'll have to find cover in specific groupings of trees to stay alive. Conversing with the Losties is amusing, although you'll quickly find that the developers had a hard time capturing the look of some characters, and an even harder time securing the real actors' voices. Sure, there are a few of the actors that worked on the game (Desmond and Ben are probably the best examples), but most are impostors. Some of them aren't too bad, but a few are terrible - Locke's probably the worst. Also, strangely, Locke looks much younger in the game, and he doesn't have that signature cut around his right eye he got from the crash. It tells me that the developers of the game probably watched the show in order to make sure they got things right, but it seems few were actual fans.
Any fan of the show is going to enjoy visiting the many important locations from the first three seasons, but they might not be so happy with the many ways that Elliott is blocked from just going where he wants. It's a very linear game, and while you can take liberties here and there to explore, it's mostly to just pick up stuff like water bottles, coconuts, and papayas so you can trade for the good stuff with Sawyer and a few other characters. Otherwise, the beach is conveniently lined with debris to block your travel, while Jack manages to block your way back into the jungle at one point early in the game. We're supposed to believe that that's the only way Elliott can get back into the jungle. Overall, conversations with these characters are usually single-sentence questions followed by answers that aren't much longer, although their personalities do come out pretty well in how they respond.
Unfortunately, the challenge in Via Domus comes more through frustration than genuinely satisfying difficulty. Creeping through caves is annoying with your torches in limited supply, and the developers enjoyed placing little waterfalls to force you to extinguish and then relight your torch. It's dark as hell and easy to get turned around which will waste your time and torches. It might prompt you to reload from a checkpoint, but oops, that checkpoint was before you entered the cave, and often before you traded for torches and the like, so you'll need to redo that stuff as well.
Oh, and watch out for the endless pits, too, which will cause a Game Over screen if even half of one foot goes slightly off into the blackness. Of course, the caves are already pretty dark, so you're forced to creep around slowly - this makes already annoying sections of the game that much more aggravating. Poor Elliott is no Lara Croft, so don't expect much at all in the way of acrobatics. Actually, most of what he's good at is running around and talking to people. Sure, this is an adventure game, but there are bits of action, too, and those wind up being some of the worst parts of the game.
I'm not a huge adventure gaming fan, but I found that exploration and just taking in all the Lost-like stuff to be the best part of Via Domus. Solving fusebox puzzles by fiddling around with wiring is a significant part of your adventures, and I can't figure out why the developers clung so tightly to reusing this game in slight variations. Then again, the "hacking" mini-game in Bioshock happened far more often and it was just as tedious as this one. The flashbacks are interesting in that you get a clue as to what you're supposed to take a picture of and then must take the right picture in a scene. If you miss it, the short scene replays until you get it right - then the whole thing replays with full dialog and usually a bit extra to add interest. I liked these flashback scenes, but some will likely find them to be just as annoying as the cave creeping.
It seems like Ubisoft missed the mark overall. While the game does cater to that narrow cross between adventure gamers and Lost fans, it still doesn't really satisfy either one very well. The show's original pacing is ripped apart as the game accelerates time pretty quickly; after the first night on the island, Michael's already building a raft and Sawyer's been hoarding gear for what seems like a while already. The characters are here, but they reappear and disappear to the point that only a few are usually available to talk to at any one time. And for adventure fans, the puzzles are not terribly challenging and certainly not diverse enough to keep up with the greats of the genre.
Most of the time and effort for Via Domus went into recreating the show's most interesting landscapes, and that's where it shines the most. Don't expect much in the way of answers about the show, however, as Elliott's story might involve the characters and locations, but it doesn't reveal anything big. Still, as an encapsulated little adventure that takes place next to the main plot, it does work well and fans will love that the whole thing is broken up into "episodes", complete with the "Previously on Lost" recap, flashbacks, and style that always ends an episode in a cliffhanger. While Lost: Via Domus won't be winning any awards, fans with sixty bucks to blow will still enjoy the ten-plus hours that it has to offer. Get it, but only if you're really into the show and don't mind some casual adventuring.