Lost: Via Domus Review
It continues to be one of the most popular shows on television, so it's no surprise to see Ubisoft deliver a video game adaptation. And while it has its moments and will certainly make fans of the show smile on occasion, Lost: Via Domus doesn't really cater to the average gamer. Surprisingly enough, it's not a bad game - actually, it's downright shocking - and we were expecting something absolutely vile. Games based on movies are horrible; games based on TV shows are sometimes even worse. But while Lost is definitely passable and instills in us the hope that future games based on TV shows will be better, it still suffers in the gameplay department. What we get is a pretty game with some very clever components that are entertaining to a point, but the lack of any real action hampers the fun factor. The presentation and atmosphere works, but the implementation of certain mechanics is kinda...well, ‘yawn'.
One of the first things we noticed is the fact that the graphics are very good. This surprised the ever-loving crap out of us, but we actually found ourselves comparing the island to the stellar backdrop we found in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. The detail is amazing. The jungle is meticulously designed and colored, the beach and plane wreckage is accurately depicted, and while the island isn't big enough, it's a pleasure to behold at all times. The only problem is, the characters don't look quite as accomplished, and there are a few technical issues here and there. It's clear that Ubisoft Montreal spent a great deal of time to make the environment look so realistic and appealing, but they didn't quite follow through with the entire palette. The characters actually look very much out of place in that gorgeous tropical location, and that's just plain weird. But we will give the visuals the benefit of the doubt, because effort is clearly seen, and it's more than we can say for most any game based on a movie or TV show.
The sound isn't quite as good, primarily because Ubisoft didn't land enough of the real actors from the show for Via Domus. Most of the major roles are voiced by sound-alikes, but at least they perform relatively well for the majority of the dialogue and conversation. There's a mysterious lacking in sound effects, though, as the jungle is curiously silent throughout most of your adventure, and like the mediocre characters superimposed on the pretty landscape, this is just plain weird. Jungles are not quiet, and if it is, there's a predator nearby. Well, there must've been a predator prowling about at all times in Lost (maybe the black smoke eliminated all forms of life), because we really don't hear much. However, on the upside, the sound during cut-scenes is much better, thanks mostly to seemingly higher quality voice acting and crisp, in-your-face effects. This causes the production value and presentation of the overall package to rise, but the gameplay itself isn't given a big sound boost. Still, once again, it's a little better than expected.
Lost: Via Domus is based on the first two seasons of the television show, but it doesn't feature the same storyline. Instead, we take control of a new character named Elliot, a man suffering from amnesia due to the plane crash; during his adventure, he must scramble to survive and restore his lacking memory. The developers present the game in seven different chapters, and each one starts with a "Previously on Lost" video clip reminiscent of the actual show. Furthermore, we do see all the characters we've come to know in the show - Locke, Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Sun, etc. - and that's good news for fans. Furthermore, the game progresses at a fairly good clip, allowing you to experience a variety of flashbacks, cut-scenes and some basic action sequences, all delivered with decent pacing. There's also some intriguing story developments, but sadly, they don't paint the main character in a positive light, and unless you're an avid "Lost" watcher, you probably won't be absorbed by the plot.
Now, the pacing may be good, but what you actually do during periods of activity isn't all that engrossing. You'll be exploring dark caves and running from the loathsome Black Smoke, but you almost never use a weapon, and the few chase scenes aren't very well done. All the drama plays out in the discovery of your past and conversing with the numerous characters. Speaking of the former, Ubisoft utilizes one particular mechanic that isn't too bad: you have frequent flashbacks, and during this time, you can actually take a photograph of the recalled event. You can zoom and focus the camera, and you have to time it at just the right moment. If you can do this, you will unlock a portion of your lost memory (and you can try as many times as you need to get it right). This makes for an interesting addition to the adventure, but the memories you unlock never seem to be all that groundbreaking. Furthermore, after watching enough of these, you probably won't think too highly of the main character, which is a little bizarre.
The camera and controls are okay, even though we would've liked to have the default view sit just a few inches higher. Elliot is also too limited in what he can do - unless prompted by a certain sequence of events - in that he can only walk, run and shift to first-person mode. Lastly, we found ourselves getting caught on solid objects that Elliot couldn't walk over far too often; he'd get stuck near a piece of wreckage and getting around that obstacle just seemed to take too much time and effort. These are all minor flaws, though, and this is the first time in a while we haven't found horrendous control issues with a game based on a movie or TV show. Most anyone can pick up the game and play without encountering any serious problems, and you never feel as if you're at a disadvantage due to poorly programmed character and camera control. It's something that happens an awful lot in games these days, and thankfully, Lost doesn't trip and stumble when it comes to a basic gameplay foundation.
One last positive centers on the puzzle solving...well, it would've been a positive had the developers decided to create more than one a few puzzles. There are plenty of them scattered throughout your adventure, but most of them are too similar to the first one or two you tackle during the first hour of play. Perhaps the most inspired of the bunch was one of the very first, where you must reroute the flow of fuel so as to stop the plane from exploding after the crash. While simple, it requires a bit more thought than you might initially expect, and the concept behind the puzzle is solid. They just never get any better, and they end up fading into the background later on. Two other gameplay aspects we have to mention: the first involves talking to other characters; you can choose which question to ask (ala role-playing style), and the answer will differ depending on the character you're facing. This is another good idea, but you get a useless or cryptic answer way too often, and those who aren't fans of the show certainly won't catch any show-related comments. It's just another part of the game that only "Lost" followers will appreciate, and that's a drawback.
The second and last gameplay facet involves Trading. You will collect a variety of items during your travels, including Coconuts, Water Bottles, Papayas and more, and each of these can be used to barter with other characters. But as there is no such thing as change, you have to have the exact correct items in order to make an exchange, and that gets somewhat taxing. Again, though, the concept isn't bad, and it makes perfect sense considering we're talking about people stranded on a desert island. But all in all, Lost: Via Domus falls short due to one major drawback, and we've already said it multiple times during the course of this review: unless you're a fan, you'll likely lose interest very quickly. The Black Smoke will be nothing but a permanent mystery, you won't understand half of what the characters are talking about, the story is too vague, and there simply isn't enough action. The puzzles are okay, but wind down in quality and originality as time goes on, and interacting with fellow survivors can be a frustrating experience. The flashbacks are clever but they lack significance and emotion.
However, we do have to say that, overall, Lost isn't a bad game. The foundation really is well constructed and at the very least, there are some new ideas involved. Fans of the show might be entertained throughout the course of the adventure, and the last time we said that about a game based on a show or movie...well, we don't remember when we said it. The lack of intensity might bore them after a while, but in general, the "Lost" environment is recreated rather nicely. We just hope this isn't the best we can ever expect from TV-based titles; it's a step in the right direction, but there's still plenty of room to improve.
5/15/2008 Ben Dutka