Lost: Via Domus Review
Written : Wednesday, March 05, 2008
By: Lee Abrahams (GT: jackanape)
Let’s get one thing straight: I don’t watch LOST. I keep meaning to get around to it but never seem to and the fact it seems to create polar opposite reactions in people is part of the reason. If the game aspires to be anything like the series then it will obviously follow the same mysterious guidelines that make the show such a hit or miss proposition among viewers, as it prides itself on creating an atmosphere where things are never quite what they seem. So for complete objectivity, and to ensure I knew what the hell was going on, I played through this entire game with an avid Lost watcher at my side as that way the game can be judged from both a fan and a mere gamer's perspective. However, I think it’s worth saying that no matter if a game is made for ‘the fans’ it should always be good enough to appeal to everyone.
Ubisoft seem to veer wildly between their own unique creations, such as any Tom Clancy game ever made, and seemingly low budget movie and TV tie-ins, like Naruto, Surf’s Up and Open Season to name but a few. Even the least of these games always has a nice high level of polish and you can’t accuse Ubisoft of ever failing to get the presentation spot on in every regard, but these tie-ins always have a habit of feeling short and rushed, as if the original premise didn’t have enough ideas to carry a complete game. Suffice it to say that this game is aimed squarely at fans of the show and may seem a bit mystifying to anyone not caught up in the tangled storyline of the show itself.
Locke – enigmatic or just bloody annoying?.
Wisely the developers have decided to give players the chance to start with a relatively clean slate, you play the role of a character not previously mentioned while at the same time having the chance to converse with the familiar figures that regular watchers will have come to know and love. The game kicks off with you experiencing the crash of flight 815 and coming to terms with life on the island. The shock has robbed you of your memories and the game becomes a quest to reveal your own hidden past as well as unlocking the mysteries of the island itself.
Your character has to carry out a number of tasks to progress in the game, all requiring you to interact with the other survivors to ensure success. The tasks on offer are ridiculously simple however and hardly likely to tax even the most casual gamer. Mainly they revolve around getting from A to B in order to find an item, then bringing it back to someone else so they’ll help you - hardly the stuff of gaming legends. There are also a number of puzzles involving electrical panels, which require you to use the correct combination of variably charged fuses in order to correctly power certain doors and objects. These are actually pretty enjoyable brain teasers but are sadly few and far between. A lot of the tasks sadly revolve around you running through various ‘mazes’ either in the jungle itself or through mysterious caves, in order to get to where you need to be. Both of which are annoying rather than fun as the caves are far too dark even when you have a torch and neither of them offer map system so it’s not long before you become hideously lost, the irony. The game also uses a number of flashbacks to further the storyline and delve further into your own shady history, each of which revolves around the use of your camera and finding a number of key objects that will jolt your memories back into focus.
The timeframe of the game seems to be spread out over the first two series of the show, and it’s hard for complete novices to the experience (like myself) to keep up. A lot of characters and images are thrown at you that, while familiar to long term viewers, come as a complete shock to everyone else. It doesn’t help that a lot of the things you see and characters you meet are left decidedly vague and unexplained, it’s as if they expect you to know the whole back story and very little effort has been made to make the game more inviting to the uninitiated. Even my tag along expert was struggling to keep up with the story at times as it seemed to make great leaps in time with very little explanation – while opening ‘THE HATCH’ may seem greatly prophetic to most, I was just left wondering why I should care. Also being pursued by a cloud of smoke isn’t as scary as I’m sure it would be if I knew what the hell it was or even what it represented.
Braving the caves, one torch at a time.
The set up of the game is very novel, as it is broken down into seven chapters which are meant to represent one episode as it were. The start of each new chapter will see a TV style re-cap of what took place in the last episode. As a story telling technique on TV it’s a great idea as it keeps things fresh in the mind of the viewer and allows them a quick catch up before the new episode begins. In this game though, it’s just plain annoying. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice presentation technique and fully in keeping with the show it is meant to be portraying but it simply doesn’t belong in a game. To be forced into watching a cut scene of events that you just witnessed thirty seconds ago before being allowed to progress is just senseless, and barring someone playing the game with short term memory problems it soon begins to grate.
An aspect of the game that is severely underused is the trade system. As you can trade the various objects of interest that you find with your fellow castaways for a variety of useful objects, such as torches, oil, fuses or even a gun. It seems to be a fun diversion until you realise that you never actively have to participate to further your progress, as all the items you require can be pretty much stumbled upon as you go along. I suppose this was designed to make sure that if you forgot to trade for a certain item then you wouldn’t be stranded later on, but it just seems like the whole trade system was tagged on as a rather pointless afterthought. Most of the items on offer are also merely useful rather than necessary, especially the gun which can be used it all of four points in the entire game and yet you can buy enough ammo to start a war. It is also a shame that you have such limited chances to interact with the castaways from the show, which you would have thought would be a big selling point. Instead you only get to interact with people that can directly help you on your quest at that time, and even then they will only communicate in very terse sentences. At all other times the ensemble cast is conspicuous by its absence.
The further you go the thicker the plot becomes.
The game is beautifully presented and the look of the show has successfully been carried across to the 360, all of the characters look like their real life counterparts and the protagonist is nicely brought to life. The island is as lush as you would expect and all of the locations look sufficiently mysterious and gloomy. If I had a complaint it would be that all of the locations are far too small and stifling with no real freedom of movement, what’s on offer is pretty to look at but there just isn’t very much of it. The same criticism can be made of the voice work on offer, as most of the characters aren’t actually voiced by their real life counter-parts though the stand-ins do an adequate job. The main problem is that there is so little conversation available, especially for such a character driven show as this is. You can only ask the same generic questions to each character, along with one or two quest specific ones depending on what you are doing and they will all give pretty similar one line answers. It doesn’t help you to get to know anyone and it never seems like they really care about who you are or what you’re doing.
The achievements and game length can be tied up together really as both are disappointingly easy and quick. You can play through the game in little under four hours and, with a minimum amount of exploration, have every single point under your belt. The game is such an on-rails experience that it’s extremely hard to miss anything out. The developers have obviously tried to be creative by including a number of semi-secret points for taking a variety of photos that probably have great meaning for viewers of the show; such as the numbers on the hatch or a broken down VW van, but even these areas will be obviously highlighted to you should you take the time to examine everything you come across. At first glance the list looks like a nice mix of challenges and game completion achievements, but sadly boils down to simply rolling through the game with a tiny bit of care for anything suspicious. Anything you miss can be picked up by replaying one of the short episodes anyway, so there is no real pressure.
A lack of original voice talent and amazingly short conversations and cut scenes mean a surprisingly low score. Surely more should have been done to get the main cast on board?.
Lush jungles and grim, forbidding interiors are the order of the day. The main characters all look like they should and the cut scenes are pleasing on the eye to say the least. Occasionally the graphics look a bit patchy, but overall they’ve caught the look of the show perfectly.
Staggeringly short and easy really, with the kind of simplistic puzzle solving that made Resident Evil famous. However, sadly lacking in any other form of excitement unlike that particular series of games.
For fans of the series this captures the show perfectly, though there are a few let downs in terms of length and character interaction. The game is also pretty much unplayable to an outsider as too many plot elements are left unexplained, and you are never sure of what exactly is going on which means even though the main characters story is a new one it still makes more sense to Lost fans simply because of the other elements involved.
A diverse looking list but a bit of digging reveals just how easy they are, and all of them should be gathered up in one fairly speedy play through.
A game made purely for fans that can feel a bit unapproachable for anyone else. Certainly worth a rent if you watch the show but even then the weak plot and puzzles on offer are not likely to make you want to play through it more than once. I can’t deny that it captures the look of the show but it certainly doesn’t inspire me to go out and watch it.