So it begins with a huge close up of an eye. The camera pulls back to reveal a man on a beach, surrounded by wreckage… of the Lost videogame, the result of a terrifying midair explosion of bad coding, poorly implemented ideas and frustrating minigames. And the ending, oh God, the ending… How did he end up here? Time for a convenient flashback perhaps.
Polar bears. Hatches. Giant electromagnets. If none of these things mean anything to you, then chances are you haven’t been watching Lost, the infuriatingly vague castaway show from celebrated producer and director JJ Abrams. For this videogame adaptation, developers Ubisoft Montreal have worked closely with scriptwriters from the show to ensure its authenticity. Unfortunately, it’s immediately apparent from the game’s opening sequences - in which you discover that your character is an amnesiac unable to escape from his shadowy past - that this particular collaboration hasn’t exactly resulted in a radical departure from cliched videogame storytelling.
Set during the events of season one and two (featuring some locations from season three as well) the game is split into seven ‘episodes’, with each lasting roughly 30 minutes. At the start of each one you’ll get a brief (yet authentic) ‘Previously on Lost…” recap, a teaser segment for that episode, and then the traditional lo-fi swooping Lost title sequence. It makes you feel quite jazzed for the game itself, making what follows even more disappointing.
Each episode revolves mainly around extremely linear exploration, with a tiny (almost non-existent) bit of gunplay thrown in. Most episodes involve traveling to various locations to find objects that will refresh your foggy memory, and amongst other spots, you’ll get to visit the Swan, the Black Rock and the Flame. You’ll also trek through the jungle and cave systems, chat with the characters you love from the show (most of whom make at least a cameo appearance) and solve puzzles in an attempt to flee the island.
Sadly, not one of those elements works. Take jungle exploration - while it looks huge and free roaming, it’s actually an extremely small area surrounded by invisible walls. Trekking off the beaten path for more than a few feet results in a prompt offering to take you back to the jungle entrance. Admittedly, hiding in banyan trees from the black smoke later in the game works well, but entertaining sections like this are few and far between.
Talking to characters like Locke and Kate is equally unrewarding. Thanks to voices provided by soundalikes that don’t sound very like the show’s cast at all, and dead-eyed character models that resemble Lost-themed sex dolls, the fun of virtually stalking your favourite characters is almost nil. While it’s true that some minor members of the cast do lend their vocal talents, their contributions amount to little more than a handful of lines. It does nothing to enhance the atmosphere.
The puzzle solving is by far the weakest aspect of the game, however - there are literally only three different puzzle types. One involves using computers to manipulate the environment, one involves taking photos and the other involves changing fuses to restore power to doors and machinery. Although it gets harder each time (to the point where you’ll end up scribbling endlessly on scraps of paper), the fuse puzzle is horribly overused, cropping up at least once in every chapter, sometimes appearing three or four times. It’s incredibly lazy game design, especially when you consider all the gameplay possibilities a franchise like Lost could - and should - inspire.
How Ubisoft Montreal thought this title was finished is a mystery far greater than anything dreamed up by JJ himself. It fails to work as virtual tourism - the interiors lack enough detail to be really interesting. It fails to work as an extension of the storyline - Lost producer Damon Lindelof has publicly stated that the videogame is not canon. But worst of all, Via Domus fails to work as a decent game - thanks to its refusal to let you explore, dull puzzling and an appalling ending that was already cheesy when Dallas did it 20 years ago. This is one bit of Lost property you’d be mad to claim.
Feb 28, 2008