Series fans will love it, but those unfamiliar with the show may feel, er, lost
ABC’s sci-fi, secret-teasing series finally finds its way to gamers with Lost: Via Domus, a next-gen licensed offering that’s a must-play (like, right now!) for serious fans of the serialized hit.
On the other hand, if you’re not glued to your TV every Thursday at 9PM, anxiously awaiting the castaways’ every move, then you’ll find little here to really grab you. Not to say Via: Domus is a complete wash for non-Losties; if some light adventuring and gorgeous visuals are enough to get you to grab a gamepad, then by all means jump in. Just don’t expect to know what the heck is going on, as Via Domus doesn’t cater to newcomers in terms of story or character explanation. Now, for the rest of you–those that know of the four-toed statue, the unlucky 4-8-15-16-23-42, and the mysterious smoke monster–you’re in for a real treat; skip the review, and go pick this baby up!
Still here? Alright, alright…for those not totally convinced by my opening enthusiasm (as a freak for the show, I suppose I am a bit biased) lets dig a bit deeper. First, let’s start with those visuals; even if you don’t know Lost from Desperate Housewives, you’ll appreciate the next-gen effort put into Via Domus’ stunning graphical presentation. The jungles are absolutely beautiful, meeting and often surpassing the high bar set by Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune foliage-filled adventure. Trees, vines, and muddy paths are all brought to realistic life with the help of amazing lighting and shadowing techniques. The beach’s white sands and postcard-perfect ocean view are equally impressive. And, as eye-candy-coated as all this is, it can’t touch Via Domus’ near photo-realistic interiors. The inside of the series’ famous underground hatches have been painstakingly replicated with drenched-in-detail design. From the Swan’s creepy painting and blood-stained ceiling to the old computer and the room where Henry Gale (later revealed as Benjamin Linus) was held captive, if you’ve seen it on the show, you’ll see it in the game. Additionally, fans are able to explore lesser seen areas like the other side of the magnetic wall and even the Swan’s bathroom–c’mon what Lost fan wouldn’t want a closer peek at where Kate exited the shower?
The game also pulls off the character presentation pretty well. Admittedly, not as well as the backdrops and environments, but still pretty damn good, especially considering how recognizable these actors have become. Obviously, such familiar faces will be mercilessly scrutinized. Some look better than others; Kate looks great, Hurley looks kinda creepy, and the rest fall somewhere in between, but all will be instantly recognizable to Lost fans. The voices are also surprisingly well done, especially seeing how just a handful of the actual actors contributed lines. I’ve heard some harsh criticism of the voice actors, specifically of the actor that delivers John Locke’s lines, but I disagree. Sure, the in-game, grizzled favorite doesn’t sound exactly like Terry O’Quinn, but given the tall task of imitating such a specific, inflection-heavy performance, the actor has come pretty close. There’s a lot of dialogue in the game, and fans, being so close to the show, will be the first ones to find flaws in the characters. However, the moments that really make you feel like you’re relating to these characters certainly outshine the ones that pull you from the experience.
Via Domus weaves a satisfying yarn in-line with the series’ slick story-telling style; twists, turns and unexpected moments abound. And the game brilliantly supports its narrative with some key design choices. First of all, the game is broken into episodes, each beginning with a “previously on Lost,” followed by a mini-cliffhanger opening–complete with “LOST” floating towards the screen–and closing with a true Lost, edge-of-your-seat ending. All these touches add so much to the experience and really pile on the fan-service. Breaking up the adventure into hour or so episodes is also a great way to introduce series’ fans, who might not be gamers, into the experience.
The game’s greatest storytelling device is its playable flashbacks; this is such a huge part of the show, and I imagine it posed a big hurdle for the designers. But they’ve implemented this feature in a way that drives the story while also including some of the title’s best gameplay.
Playing as new character, amnesia-stricken photojournalist Elliott (another smart move; playing as one of the show’s stars would’ve been a tough mesh with the series’ complicated canon), you’ll trigger memories when certain events or conversations take place on the island. These scattered thoughts are only supported by a torn photograph of the memory. Elliott is briefly transformed to the time of the flashback and must retake the photo to unlock the foggy thought; once the picture is correctly captured, a scene plays, shedding new light on Elliott’s past. This device works great and serves as one of the game’s high points.
Other gameplay moments run the gamut from good–a fun, albeit over-used, fuse-changing puzzle game–to mildly entertaining–brief smoke monster chases through the jungle. Other mini-games, like saving yourself from exploding while carrying dynamite or keeping torches lit as you traverse dark caverns, offer similar fun but brief experiences. Via Domus actually doesn’t support much gameplay in the traditional sense; don’t expect to fire more than three bullets or get your Lara Croft-like acrobatics tested. This is an adventure game that places most of its apples in the story-driven, fan-servicing basket. And in this regard it excels with brimming detail and countless cool nods to the show. Even small, non-game-affecting touches, such as discovering Locke’s wheelchair on the beach, or exploring places we’ve only glimpsed on the TV, should please fans. Sure, there are no adrenaline-charged car chases or intense gun fights, but for Lost’s faithful following, just exploring Oceanic 815’s cockpit will provide an equally pulse-pounding experience.
In addition to its twisty tale and excellent visuals, Via Domus is complemented by the same score that fuels each televised episode. Whether you’re hoofin’ it from smokey or sneaking around the Swan, the tension-building audio will keep you on your toes. All-important effects like the creepy sounds emitting from the smoke monster to the menacing “beep” of the Swan’s countdown clock are also pulled right from the show. The authentic audio combined with the stellar visuals go along way in delivering what feels like a playable episode of the series. Again, the fan-service is fantastic!
Via Domus is far from a perfect game; it does a lot right–like those amazing flashbacks–but it also misses some opportunities to capitalize on this rich license. The thing is, a little Lost goes a long way with diehard fans. So, while I wished there were some deeper gameplay moments or a longer adventure (the game clocks in at about seven hours), I couldn’t imagine, as a Lost fan, not playing this game and loving what it has to offer. I was sold as soon as the game opened with a breathless new angle of flight 815’s famous demise. It might take a little longer for more modest fans; maybe it’ll be hearing Michael yell “Waaalt” on the beach, or getting to punch the numbers into the computer. It may even take the game’s “What the hell!” ending–which actually ties in nicely to the series’ current time-bending direction–to convince some. But regardless of when it hits you, this is an experience that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who counts themselves among the weekly Lost watchers. There’s little here for non-Losties, and Via Domus certainly isn’t the way to enter the series. However, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to receive precious advice from island guru Locke or wanted to be the target of Ben’s Others, then don’t wait for the Dharma Initiative to force you to play this game like a trained rodent, just go pick it up yourself.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 5.0 Graphics
Outstanding next-gen presentation. 5.0 Control
Simple and intuitive even for non-gamers (but Lost fans) looking to play. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Spot-on score and sound effects. Voice-overs are mostly good with a few exceptions. 3.5 Play Value
This one it strictly for fans of the show. Game is short, but the amazing fan-service makes it a must-play for Losties. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.