Lost: Via Domus

5.5 / 10 Banzai!s

The Game: STACKpak Litho.pdf
It’s early 2008, and the popular ABC television series Lost has just completed it’s third season.  We now know what’s in the hatch.  We’ve learned that the “others” are civilized people with a hidden agenda.  But we still wonder, what’s up with that black smoke?  What happened to the Dharma Initiative?  What’s the significance of ‘4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42’ typed into the computer?  And why, after finally leaving the island, does Jack say to Kate that they need to go back?  Is the island some sort of purgatory?  Are they on another planet?  Is it all a dream?

These are questions that beg to be answered.

They forced some people to keep watching, and others give up, while Lost still enjoyed high ratings.  Then in February, Ubisoft Montreal releases Lost: Via Domus, a game ported on the PC, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3.  The story’s plot was created by the show’s executive producers, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse.  The score was created by the show’s same composer, Michael Giacchino.  And some of the characters (Sun Kwon, Claire Littleton, Benjamin Linus, and Tom Friendly) feature the original voice actors from the show.  But what fans of Lost perhaps cared more about, was whether we’d learn some answers from the game.  Would we gain incite into what’s up with the black smoke?  Would we learn more about the island, and what its purpose is?  How about the true agenda behind Benjamin and the Others?

Well, read on to find out.

The title, according to the game’s Locke character, Via Domus is Latin for “The Way Home.”  In third-person, players control Elliott Maslow, another passenger on Flight 815.  Like the show, we first see his eye open, then the camera zooms back as Elliott stand upright, disoriented and wondering why he’s in the middle of a jungle.  After chasing a dog, he reaches the beach shore where, well, if you’ve seen the pilot to Lost then you know what’s going on.  Jack is doing his doctor-thing, Locke is testing out his new legs, and the plane’s engine is dangerously nearby, sucking people in.

The game continues to steal scenes from the TV show, leading up to around the third season.  During which, Elliott has his own problems.  Due to a bad case of amnesia, he isn’t even sure of his own name, and wonders why he’s witnessing the illusion of a woman.  More importantly, why is there a guy trying to kill him/  The main course of the game is to figure all this out, through a series of fetching items, solving puzzles, and taking photos to help jog his memory.  Will Elliott learn the identity of both himself, and the woman in the forest?  Will he find a way off the island, or be killed by that strange guy with the gun?  More importantly, will we discover answers to some of the TV shows’ posed questions through this new character?

What I Liked:
The game does an excellent job of trying to recreate the “feel” of the TV show.  The story is divided into seven “episodes,” each one ending on some sort of cliffhanger.  When you start the next one, you hear that familiar narrator say, “Previously, on Lost,” then witness scenes from earlier moments of the game.

lost-via-domus-screen1The story itself plays out much like the characters in the show, with flashes from moments on the island, to flashbacks in Elliott’s life.  The game does have an interesting story with an interesting character, almost as though he’d originally been written for the show, then instead cut out and placed into the video game.  They mystery is set up, and we want to learn more about our player-character, what his connection is to the woman, and why that dude in the suit wants him dead.

While the graphics aren’t going to win any awards, we can clearly recognize all the people from the show.  While the voice actor for Locke sounds like a dusty old man, most of the voice actors who aren’t the original actors from the show sound close enough.  In fact, Locke’s voice actor was the only one I immediately knew wasn’t the real actor.  The others, I had to check on the internet.

Like the show, there are moments in Lost: Via Domus which are pretty creepy, mainly related to scenes involving the black smoke.  At one point you’re trying to make your way to the cockpit, which crashed somewhere in the bushes.  You’re walking through, trying to figure out how to get there, when you suddenly hear the howling, clickity sounds as the black smoke approaches.  You can’t kill it, of course.  All you can do is run and hide, wait for it to leave, before bravely stepping out and re-orienting yourself.

Finally, as a fan of the show, I enjoyed experiencing settings from Lost.  The beach scene – with all its respective characters doing their thing – was recreated just like the show, where you can scavenge for items or talk to the characters.  You can explore the interior of the hatch.  You can roam the halls of the underwater science aquarium.  It’s like pieces of the show have been brought to life.  Well, brought to a three-dimensional video game, anyway.

What I Didn’t Like:
Okay, as a score of only 5.5 Banzai!s out of 10, you can probably assume I wasn’t a huge fan of the game.  After all, this is even a lower score than Duke Nukem Forever!  Yes, there were things I liked about it.  But my big problem with Lost: Via Domus is that, much like the characters in the show, the game itself is in a strange sort of limbo.

Let’s start with the gameplay.  It’s almost as if the developers at Ubisoft Montreal couldn’t decide to make this an action game or a point-and-click game similar to Back to the Future by Telltale Games, so instead they decided to create a sort of hybrid.  What this results in is a game which feels like it should be a point-and-click game, but instead you control a character in third-person who can run and jump, and even pull out weapons.  But except for two scenes in the entire game, you never run, jump or shoot anything, because you’re playing a point-and-click game.  So you start solving puzzles like it’s a point-and-click game, when suddenly you have to run, jump and shoot.  After all, it’s an action game.  But then suddenly the action stops, and you’re pointing-and-clicking again.

lost-via-domus-screen2In my opinion, they really should have gone with one style, or the other.  It just doesn’t work as a strange hybrid, and instead, the gameplay feels incredibly boring.  Imagine playing Resident Evil 5, armed with a gun, but instead of shooting zombies, you’re collecting coconuts so you can trade them in for a lighter and torch in order to walk through a cave which doesn’t harbor any enemies.  Or Uncharted, though instead of climbing, jumping and shooting pirates, you’re walking around empty hallways looking for fuses to play a fuse mini-game in order to open a door.  Perhaps if there’d been more action and things to do, other than collecting and trading coconuts, the gameplay would have been more enjoyable.  Or, if this was a point-and-click game to start with, I wouldn’t be anticipating action scenes to commence.

Also, is this game targeting fans of the show, or people who have never seen an episode?  Again, Lost: Via Domus is in that strange limbo.

Yes, by the end of Season 3, we still had a lot of questions that needed answering.  But imagine if you skipped through the entire three seasons on fast forward, hitting play only four or five times.  Wouldn’t you be a little confused?  Well, welcome to Lost: Via Domus.  If you haven’t seen the show, then you’ll have no idea what’s going on in the game.  Instead of wondering “what is the black smoke,” you’ll be asking, “why is there black smoke suddenly chasing me?”  Instead of wondering the significance to the numbers typed into the computer, you’ll be asking, “What numbers?”  And instead of wondering the agenda behind the Others, you’ll be asking, “Who are these ‘others’ the NPCs keep talking about?”  There’s just too much information and backstory for someone who hasn’t seen the show, and will instead feel, well, lost.

So, how about the fans?  Well, we don’t learn a single piece of new information from playing the game.  Instead, we learn all about a new character who’s not even in the TV show.  With the exception of Elliott, everything we learn in the game is simply regurgitated information we already learned from watching the show.  So yes, fans will be disappointed as well, and have only the gameplay to fall back on.  Which, unfortunately, doesn’t help.

While there were a few specific things I liked about the game, Lost: Via Domus is overall an incredible bore.  Collecting coconuts and searching for fuses is not fun.  Having a gun and never being able to use it is not fun.  Wandering through a cave, void of any real enemies or obstacles, with the goal simply reaching the other side, is not fun.

It stuns me that this was developed by the same Canadian team who created Prince of Persia and the Assassin’s Creed series.  What happened?  Did they lack creative control?  Was it under a tight deadline?  Why was a point-and-click game designed to play as an action game?  Or, why is an action game being simply reduced to pointing and clicking?  Why didn’t they include some bonus hints for the fans?  Why didn’t they explain the story better for those who haven’t seen the show?

These are questions that beg to be answered.

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