IGN Review of Lost: Via Domus
If these numbers mean nothing to you, then little if anything in Ubisoft's Lost: Via Domus will make a damned bit of sense. Based on ABC's popular drama, the videogame version of Lost does nothing to embrace people who've never seen the show. Via Domus gives fans a view of first two seasons of the show through the eyes of a brand new character, Elliott. A previously unseen survivor of crashed Oceanic flight 815, Elliott finds himself suffering from amnesia -- and suffering through a weak adventure game to boot.
Lost: Via Domus is broken into seven chapters that play out like missing episodes of the TV series. Each chapter begins with "previously on Lost" clips, a hook followed by the classic Lost floating logo intro, and ends with a cliffhanger. It's a smart set-up and does indeed give the feeling of a Lost episode. The authenticity ends the first time you run into a character from the show. Ubisoft only managed to secure a few Lost actors to do VO -- and most have small roles in the game. The lead characters from Lost -- Sawyer, Locke, Kate and Jack -- are all voiced by sound-a-likes. The Locke "sound-a-like" plays him as an old timey prospector and Sawyer may actually have been voiced by Huckleberry Hound. For a licensed game, the lack of star power is a major drawback.
But you're a Lost fan, right? So of course you will soldier on. You can perhaps convince yourself that one of the Island's mysterious powers is making people sound like they came out of a cartoon.
Via Domus is wisely set up as an adventure game. This makes perfect sense for a property like Lost, where exploration is more common than action. In each episode you'll talk to characters from the show, trudge through the jungle and live through one of Elliott's flashbacks.
The conversation system is smart with different categories to sort your options. You can ask quest-related questions, general questions, get information on items in your inventory or trade items with another character. The general questions are the kinds of things we often see in licensed games that give background information to people unfamiliar with the property. The funny thing about Via Domus is that the characters' dialogue matches that of the show. So when you ask Sawyer why he was on Flight 815, he tells you to mind your own beeswax. And if you try and get any background on Kate, she remains cryptic. It's a good laugh for fans of the show, but will be frustrating to the uninitiated.
The trading system works well, even though there's little need to trade for anything outside of torches or a lantern. You will find coconuts, bottles of water and even a few books on the beach and in the jungle which act as currency on the island. Each item has a unique value that can be used to "buy" items from certain castaways. The trick is that there's no such thing as change, so you will need to be smart about which items you trade so as to equal the exact value of the items you're receiving.
You will need to trade for torches or a lantern, because a few of the earliest quests have you exploring some dark caves. This is the survival horror portion of the game, apparently. When in a cave, you will need to use some light or else your heart begins to race and then the darkness somehow kills you. There are random spills of water and swarms of bats that knock out your light, but it's otherwise fairly easy to keep from being killed in the dark. Navigating the caves can be a little tricky as there are some dead ends and looping paths meant to disorient you. Some will hate this element, but it felt like classic adventuring to me, so I didn't mind it.
The more annoying exploration element is traversing through the jungle. Here it is easy to get disoriented, so you will need to use a series of flag markers to negotiate your way through the jungle. When you reach a marker, press the appropriate button and you will be pointed towards the next marker. Trouble is the black smoke is patrolling the jungle looking to kill trespassers. If you don't know what I mean by "black smoke," again, this is not the game for you. When you hear the smoke nearing, you need to run into a thicket of trees and hide. But this changes your orientation, making it difficult to figure out which way you were originally heading.
The interesting twist is the six flashbacks that occur during the various episodes. Elliott is attempting to regain his memory, to figure out why a stranger from Flight 815 is trying to kill him. When a flashback starts, you must whip out your camera and attempt to capture a scene you initially see as a torn-up photograph. This requires proper framing of the subject and focusing the camera for a clear picture. Once the photo is captured, you can watch the full scene play out and then wander around Elliott's memory for the hell of it. It was a good idea to choose to make the flashbacks interactive, but there is almost nothing to Elliott's backstory. It's a one-note tale that shows him not just as a character in need of redemption, but as a despicable coward and perhaps the very worst of the survivors of Flight 815.
As with any decent adventure game, there are also puzzles in Via Domus. And by puzzles, I mean one type of puzzle redone a half-dozen times. In various areas you will come across broken fuse boxes. To fix the box, you need to insert any of three different fuse types to establish a current of electricity. There are multiple junctions on the circuit board each with its own green zone. Those green zones correspond to the level of electrical current and each of the three fuse types lowers the flow of current a certain amount. The challenge of this puzzle is creating paths of current that properly reduce the amount of electricity to get each junction into its proper green zone at the same time. There's no timer for this, so there really is no pressure to finish quickly. While it would have been nice to see a greater variety of puzzles (like two types of puzzles instead of one), the fuse box challenge is actually quite good.
It's not all about puzzles and talking to poorly voiced characters. Oh no, there is also action. There are two chase scenes that have you running along a path jumping over fallen logs and sliding under tree branches. Sound thrilling? Of course not. You also get to fire your gun twice, so there's that. The action elements of Lost are poorly implemented and add little drama to a game that already feels a little flat. While I wouldn't necessarily advocate adding more action sequences, there needs to be more of something. If not action, then more exploration options, more puzzles, deeper conversation trees and more story
Via Domus is one big Easter egg for Lost fans. There are lots of little inside jokes that only true fans can appreciate. Be it the random dead polar bear, Sun's unexplained change from speaking only Korean to speaking fluent English or the Others' prison for Elliott. As a fan, I had quite a few "ooh" moments. This is a game for the fans, which only fans can appreciate. But at the same time -- in a strange bit of paradox -- this is a game that will disappoint almost every Lost fan. Not having the appropriate voice actors, failing to properly retell the story of the first two seasons, and throwing in a very lame subplot about the Hanso Corporation are only going to leave fans frowning.
That said, the very end of this short adventure (literally the last minute of the game) introduces a twist that raises some questions about the Island. For that reason alone, fans should rent (not buy) Lost: Via Domus.
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