Lost: Via DomusESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
4 MB to Save Game
In-Game Dolby Digital
Lost: Via Domus, which is based on the hit ABC series Lost, arrives on the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. I had the opportunity to review the Xbox 360 version of the game and upon receiving my review copy my first thought was what does Via Domus mean? Via Domus is apparently Latin for 'The Way Home' which is briefly explained during the game. Now that we are all enlightened I have to tell you that I was somewhat skeptical of what this game could offer. So many videogames based on movies or TV series end up falling flat in so many areas. Nevertheless, I recall hearing about the release of Via Domus in late 2007 and it was well documented that some of the Assassin's Creed and Far Cry developers were working on the game, so even despite my skepticism my expectations were elevated as great developers had a great TV show to work with. However does that transform into a great game? Not quite, but Lost: Via Domus does have some strong points.
Arguably the single best aspect of Lost: Via Domus is the visuals. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the TV show, Lost essentially takes place on what is supposed to be a deserted island in the middle of nowhere. The developers did a wonderful job at creating not only Lost's atmosphere but also recreating some of the locations seen on the show, such as the beach camp, the dark territory, the Flame station, the Black Rock and the Swan Station. Overall the game looks good in high definition and is certainly, as I suggest above, one of the strong points of the game.
The games environments are at times breathtaking as you come across the thick and creepy jungle, the dark caves, water effects, and the beach to name a few areas Via Domus' rich and vibrant environments all compliment the TV series wonderfully. If anything I often wished I could have seen much more. For instance, the beach seems quite small and it only takes you a mater of seconds to walk from one side to the other. Likewise, the jungle does not take long to get from one end to other as you only walk a short distance when all of a sudden you hit an area which ejects you into a menu screen asking if you want to proceed to another area. That being said, what we do get to explore looks very solid. The textures are smooth and I saw no evidence of any graphic anomalies such as screen tearing or polygon clipping.
In addition to the sharp looking environments, the lighting and shadow effects are also very high-quality. Nothing is lost (editor’s note: no pun intended) in terms of the visuals when playing at night or during the day. Heck, in some instances the sun can be quite blinding. There was one occasion when walking along side a cliff there was an enemy attempting to shoot me. As I came around the corner the sun glared on-screen and it actually made it a little more difficult to shoot the enemy as the light was that bright. Paying even more attention to the lighting and shadowing in the game I noted how when the characters move about shadows drift off of other characters and objects realistically. I also found it cool that the lighting effects changed depending on which instrument you are using as a light. Whether it be a lantern, lighter or stick; all give off a distinctly different effect. The lighter for instance does not give you half as much light as the lantern and so forth.
The games cut-scenes are also very slick looking and not much is lost in the transition from cut-scene to in-game graphics engine. It would have been nice to see an opening cut-scene when you first fire up the game but you do get an intro of sorts when you first start up the single player mode. Some of the flashback sequences are also very well done and captivating. The scenes almost give you the feeling you are watching the TV show and I found them very engaging and quite sharp looking.
The character models on the other hand are hit and miss. Some of the shows characters look very similar to their real life counterparts but others not so much. I found Jack, Locke and Hurley look pretty close to their show characters but Sawyer and Charlie are merely shadows of their TV personas. Another concern I had was that other than chatting with the NPC's we don't see too much movement from them. In fact, the 'Lost' characters seem pretty stale and I would have liked to have seen far more movement and animation from them. As far as facial features they look good but rarely give us any kind of emotion.
As far as the sound is concerned, Lost: Via Domus is average. The voice acting, which I thought would have been a strong point, is sadly one of the weaker aspects of the game. Only a few of the real-life actors do voice-overs in the game. On a more positive note, the voices are clear and easy to understand. That being said I don't get near the intensity and 'believability' factor that I do in other games I played in the past. I recently reviewed Turok, which featured stellar voice acting as it was gritty, raw and believable. This is in contrast to Lost: Via Domus as it just seems like the actors are going through the motions without exhibiting any real emotion or intensity. It's hard to pin-point the exact problem but it just seems like something is missing.
Overall, the music is very forgettable with no recognizable artists featured in the games soundtrack. The main menu/pause screen features some very ambient and soft music but it tends to grate on you after awhile, especially if you have the game on pause for any length of time. On one such occasion I was on the phone with my local cable company and the customer rep actually asked me what music I was listening to in the background. He was under the impression I was meditating or doing yoga. We both had a chuckle after I told him it was videogame. In any event, the menu music is lame and could have used some more upbeat tunes. The same applies for the in-game soundtrack as well. Although the music effectively ‘amps-up’ as the action it becomes simply too repetitive at times as it seems to loop over and over.
Overall, the in-game sounds effects are well done although walking sounds seem way too loud. It almost seems as if every character is walking down a hallway in cowboy boots. Even in the jungle the footsteps seem out of place and too loud compared to all the other in-game sounds. Additionally, the beeping from the 1980's computer also seems a little too loud for my liking and at one point made my dog bark. On a positive note such sounds as water falls, jungle animals, grass crunching under your feet, and echoes inside caves all sounded pretty good.
Overall, the gameplay in Lost: Via Domus suffers from far too many frustrating moments. You would think that considering the TV show features a plane crash, great characters, strange storylines, and a nasty smoke filled dark monster; we would have the makings of a great game with a phenomenal storyline. The basic premise of the game is spot on and the flashback features are well done. Unfortunately, the execution of the story and essentially the rest of the game are less than stellar.
In Lost: Via Domus you play as Elliott Maslow, a photojournalist who has suffered from a bad case of amnesia. The amnesia is likely from the effects of the plane crash. Elliot is a survivor from the same tragic Oceanic plane crash that landed all the characters from the Lost TV series on the island, but he is not a regular on the TV show. In fact, Elliott's character was designed specifically for the game. Unaware of his past, Elliot must work to regain his memory and find a way off the island. Right from the get-go, other characters on the island start to question Elliot's past and as a result he gets into all sorts of 'pickles'. Much of the game involves fetch quests and puzzle solving all with the goal of Elliot reclaiming his memory. The flashback sequences, which are a key aspect of the show, are used to trigger Elliot's memory and are used as the main storytelling device.
Lost: Via Domus' timeline coincides with the first couple of seasons in the television series. As indicated above, all the familiar locations are displayed in the game which lends to its authenticity. The main 'Lost' characters are also all included. Fans of the TV series will see Jack, Locke, Hurley, Kate, Sawyer, Sun, Charlie, Claire, Jin, and Sayid who all make appearances somewhere in the game. Via Domus is not broken up into chapters or missions but rather seven episodes featuring a slick 'Previously on Lost' segment at the beginning of each episode. Overall, the story is decent and mirrors much of the shows storyline but there are just too many nuisances and frustrating moments which unfortunately get in the way of the games story.
Although the controls are simple and easy to figure out they are problematic. For instance, if you want to look down you simply move the right thumbstick down. The problem here is that it doesn't stay down. Let go of the thumbstick and your player defaults to looking back up and straight ahead. This becomes problematic in the caves when you are trying to avoid falling through a hole. Sure, you could continue holding the right stick down but it feels awkward, clunky and not as intuitive as it should. Another issue I had with the controls was the lack of a jump button. Why a jump button was not featured is beyond me as there were many moments I wished for this feature considering the jungle terrain. Fortunately, you can get by without the button though, but it would have been that better with it.
The episodes themselves are straight forward and linear in fashion. You generally don’t get lost (editor’s note: again, no pun intended) as there are either markers or the game will alert you when you are getting off the beaten path. On that note, there are some occasions where you become disoriented and you become incredibly frustrated. For instance, when you first enter the Dark Territory; a moaning black plume of smoke attempts to gobble you up. Your only source of safety is the protection of trees. Going into the treed areas is not a problem aside from waiting like what seems like an eternity for the smoke monster to go away. Unfortunately, when you exit the trees you become disoriented and you do not know which way you are supposed to go. This becomes increasingly problematic later in the level when you are carrying dynamite.
A great deal of the game involves puzzle solving and computer trivia. Bottom line, they are all a pain and something I wish could have been omitted from the game. Much of the game features these fuse box / electrical circuit puzzles which very much reminds me of those puzzles in Bioshock. Unfortunately, unlike Bioshock you don't have the option of skipping the fuse box puzzles as you are forced to figure them out. Towards the beginning of the game they are simple however as the game progresses they become a bugger. Often I would say, "what the heck, another god damn fuse box puzzle….kill me now….for the love of god….kill me now". On one such occasion it took me 45 minutes to figure out that I didn't have enough of the right kind of fuses to finish the puzzle. So I had to back out and go on a scavenger hunt to look for more fuses. Overall, I just felt the puzzles seemed a little out of place and took away from atmosphere of the game. I am sorry but I get no enjoyment out of puzzles as I would prefer interacting with the characters and doing action-based tasks. Another gripe, and along the same levels as my complaints about the fuse puzzles, are the computer IQ tests. Again, they are out of place and contribute nothing to the 'Lost' atmosphere. They usually consist of finding a pattern in a sequence of numbers and I just didn't enjoy them. I am sure there are some people out there who may enjoy these puzzles or IQ tests, but based on what I played these tasks just don’t fit the into the game as a whole.
As I mentioned earlier the cut-scenes are well done and I did enjoy the 'Previously on Lost' clips that played before each episode you set out to complete. Unfortunately if you die early in the episode you are forced to go back and watch the entire clip again. And although they are enjoyable the first time you see them, you will wish, as I did, for a skip button far too often. Not a major concern but yet another aggravating annoyance which takes away from the overall feel of this game.
Unfortunately, there is not much in the way of replay value in Lost: Via Domus as there is no multiplayer component to the game. There are 30 Xbox 360 achievements for a total of 1000 points which, if you take your time and explore everything, you should be able to bang-off at least 800 of them by just going through and completing the game. The game will take the casual gamer about 7-10 hours, but take away those fuse box puzzles and a couple of sticky points and the game should take only 4-5 hours to complete. You do not get anywhere near the length and depth you do with other adventure games already on the market.
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