Lost: Via Domus
Systems: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 :: Rating: Teen :: Players: 1
Genre: Adventure :: Released: 26 February 2008
By Damien Wilkens
26 March 2008 — I was a late convert to the whole Lost phenomenon. The series had already wrapped its third season before I'd even watched my first episode, dismissing it as another passing fad. You can imagine my surprise when I rented my first DVD and discovered that it featured some of the best writing, direction and acting that television had seen in quite some time.
I'll make this one very easy for you. If you've never seen Lost or if you're one of those people that hates the show, then there's absolutely nothing for you here. Via Domus knows who its audience is, and caters to that group exclusively. Being a member of that club, I have to admit my bias going in; I obviously wanted to love this game, but as with most cases of love at first sight, the grim, ugly reality is often far worse.
Despite having the same writers as the show, it appears that they were running on little more than fumes when penning the narrative. The main character, Elliot, suffers from the tired plot device of amnesia. As a previously unseen passenger on flight 815, we learn of Elliot's past through a series of flashbacks that echo the pacing of the show. During these scenes, Elliot must use his camera to take a picture of a certain event or item that will trigger a key to his identity. While this method of collecting information is mostly fresh, the more you learn about Elliot, the less you really want to know; he's eventually revealed to be, for lack of a better term, a complete asshole. While the story tries to take a redemptive slant later on, the lesson learned by the end is that he was free to live his life with no true consequence for his actions, which is an uncanny parallel to the gaming universe in general, and in another game it would be noted, but here it seems to be little more than a sad coincidence.
Seeing as Via Domus is, in essence, a love letter to Lost fans, you'll be happy to know that you can interact with most of the characters from the show — or, I should say, people that look like them. While the characters, along with most of the game, are well-rendered, it appears that a majority of the cast either couldn't or wouldn't provide voices. With the exception of Claire, Sun and the Others, everyone in the game is voiced by stand-ins of varying quality. While the actors for Kate, Charlie and Sayid are serviceable, most everyone else sounds horrible, with Locke speaking as if he were, in fact, Mr. Magoo and Sawyer sounding like Huckleberry Hound crossed with Doc Holliday. For the most part, the characters themselves are of very little purpose to the storyline, either serving as voice-acted walkthroughs or item shops. The dialog trees are obscenely shallow, and outside of getting Kate to flirt with you, there's not much to it. You can't get in on that action anyway, trust me, I tried.
Instead, you primarily find yourself venturing into the wilderness alone. In between the triggered flashbacks, you'll transverse numerous locations from the show, such as the Swan Station, the Flame, the Hydra and the Black Rock. A bit of unintentional comedy results as you soon discover that Elliot finds most all of these landmarks before the other castaways, usually by accident, making him simultaneously the luckiest and most resourceful person on the island. The paths you take are fairly linear, and outside of a few occasions, you can't die. Mostly following the structure of a traditional point-and-click adventure game, Elliot finds items that he can trade for either goods or information. The bartering system works well enough — even if the idea of trading coconuts for a gun is rather strange — but there are a lot of items for sale that you'll never need to use. Even the gun is shot a grand total of three times, so extra ammo is completely useless.
With the overabundance of fruit-based currency and a fairly simple progression, one of the few parts of the game that offers any level of challenge is the interactions with the black smoke monster. When the monster approaches, Elliot must hide in nearby banyan trees until the monster disperses, while at the same time trying to keep track of which direction he was traveling — as leaving a tree resets your position, making navigation more than a little confusing. To make things even worse, Elliot has to repeat the area later while holding dynamite, effectively removing his ability to run. While the inclusion of the monster interactions are a nice treat for fans, the pace offsets that of the rest of the game, abandoning slow-paced puzzle sections for frustrating moments of action.
That's not to say that the puzzle sections themselves are much better. Despite the potential for rather clever brain teasers, given the source material, the only puzzles to speak of are Dharma computer IQ tests and a terminal hacking mini-game that makes the aforementioned black monster look like a piece of cake by comparison. Sharing more than a slight resemblance to Bioshock's hacking mechanism, the rather cumbersome interface is where you'll spend most of your time with the game. It seems like Dharma stole more than a few architectural choices from Umbrella when designing the different stations, as you have to fix an overly convoluted circuit breaker every time you want to so much as open a door. If the things behind those doors were the least bit interesting, maybe it wouldn't be so bad, but outside of learning about Elliot's epic fail of a life, you get nothing new about the show.
That's right, no questions are answered. Why? Because this game is not canon. Despite having the Lost name, this game could have been about Sawyer reading from Ladies' Home Journal, and you would have received the exact same amount of perspective on the Lost mythos. The puzzling ending sums up the five hours of this game as a whole, as it manages to be an homage to the show while being a slap in the face at the same time.
It's achingly apparent that the game was created by fans of the series, which makes it all the more frustrating that Via Domus is just like every other licensed game out there: great in presentation, but utterly vapid on the inside and not worth your time.
Lost: Via Domus gets a 4 out of 10.