Our first entry in the “Late to the Party Edition” of Crush! Frag! Review! is rather appropriate. You see, for the last five years the rest of the world has followed the adventures of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 while I, myself, only recently started watching Lost. This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself late to the party on some major pop culture event, but curiosity over talks of time travel, smoke monsters and fish biscuits finally got the better of me. I started renting the DVDs a month and a half ago and finally caught up with the end of Season Five last Friday night.
Before I reached that point, however, my sights turned towards the tie-in game – Lost: Via Domus. I received it as a gift from a friend of mine over a year ago. He had come upon the game for free himself and, having no desire to play it, re-gifted it to me. Not being one to turn away free games, it got slotted on my shelf with the vague notion that I would get around to playing it “some day”. Not being a follower of Lost at the time, that day was quite likely to be somewhere in the distant future. But, with my recently born infatuation with the show, it came far sooner than expected.
Via Domus suffers from a strange form of licensed game syndrome in that it’s unlikely to have much appeal outside of its target demographic: fans of the show. You don’t have to be a comic fan to enjoy slicing up nameless hordes of goons in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, provided you enjoy games like like God of War and an extensive knowledge of the Transformers franchise isn’t required to appreciate the simple joy of a game about giant robots blowing stuff up. However, if someone doesn’t know the DHARMA Initiative from Dharma & Greg they’re going to be hard pressed to care enough to sit through the scant four to six hours it takes to finish this game. And sadly, when all is said and done, those who do know the difference will most likely find themselves disappointed.
This isn’t to say the game is without fan service. The story was plotted by series producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and is structured in seven “episodes” that mimic the style of the show. From the “Previously on Lost” recap at each episode’s beginning to the cliffhanger endings, the pacing will elicit at least a small smile from fans. Some of the show’s cast reprise their voices (Ben, Claire, Desmond, Mikhail, Sun and Tom) and most of the replacements do a decent job of emulating the diction of the characters they’re filling in for, even if hardcore fans may find them jarring. Environments from the show are pretty faithfully reproduced as well; from the interior of the Swan and Hydra stations to the beach camp of the castaways, though the latter feels far smaller and more sparsely populated than in the show; something even more noticeable due to who you play.
Rather than place you in the shoes of an existing series character, the game casts you as one of Oceanic 815′s unnamed background survivors. It was a smart choice that allows them to engage in the usual Lost-style flashbackery without retreading the main characters’ stories or trampling on canon by rewriting major existing plot points. Playing as amnesiac photojournalist Elliott Maslow, you slowly recover your memories via a series of flashbacks. In them, you’re shown a glimpse of a shattered, rearranged photograph before being thrown into a hazy, dreamlike memory. You then have to attempt to retake the photograph in order to unlock the memory and progress the story. It’s a very neat, if occasionally frustrating, concept.
However, not even the most loving fan service can rescue this action-adventure from the clutches of boredom and banality. The seven parts of the story span the show’s first two and a half seasons and you move along the timeline from episode to episode with very little feeling for how much time has passed between. The best way I can describe this game is that it feels like it should have been an early-to-mid 90s interactive CD-ROM; the sort that would promise to take you on a ‘virtual tour’ of the world of Lost so you could “Meet the castaways! Explore the Swan station in full 3-D! Enter the numbers into the computer to save the world! Avoid the mysterious smoke monster in the depths of the jungle!” It feels like you’re shuttled around from location to location just so you can say “Hey! I remember this from the show!”
The actual gameplay is limited to a series of dull fetch-quests and dialogs with the handful of characters you’re given to interact with interspersed with a couple of equally dull action sequences (shooting, running, hiding). We hope you enjoy logic puzzles involving rewiring fuseboxes because you’ll be doing plenty of those as well. They also felt the need to add in a store mechanic where you trade found foodstuffs for light sources (torches and lanterns), guns and ammo, extra fuses, and… well, just those three things, really. Considering you’ll need the gun a total of perhaps three times during the whole game, light sources twice and extra fuses not at all (if you thoroughly explore the surrounding areas) it feels pointlessly tacked on just to give you a reason to interact with Sawyer. It feels even more pointless when you realize that he only serves as your shop contact once, with other characters taking the role at different points in the game.
The only good things I can really say about Lost: Via Domus, beyond the somewhat haphazard care that went into parts of it’s construction, is that it’s mercifully brief. Also, should you be playing the Xbox 360 version, it’s worth a rental if you want a 1000 achievement point boost that requires more work than Avatar: The Last Airbender, but can still be finished in one sitting. I feel truly sorry for the hardcore Losties who payed full price when this was originally released. If you simply must have it to complete your Lost merch collection, make sure you scour the bargain bins.
Things We Liked: Good voice work, even by the stand-ins. Episode-style level presentation. Flashback photo mechanic. Easy achievement points.
Things We Disliked: Gameplay elements not cohesive, feel pasted together. Boring, even for fans of the show. Way too short.
Target Audience: Achievement boosters. The most hardcore of hardcore fans who must have every possible piece of merch connected to Lost. I honestly can’t think of anyone else who would enjoy this.