When we think about games based off movies and television shows, we tend to believe that they're going to turn out bad. It's not unusual to think this way because more often than not these games really do turn out to be a disappointment; however, we had high hopes for Lost: Via Domus as it was a videogame adaptation of television's most brilliantly engaging show. With Lost TV series writer and producer, Damon Lindelof, guest-supervising the content and themes for the game, we thought Lost: Via Domus was going to be a sure-fired hit. Regrettably, that line of thinking couldn't be any more farther from the truth.
As a game, Lost: Via Domus has nothing unique to offer. It's a below average effort, and feels like a watered-down Uncharted clone with puzzles -- minus all the action. Even so, this game wasn't meant for the hardcore gamers, it was meant for Lost fans; in this regard, it only gets worse as the game fails to perform its duty. At first, it felt exciting to be inside the world of Lost; however, by game's end, we realized just how much potential was "lost" in translation from television to videogame that we'd recommend fans just stick to their show.
Lost: Via Domus puts players in the shoes of Oceanic 815 survivor and photojournalist, Elliot Maslow. After the plane crashes on the island, Elliot is struck with amnesia; on the first night, he is attacked by a man looking for Elliot's camera. The camera, an important plot device, contains incriminating evidence that's crucial to unlocking Elliot's past and is the reason why he was on the plane. Elliot's story is a non-canon gaiden, so the game won't have any direct influence on the show itself, and reversely, does little to propel the Lost experience forward.
While Elliot has never appeared on the show, his story runs parallel with the time line and milestones of the television series. His new perspective of previously seen events actually makes reenacting them feel fresh; however, the writers don't take full advantage of the creative liberties that this re-telling allows, and fail to bring out a gripping narrative that intertwines with the overarching Lost storyline. Elliot's story is told through seven short episodes that thankfully include the authentic "previously on Lost" recap and the iconic Lost title screen -- just like on TV. Despite these authenticities, they are superficial additions compared to what should have been incorporated -- a deeper involvement with the show's characters, more episodes, and some better hints on the show's mysteries.
Now about that last gripe, Damon Lindelof stated in an interview that he didn't want gamers to have to "pay for answers," hence, the reason why you won't be solving any of the show's secrets. That reason is fine, but it's no excuse not to deliver a compelling emulation of Lost. On the flip side, what Via Domus does well is that it takes the island and transforms it into a 3D playground, albeit a limited one. It's fun to explore locales that are no longer seen in the show: the Swan (hatch) and Flame stations, or places like the Black Rock pirate ship, the beach camp, and Hydra station. Little Easter eggs like Locke's wheelchair or Driveshaft CDs dot the game environment, though these little inclusions are just another superfluous addition. Via Domus feels more like a collection of character cameos, Easter eggs, and locales that resemble Lost, but Lost with its very soul zapped out of it.
Story isn't the only letdown, gameplay is also equally disappointing; it's pretty much a run-around fetch quest game with some puzzles in between. To move things along, you'll be following the advice of the Lost cast and their straight-forward one-liner quips; the problem with this is that characters basically spell out what you need to do next -- there is no challenge. After finding out what you need to do, you'll eventually run into one of two puzzle types. The first type revolves around placing fuses onto an electrical panel where the objective is to send the right amount of volt current to power indicators at the other end of the panel. This is actually a nice puzzle that makes you think, and is also used in appropriate areas in the game. The second type is less attractive, as they're IQ tests on a computer; these tests do make you think, but it's nothing beyond what you've taken before in school.
Combat is lackluster and under-used. The only method of attack is available through a bartered gun from Sawyer. The major flaw is that enemies stay stationary on treetop platforms and can snipe you before you ever know they're there. The idea is not that they can easily kill you, in fact they're horrible marksmen; the problem lies, again, in the lack of challenge -- once they fire at you, they give away their position and don't even bother to avoid your return fire. Among all the negativity, one fun moment is the sequence where you have to run from the infamous smoke monster. It's not a concept that hasn't been done before, but it's worth mentioning because it's one of the few high points in the game.
However, the best part of the game has to do with Elliot's flashback sequences. In order to remember his past, Elliot must take a photograph with proper framing and focus. His only clue to getting the right shot is a ripped up version of the photo he must take. The controls can be a little uncomfortable at first as the trigger-like R2 and L2 buttons are a bit sensitive and you can overshoot your target focus or framing. One hidden little trick is that the PS3 version supports the SIXAXIS motion sensing for weapon aiming and camera control. Although this is supported, it's utterly pointless as it's uncomfortable and the right analog stick is a better choice.
The game's graphics are top notch, there's not too much to complain on that front. There are only two problems that show up later in the game, but are minor. One odd graphical glitch makes Elliot reflect light off himself making him look a bit like he is shining and the other is some odd texturing in a hallway leading up to the Flame station. Other than that, flawless. The smoke monster looks fantastic and really seems like it's alive. The character models are also a big thumbs up to the artists for a great job.
Some aspects like the voice acting, however, break the realism of the game. It's quite obvious that many characters are not voiced by their real-life counterparts; however, the voice actors do a good enough job and sound as close to their respective characters as possible. It's also nice to know that the actors for Ben, Desmond, Claire, and Sun lent their voices for the in-game models. Michael Giacchino, the series music composer, has also lent his compositions to the game though we don't think we've heard anything in Via Domus that hasn't been heard from the show previously.
Probably one of the biggest disappointments of Lost: Via Domus is the meager unlockable extras. There's no making-of or behind-the-scenes videos; the only thing we get are a handful of concept paintings. Worse yet, if you're a perfectionist and missed getting one of these unlockables after having finished the game, there's no way of unlocking it without having to erase your old save and restart from the very beginning.
For an extremely short game, Lost: Via Domus has a surprisingly huge 3.7GB mandatory install (despite the back cover reading 3GB). With all it's flaws, Lost: Via Domus is a title hard to recommend -- even to fans. If you're a real Lost fan, save yourself some trouble and rent first. Use those sixty bucks for a better investment: season 3 of Lost on Blu-ray.
PS3 Fanboy score: 5.5