Review: Lost Via Domus (Sony PS3)

Lost Via Domus
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Genre: Adventure
Release Date 2/28/08

I am a LOST junkie. I watch the show, play the online extra, watch the “Missing Pieces” and take part in discussions with friends about theories and characters. This is a pretty unusual occurrence for me, as I have not watched TV since 2001. LOST returned me to the world of network TV and it still one of only three shows that I watch (along with Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and How I Met Your Mother).

So of course when the LOST game was announced, we all knew I’d be reviewing the game. Hell, I won’t lie. I bought my 60 gig PS3 to play LOST. I am that much of a junkie. As one of our two resident adventure game afficionados here at DHGF, the pairing of my favorite show with one of my favorite genre seemed like a match made in Heaven for yours truly.

Then the bad news started trickling in. Only half the cast from the show would be providing the voices for their digital counterparts. The game was supposedly very short for a $60 game. You would be playing as a new character, effectively placing you into the Nikki and Paulo camp. Worst of all Carlton Cuse and Damion Lindroff came out and said the game would not be considered canon making a lot of Lost fans upset. Of course, as gamers we all know that video games made from licensed properties are never canon, so this last one didn’t phase me as much as the first two.

So what is the final result. Has LOST brought back the adventure genre back to prominence on US shores, or has the little things that Ubisoft has done wrong added up enough to alienate the largest TV audience in the world enough to keep from buying their game?

Let’s Review

1. Story

You’re playing as a photojournalist suffering from amnesia due to the crash of Oceanic Airline Flight 815. Throughout your adventures on the island, you’ll not only be trying to survive the mysteries that lie within, but you’ll also be trying to solve an even bigger mystery: Who are you, and who is this apparition-like woman that appears to you from time to time.

The game plays out in 7 episodes designed to look and feel exactly like a mini season of the TV show. Each episode begins with a “Previously on LOST” bit, which is a wonderful nod to the show, and even casual fans will be amused/thrilled by Ubisoft’s attempt to make Via Domus really feel like a piece of the show. From there the game gives you a little missiont o accomplish then ends on a weird note followed by the title sequence from the show. Each chapter also ends on a cliffhanger and then the trademark Lost thump noise and then the end title screen. For a fan of the show, I loved how much the game stuck to the trappings of the show. It even mimicked certain cinematography
bits such as the close up shot of a closed eye suddenly opening. Whoever designed the scripts for this game really paid attention to the little details that make all the LOST fans giddy.

The actual story behind your main character (I don’t want to give his actual name, as finding that out is part of the game) is well done. Your character is an interesting sort, who like most characters from the show jumps from likable to sot and back throughout the game. He’s a flawed character and through the use of the patented LOST flashbacks both you and he learn more about who he was before the crash.

The flashback sequences are very different from the show, but it’s about the only way they could have made them playable instead of passive. The flashbacks start off in black and white with a bit of fuzz until you take the appropriate picture that jogs your memory. Once you have taken this picture, the memory is replayed in colour with audible sound. Here you can explore the memory and find other pieces that help explain what you did and who you were before the amnesia. Also in true LOST Fashion, you’ll find you knew two of the LOSTIES somewhat before the crash, which is something that has happened on the show frequently.

The game is VERY linear, but that is like most adventure games, This genre concentrates on a solid storyline first and foremost, and LOST certainly delivers.

The end of the game, much like the show itself asks more questions that it gives answers to old ones and leaves you with a huge mindfuck as a reward. Some gamers will no doubt be put off, confused, and frustrate by this, but what happens not only makes perfect sense with the overall weirdness of the show, but it actually makes sense according to TV show. Here’s a hint. In a few episodes you’ve been told it is hard to leave the island. Generally not so good stuff happens when you try. Your character is pretty ignorant of this. This lack of knowledge is what gets you the ending of the game.

You’ll get to explore the island, the hatch, the Hydra, Mikhail’s ranch, the Black Rock, run like hell from the Smoke Monster, deal with the Others, have drama with your fellow LOST’ies and listen to Michael scream “WALT! WALT! I gots to find my boy!” The only thing missing is getting to watch Ana Lucia or Shannon get shot. Otherwise this game is chock full of references to the large events of the show to the most minor of details.

There are so many ways to die in this game too. From running through the sonic pylons, to being murdered by the smoke monster, to reporting an incursion by the hostiles to letting the timer in the hatch count down without entering THE NUMBERS, even when you die in the game, LOST fans will be doing it with a smile on their face.

Plot and story-wise this is the best adaptation of a TV show into video game form I have ever seen.

Story Rating: Great

2. Graphics

LOST looks amazing. The backgrounds of the game are simply beautiful. There is so much detail in the game, that it sometimes appears as if you’re on a real island. Everything from the show is faithfully reconstructed. Desmond’s hatch (pre explosion) looks just as it did in the TV show. Same with the Hydra and the LOSTies camp. I was very impressed by the clear, vibrant and crisp graphics of this game.

Character models however, are hit or miss. Michael for example, looks awful. As do all the original characters made for the game. Yes, this includes the protagonist. A lot of the characters looks amazing close to their real life counterparts. Sun, Jin, Ben, Mikhail, and several others are the spitting image of the flesh and blood actors who portray them. But when the models are bad, well…they are REALLY bad.

In all, this is a beautiful game that could have used a bit more refinement with the character models. Fans of exploring the island won’t be disappointed by the level of detail ranging from a dead ortting polar bear carcass to Hurley’s VW bus.

Graphics Rating: Good

3. Sound

The sound aspect of this game has been a great deal of controversy for Ubisoft. A lot of people have been erroneously reporting that the game doesn’t feature any of the real actors from the cast and instead has only crappy sound-alikes. This is actually a half truth. A LOT of the actors from the television series do indeed voice their own characters.

Claire, Jin, Sun, Desmond, Mr. Friendly, Mittlewerk, Ben, Juliet, Mikhail, Michael, and Danny are all voiced by their real life actors.

Jack, Sayid, Kate and Hurley have voice sound alikes that do a passable job. Sayid, Jack, and Kate at times sound exactly like the real actors.

Sawyer, Locke, and Charlie are played by god awful actors who sound nothing like the real actors that portray these characters on the show.

Shannon. Boone, the Taillies and Rose do not appear in the game at all.

Overall, the voice acting is decent, with the real actors delivering the same awesome performance they do in the show. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to hear Mikhail and Desmond voiced properly. Same with Mr. Friendly. I’m a huge M.C. Gainey fan.

Musically, the game is amazing. All the excellent music from the show is in the game, along with a few new tracks that can rightfully take their place amongst the core pieces as quality.

Sound effects are excellent as well. Via Domus has truly taught me to fear the noises made by the Smoke Monsters.

If it wasn’t for the the sound alikes, this game could have gotten a perfect score here with no problem. Instead, three bad apples bring it down. LOST fans will be happy for the most part with the the fact that over half the cast in the game are the real thing, but they will be equally off put by the Foghorn Leghorn version of Sawyer and the just totally wrong voice they have to John Locke.

Sound Rating: Good

4. Control and Gameplay

This sadly is where the entire game falls apart. Ubisoft tried to bring a lot of new things to the Adventure genre. In theory, every idea they came up with was an awesome one. In reality, I can’t believe this game got past playtesting because there are so many issues with the controls, the only way people are going to get through this game is from sheer love of the franchise. To put it simply, playing LOST sucks.

Let’s start with the amount of glitches and bugs in the game. My very first experience with something being wrong with the game is that in the first chapter, you are supposed to follow Vincent through this maze to the crash site. Well, at first…there was no Vincent. The game just was completely missing him, and so I couldn’t move on. I had to restart the game from the last checkpoint. This time the dog was there, but he didn’t move. He just sat there. This happened on the third attempt as well. FRUSTRATING! Finally,.on the fourth reboot, the dog’s AI kicked in and it took off. Then halfway through following him, it disappeared. Right in front of me in a straight away. Oh holy hell. After several tries, I finally made it through. This would be the first of many many issues I would have with this game.

The game completely locked up my PS3 the first time I encountered Desmond. The entire game seized up and I had to reset. Thankfully this only happened once.

Also, if you die, you’ll have to replay the same cut scene after cut scene over and over until you pass to the next checkpoint. You can not skip these like in other games, leaving some stages long and annoying.

In chapter 6, you’ll have to shoot your arch nemesis immediately upon opening the door. Unless you are standing in an exact spot, the person on the other side of the door will shoot you the second you touch it, killing you instantly. If you stand in the exact spot however, he talks before shooting, giving you time to kill him first. Again, this is even worse playing through it then it is describing it. Little glitches like this will no doubt leave a majority of people trying this game to give up instead of completing.

The worst aspect of the game comes in the “Run or die” stages. Here you will have to navigate a maze by going from one marker to the next. While doing so, either Others will be shooting at you, or you’ll have to avoid and hide from the Smoke Monster. The getting shot at stages are fine, but the Smoke Monster ones? Oh my will these induce profanity from even the most experienced gamer.

You see, the Smoke Monster will kill you instantly, and it will hurt. Thankfully you can duck into some banyan trees to escape the Monster’s wraith. However. You enter the trees just by getting near them, and when you leave the trees, your orientation will be completely off. It takes a few horrible deaths and restarts to realize the game is spitting you out at a totally different angle from which you entered at, and only through rote memorization of the course and of the Smoke Monster’s movement patterns will you get through. Even worse is when you have to do an entire course backwards while carrying dynamite from the black rock. If you try to run, you will do an Arzt. EVEN WORSE (notice how I keep saying this) you will sometimes just randomly explode. It’s funny the first time or two, but it gets old FAST.

On the plus side of the game there are many different mini games that make up the LOST experience. You’ll be solving electrical wiring puzzles, navigating mazes with the help of a dog, navigating marker based mazes while things are trying to kill you, navigate mazes that require a handheld lighting source, and running for your life missions straight out of Beyond Good Or Eveil (the only good part of that awful awful game.Of course, all the variety and innovation put into the game doesn’t mean a thing with unresponsive controls, glitchy graphics, retarded Ai and all the other issues LOST is plagued with. I’m actually shocked the game got by play testing and/or quality control. If they had just fixed these issues, the game would have been a lot of fun to play and received stronger reviews. Instead this game will be finished by those able to overlook the serious issues that plague the gameplay from beginning to end. Thankfully most of these problems can be bypassed with patience, loading the game back to the next checkpoint and a lot of memorization.

Control and Gameplay Rating:Bad

5. Replayability

Although people will complain the game is short, it’s about the right length for an adventure game. Even better is that after you’ve completed each individual episode, you can play it as a stand alone whenever you want. You may be asking why you would do such a thing. The answer is simple. In each episode there are bonus memories to unlock as well as certain things you can take pictures of. Each picture you take of these specific items, be it Kate’s toy plane or Radinzky’s blast map, you’ll unlock something in the Extra’s setting. Sadly, all the extras are merely production art. It would have been amazing if they had put clips of the show or perhaps the entire first episode on to the disc. After all, it IS Blu-Ray and could have easily held it. Still, this allows you to go back and explore specific parts of the game over and over again. Maybe you have some LOST junkie friends that want to see the entirety of the Hatch or who want to watch Sayid beat the crap out of your character. This way you can do it without having to put them through the potential “oops” of the game.

It’s too bad. Again, if the gameplay had been refined, it would also have brought up the replay value as the story is so good here for LOST fans, it could have been as fun to watch as it would be to play. Instead, the game serves as a nice but very expensive throwaway to hardcore LOST’ies. There are a lot of unlockables though, which is nice. I just wish they had been the unlockables OOST fans would actually have gotten excited for.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

6. Balance

I know I’ve really beaten into the ground the fact that the game has serious play control issues, but again, most of those can be overcome by going back to the last checkpoint and hoping the glitches like the reviving Sniper outside your first visit to the Black Rock doesn’t happen again.

A lot of the puzzles are well designed and fun. I loved the racing for your life/to the boat games and the plug puzzles were old school Adventure game goodness. Even the spelunking were interesting and well done. The game is never crazy hard to the point of frustration. Indeed, Ubisoft designed all the puzzles and missions so that they could be beaten by the most casual of gamer, as long as said gamer had patience and was willing to engage in thinking puzzles rather than shoot-outs.

What brings the balance down is the gameplay. Lagging controls and the weird camera issues or the turning you around without warning of the Smoke Monster missions make the game more difficult than it was meant to be. Thankfully the game still isn’t that difficult. Like I said earlier, memorization is your friend with this game.

The missions are fun, even with the issues the game has, and there’s a nice amount of variety. Nothing is so crazy hard that you’ll die more than a half dozen times trying to pass it. Just watch out for the missions that have a cut scene immediately before them. If you die there, you’re in for a loooong recap.

Balance Rating: Above Average

7. Originality

If not for the gameplay issues, LOST would have a strong chance at being the Adventure game of the year. Instead of being your usual “Point N’ Click” fare LOST takes the genre to new levels. From nifty new puzzles to missions you have to do that don’t involve putting items together or touching everything on the screen with a pointer, Ubisoft really thought outside the box here while still holding true to all the LOST trappings fans of the TV show love.

I would love for there to be a second game, albeit with the full REAL cast and the bugs worked out. This is one of the best paradigm changes the genre has seen since Missing.

Originality Rating: Good

8. Addictiveness

I beat LOST in three sittings. Day One, i played the first missions and then had to stop because I went to watch the real thing. Day Two I finished episodes 2-4 and Day Three I finished 5-7. I could have easily kept going because I was having so much fun with the game, but the horrible gameplay would cause me to need to take breaks out of annoyance and frustration. It wasn’t a very long game, but at certain points, it damn sure felt like it was.

That being said, I was really drawn into this game, although that was mostly because I am an admitted LOST junkie. I loved exploring the island, seeing all the neat shout outs to the hardcore fans, encountering the characters, figuring out the timeline of the game compared to the show. I have a feeling all LOST fans will be equally drawn into the island exploration. Everyone else might find the game entertaining, but if you’re not a fan of the show, you won’t get nearly as much out of the game as those that are.

Addictiveness Rating: Above Average

9. Appeal Factor

This is the epitome of a niche game.Lost fans won’t bother to pick it up. A lot of LOST fans will probably be put off by the price tag. Those that do pick it up will have varying degrees of enjoyment, based off of gameplay preferences and their ability to put aside control issues for the sake of a good story.

In all, mediocre appeal at best, but it is the nature of most listened games.

Appeal Factor Rating: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous

Gameplay issues aside, Ubisoft really went out of their way to make a game that looks and feels and most of all RESPECTS the LOST universe. There is such an attention to detail over the wackiest of details. I mean, even Ezra James Sharkington makes an appearance for crying out loud! How can you beat that?

Sadly the little thing do add up here. The gameplay is bad, but at least the game is still playable. There are some pretty disappointing voice castings and some weird glitches as well. I was also disappointed by the extras. For $60, which is more than the Blu-Ray Season 3 set of LOST DVD’s, we should have been given a ton of quality extras instead of throwaways.

In the end the game is decent, the game is fun, and the game will easily appeal to OOST fans, but it’s still not worth a $60 purchase, especially when other high quality adventure games start at a MSRP of $29.99 as a genre standard.

There’s a lot that needs to be fixed, but there is a lot that was really good as well. With so refinement, the sequel is sure to be amazing. IF they get to make a sequel that is.

Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre

The Scores
Story: Great
Graphics: Good
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Bad
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
FINAL RATING: Above Average

Short Attention Span Summary

It’s the year of niche specific adventure games. Harvey Birdman , And Then There Were None, and now LOST. For fans of the show this is at the very least, a must-rent. For people who don’t watch, there is absolutely no reason to even touch this game.

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