Lost: Via Domus Review (Xbox 360, PS3)

Faithful followers of ABC’s Lost have had to wait over three seasons for Ubisoft to release the first official video game adaptation of the hit mysterious drama. As Lost: Season Four’s climatic eighth episode’s inevitable jaw-dropping cliffhanger approaches, the arrival of Ubisoft’s Lost: Via Domus brings with it the promise of a new chapter in the Lost saga, seamlessly intertwined with the show’s cannon, characters and locations. Gamers unfamiliar with the show need not apply; Via Domus is strictly for the hardcore Lost fanatic craving an extra “fix” to supplement time spent waiting for the next new episode.

Via Domus gets off to an auspicious start on Playstation 3 (not Xbox 360) with a required seven-minute download firing up before the opening act. A drink refill and bathroom break later, the world of Lost comes to life with an opening plane crash sequence worthy of the show’s production values. Ubisoft has even built in the familiar rotating Lost title cards, the score from the show, and even a “previously seen on Lost” segment between each “episode” of the game, almost making up for the atrocious PS3 download.

After awakening in the jungle ala Jack, player’s take control of a new character whose memory is “lost” in the crash. Suspiciously or lazily, none of the other secondary 40-some crash members are ever seen other than a couple of corpses on the beach. Via Domus isn’t concerned with those crash victims” fates. It’s all about discovering who this character is through clues left on the island, and flashbacks requiring a “zoom and focus” camera mini-game exercise to unscramble pictures leading towards more clues.

Unlike the show which never feels rushed, Via Domus crams all its content into a relatively slim total gameplay time of approximately five hours, depending on how much time is wasted looking around for items to pick up. Half of the time is spent tediously navigating confusing jungle paths and caves using rudimentary markers, all while being chased by the deadly snake-like smoke monster who isn’t forgiving of the herky-jerky third-person perspective controls. Emerging from the brush will uncover a number of season one and two locations such as the hatch, beach crash site and Black Rock, and even some never before seen. It’s a shame the journey to them, while visually stunning, is an exercise in video game navigation teetering on the genre’s worst.

The other half of Via Domus is spent talking and trading items with the familiar key crash victims of the show, and solving repetitive elementary and overly advanced puzzles. None of the original cast members lent their voices to the script, most obvious with Jack and Locke who look like their respective ABC personas, but sound like a distant relative. When the characters do talk via an RPG-inspired line selection menu, the language is nothing more than stale one-liners that grow old after the first 5 minutes of gameplay. If progressing through the story didn’t require interacting with Jack, Sawyer, Kate and the rest of the castaways for information and items, running past them would be the first and only option.

Puzzles required to solve Lost are the real puzzler due to their lack of creativity and consistency. One such puzzle to rebuild an electrical circuit with rotating fuses is not only lame and drawn from other games like Metroid, but keeps popping up over and over throughout the story. The “smart” design of the Lost show’s twists and turns were completely “lost” in translation to the game.

Part survival horror and part RPG, Lost: Via Domus comes up short in delivering a compelling gaming experience with a short play time, unrefined controls, and lack of creativity. This is all very puzzling given the outstanding presentation, visual and musical design. Ubisoft clearly had high hopes for recreating the Lost universe and show’s atmosphere which they’ve pulled off with flying colors and, unfortunately, at the expense of developing a game worth solving.

– Dan Bradley

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