(Remastered on 1/14/2019 – Originally published 3/13/2008)
LOST: Via Domus is a game based on the hit ABC TV series LOST. The first thing I will say is that if you’ve never watched LOST, you can take this opportunity to think about what you’ll do with the money you’ll save by not buying or even renting this game. You can also think about what to do for the 3-7 hours you’ll gain by not playing this game, or the 5 minutes you may have spent reading this. Seriously, move on—this game isn’t for you.
In Via Domus, you take control of a new character, a man suffering amnesia and premature graying who was on Oceanic 815 with the rest of the survivors. Right from the start, we have the most canned plot-line in the history of storytelling: “Man wakes up on beach with amnesia.” Luckily, the plot improves as you learn more, but the first twenty minutes or so will most likely turn off anyone who isn’t determined.
The lack of genuine voice actors for many of the key TV show characters makes for some unfortunately hilarious lines. Michael exclaiming, “WALT!” while staring lifelessly into the distance with creepy bug eyes is both unnerving and tear-enducing-ly funny. Fortunately, the characters who are most pivotal to this story either have competent stand-ins or are voiced by the real deal. That is, all but John Locke, who sounds like the Native American chief from your favorite western trying to sell used cars.
Even if you are a diehard LOST fan who engraves cryptic messages in your pencils and backs out of the driveway at a bearing of 325, you’re probably going to have issues with some of the liberties this game takes. It never explicitly contradicts the source material, but when the writers of the show tell us it’s not canonical, the whole experience comes off as a multi-million dollar piece of fan fiction. It’s really too bad, because I have to say I liked most of the story, including the well-timed ending that coincided with the episode which aired the same week.
A good story with some entertaining twists is great, but ultimately this is a game. That’s where things go terribly, terribly wrong. Besides a few completely nonsensical fuse-box puzzles reminiscent of the hacking puzzles in last year’s Bioshock, LOST’s gameplay relies on frustrating trial and error. Apparently, the developers felt it would be clever to include several timed 15-20 second sequences where if you don’t take a picture at just the right time it would loop endlessly until you got it. From what bargain bin did this professional photojournalist get a camera that can’t even auto-focus? The fun continues when you feel around in the dark for bottomless pits or get jumped during randomly-timed smoke monster insta-kills.
It gets better, though, as I simply must share one of the most absurd logic puzzles of all time. It’s not quite as bad as catching cat hairs to make a moustache, but it’s a good reminder of why the adventure game genre almost died.
I shall change the characters and circumstances to avoid spoiling anything…
At one point, two ninjas kidnap the president and his daughter and take them aboard a pirate ship. As the bad dude, I had to stop them with the pistol I’d fired about three times in the entire game. My first idea was to shoot the ninja immediately in front of me, as any bad dude should always go for the quickest and bloodiest resolution. Unfortunately, the other ninja killed the president’s daughter when I did this. In my second attempt, I shot the other ninja, surprised to find that it resulted in the president getting shot by the first ninja. On my third try, I noted a stick of dynamite on a box and immediately shot it, which stopped the two ninjas but also blew up the daughter. Going against everything in my bad dude toolkit, I tried leaving and was immediately stricken with a deadly case of guilt. At last, I concluded that a bad dude would simply absorb the dynamite explosion in his manly chest hairs, knocking out the ninjas but blocking the president’s daughter from harm.
No one would ever, ever think to do that on the first try, and it’s this constantly absurd puzzle design that is ultimately Via Domus’s downfall. Well, that and the fact that you spend most of a scant five hours running around barren yet beautifully designed set pieces, begging the game to give you something to do. The story is nice, but the actual game, the whole point of programming all of this rather than just airing it as an episode, is horridly flawed. It’s a bargain bin purchase for any LOST fan who was excited about it, and that’s as far as I can recommend it. It seems one thing will never change, and if I ever get Desmond’s time travel sickness, crappy licensed TV show games will be my constant.