Fans of ABC’s popular Lost series (which includes myself for anyone worried that this game was being reviewed by someone who hated the show) are used to being confused. The show has survived into its fourth season by posing more questions to its audience than answers, leaving speculation high and understanding at a minimum. The idea behind Via Domus is to give fans a chance to experience yet another side of the story through the eyes of a brand new character, Elliot. This new survivor of Oceanic Flight 815 suffers from amnesia, the perfect groundwork for an adventure game, and you will spend the majority of your time on the island uncovering new questions and of course trying to figure out just who you are.
The setup for Via Domus is easily the most exciting for fans of the show. Each level represents an episode of the show featuring your character. It even ends with a “WTF” cliffhanger type of moment as well as offering the conventional “Previously on Lost” before each new chapter. This method really gives the player the sense they are interacting with an episode of the show. Unfortunately this game feels more like fan service and the structuring of the levels and an abundance of confusion are the only things that keep this one from being a travesty in most areas.
At its core Via Domus is an adventure game with a hint of puzzle and action thrown in for good measure. You will spend a majority of your time navigating different areas such as the beach and the caves all while interacting with familiar faces from the show. While Ubisoft was able to corral a few of the actors from the TV show, the majority of people you speak with will likely toss out any sense of immersion. Some of these voice overs are downright terrible. The two that come to mind are Sawyer and Locke, both of which are so poorly impersonated that I eventually stopped wanting to talk to them simply because it was ruining my interactive experience with the game.
For most of the game you will be adventuring, which is suitable for a game based on the Lost franchise. This is where the game can easily fall apart for those not interested in the show. Early on you will figure out that illumination is the key. Navigating through the pitch black cave areas is impossible without light, and when I say impossible I don’t mean you can simply turn up the brightness on your TV and make your way through, I mean literally impossible. You see the designers thought it would be a good idea to force you to keep a light going all the time. If you do run out of torches (I suggest grabbing the lantern early on to avoid this) then your heart begins racing and the black smoke consumes you-game over. This can be frustrating for some, but to be honest it harkens back to the glory days of simple adventure games so I didn’t mind it for the most part.
Navigating through the jungle however is a much larger mess of problems. This section acts as a sort of “stop-and-cover” mechanic. As you make your way through the dense foliage you will come across markers that will point you in the right direction, how they know exactly where to go is beyond me, but I digress. The catch is that whenever you are making your way through the infamous black smoke is always lurking around, wanting to find and disfigure you.
This is actually a cool idea if you are a fan of the show; think about it, how many times did you stop and ask yourself: “Why are the survivors only scared to walk through the jungle at certain times?” What is troublesome about this though, is the fact that in order to avoid the smoke you have to hide in a batch of trees, which in turn disorients your view and further confuses you as to which direction you were going. Of course if there is a theme to the Lost game it is confusion and in this manner it works perfectly.
Navigating through caves and trees is not the only thing you will be doing though. Via Domus also has a few other tricks up its sleeve such as the dialogue and trading systems. Surprisingly the dialogue tree is one of the first things that stood out to me as remarkable. Each type of question you can ask is separated into different tabs that are easy to navigate and after you ask each question it is moved to the bottom in an attempt to keep the impatient player from tapping the same question twice in a row. The trading system is also functional if not a little on the useless side. Collecting coconuts and water bottles to trade for torches is not exactly ocean deep, but at least it gives you a reason to pick these items up while you are out exploring the jungle.
There are also some puzzle elements in the game, or let me correct myself one puzzle element to the game. Every so often you will come across a fuse box that needs to be rewired and guess what? You can trade for these fuses using your coconuts. Sounds exciting doesn’t it? Well, with all sarcasm aside these diversions do add something to the game albeit not enough to warrant calling them a feature. As for action don’t expect to see much gunplay here. While the game was built on the same engine that powered the mighty Ghost Recon series, gunplay is all but non-existent. You will literally hold and fire your weapon a handful of times. The only other heart-pounding (and I use that term loosely) moments come in the form of a couple of chase sequences that have you dodging obstacles on a constantly moving path. We know the drill and it hasn’t been exciting or interesting since it was first done, at least there isn’t an escort mission.
The real draw to Via Domus is the sheer amount of fan service poured into this disc. From the subtle nuances to the show to the proverbial flashback in each episode the game does a lot to appease its fanbase. Unfortunately that won’t be enough to warrant a sixty dollar price tag for a game that can be completed in roughly 5-6 hours. This is further hampered by the fact that there is absolutely no reason to go back unless you missed a few of the Achievements in the Xbox 360 version. At the end of the day Lost: Via Domus is a solid rental for hardcore fans of the show. Anyone who has never seen it or could care less about the happenings of Jack, Kate, Sawyer and company can pass this one up. Perhaps one day licensed games will be great enough to draw players into the world instead of merely entertaining hardcores of the license. Perhaps in another life brutha.