Everyone thought I was crazy for wanting to play Lost: Via Domus. My friends balked at the notion, my co-workers snickered. Even the clerk at Blockbuster, certainly a man of exquisite gaming taste with his unkempt goatee and vaguely hung over stare, wondered out loud if the game would be worth the outrageous rental price I was about to pay. I just smiled and placed a twenty on the counter, confident that I knew what I was buying into.
Yes, I thought, this game is going to suck. But I'm going to play it anyway.
Lost: Via Domus does indeed suck. With its creepy wax mannequin models, bland voiceover work, excruciating gameplay design and complete disregard for anything that made the source material appealing, the game practically has a black hole in its dark center, eager to pull you into its event horizon of frustration, ineptitude and cheap gimmicks. I'm hard pressed to find a license tie-in that is as terrible as this. And yet, I'm still playing. And I'm going to finish it.
Via Domus places you into the hit television show as a previously unseen castaway with a convenient case of amnesia. Your goal is to figure out who you are and what your role on the island is meant to be, a task you accomplish by solving lame puzzles, stumbling blindly through pitch-black caves, bartering with fruit and having insightful conversations with the show's cast of characters -- rendered as frightening, lifeless husks and voice acted to match mostly by stand-ins.
Yes, this is what you'll be looking at most of the time.
Just like the show, the game's seven levels are split into episodes. Each episode will give you a task to complete by talking to the other, more famous castaways and eventually wandering off into the jungle. In one level, your character is supposed to venture out into the jungle -- always a great idea on the show -- to look for his lost camera. Jack, the show's protagonist and de facto leader of the castaways, refuses to let you use the _one_ path that leads off the beach. The quest tracker tells you to find a distraction. The solution? Tell Jack that Claire, the pregnant survivor, has fainted. That tremendous hurdle cleared, it's time to wander the jungle for twenty minutes, following conveniently placed landmarks that are supposed to lead you to a cave.
Via Domus is in love with making you navigate caves. Nothing is as rewarding as fumbling your way through a maze by dim torchlight, right? Each torch only lasts a set amount of time, shortened if you run into a flock of bats or one of each cave's inexplicable waterfalls. When you're out of torches it's down to just a lighter that lasts a few seconds before burning you and going out. Hug the walls enough to stumble toward the outside and you'll be greeted with yet more jungle to wander through, maybe this time being slowly chased by the show's Black Smoke Monster. Lost never creates any tension in moments like these, just boring obstacles to overcome.
Just like in the show, your character will have a flashback for each level. These flashbacks are meant to slowly unravel your backstory by showing you a half-remembered snippet of action and having you take a picture at just the right moment. This "photojournalism" game mechanic has been all the rage since Dead Rising, but here it's purely a gimmicky storytelling device. If you don't get the right picture, the scene just starts over. Your reward for finally snapping the perfect photo is a poorly acted scene that gives you the smallest bit of information about what's happened to your character. Again, just like the show. There are even "Previously on Lost" cutscenes at the beginning of each level, summing up what you just finished doing mere moments ago. After sitting through a couple of those I wanted to toss the disc across the room. I should have. But even after this game fails me over and over, I'm still playing.
As a television show, Lost broke new ground by tweaking old formulas. The overall mystery of the island taps into the same vein that had me addicted to The X-Files back in the 90's, while the character interaction and drama it provides scratches the itch Buffy and Angel no longer reach. And don't forget the appeal of a desert island setting, an aesthetic that made Gilligan's Island such a television juggernaut. I watch Lost because I desperately want to unravel the secrets of the island. And the castaways are hot.
That same desire to figure out what the hell is going on is sadly what will make me finish Lost: Via Domus. It's not a hard game by any means, just a boring, poorly made one. The game is short, probably ten hours at most, so I don't have much farther to go, and I'm convinced that if I make it to the end, I'll have some insight on the complexities of the show, a better understanding of the island's secrets. I'll probably just end up with 1000 gamerpoints and the feeling that I'm being jerked around, but that's at least 1000 gamerpoints more than I got out of Season 2.
My point is, I'm the kind of fan who reads the tie-in novels, scourers the fake websites and searches for every tiny bit of information on the product I'm being sold. That's the market for Lost: Via Domus -- the sucker. If you're not one of us, you're better off staying far, far away from this game. There's nothing here for you if you're not already one of the converted.