Watching the tense faces of actors carefully carrying dynamite made for several minutes of very exciting television in season one of “Lost.” Watching the back of an animated character carrying dynamite as you make him walk through the jungle in slow motion? Not so much. That’s the fundamental problem of “Lost: Via Domus,” Ubisoft’s new adaptation of the ABC series that hews so closely to its source material it never gives players anything remotely interesting to do. The only people bored enough to play through this tedious and poorly conceived videogame would have to be stranded on a remote island.
Serialized television has never translated well to videogames, but Ubisoft’s Montreal development studio went to great pains to make “Lost: Via Domus” resemble its source material. Not only does the game look and sound just like the show, it’s even divided into seven “episodes,” each of which starts with a “previously on” summary. The playable character, Elliott, is a new survivor of Oceanic 815 who, like everyone else on the island, has a dark past that’s slowly revealed through flashbacks.
Immersing players in the world of “Lost” is one thing, but finding something compelling for them to do is a different matter. The series has a lot more talking than action, and the developers don’t mess with that formula, which leaves not-so-exciting challenges like walking through a cave without letting a torch burn out, hiding behind trees from the black smoke, and following signs in a jungle. In several different instances players have to fix a circuit board by playing a minigame that’s almost directly ripped off from “Bioshock,” right down to the sound effects.
“Lost’s” trademark flashbacks are as integral to the game as they are to the show, but the developers’ weak attempt to turn them interactive is an exercise in frustration. Players have to make Elliott, who’s a photojournalist, take a precise picture of something happening in the flashback in order to trigger the full memory. But the game demands that the shot be famed and focused in just the right way, which can lead to dozens of maddening attempts before, seemingly arbitrarily, the memory progresses.
There are only a handful of stabs at amping up the snail-like pace of “Lost: Via Domus,” which include a pair of running sequences and a gun that needs to be fired only five times in the entire game.
Not every videogame need be a nonstop adrenaline rush, of course. However, most that aren’t replace action with multiple story paths and mental challenges. The plot of “Lost: Via Domus” – which sheds new light on the Hanso foundation and the Others and ends with a surprising twist – is just as intricate as an average episode, but it’s short and completely linear. There are lots of visual and dialogue clues to pick up on, though, since Elliott’s journal explicitly reminds players of everything important, and there’s no real incentive to pay attention. The biggest intellectual tasks are a few SAT-like logic questions and a single puzzle tied to the name of the game.
That solution, like most of the information in the game, comes from conversations with Locke, Jack and the show’s other main characters, only some of whom sound remotely like themselves. While they’re all rendered realistically, the animation is so static that they never display a hint of emotion while talking. They look just as uninterested in the game as players will be.