the resigned gamer, everything I hate about the thing I love the most

Lost: Via Nuthin

Posted by Doomeru Woebashi at 10:23 PM on Sunday, May 11, 2008

doomeru woebashi's soggy cardboard-covered exhaust grate, the resigned gamer
I'm a fan of Lost, but not at the level of those who think the show and its mysteries were handed down to us by God Almighty. The Lord handed down those mysteries through Battlestar Galactica. Lost, for all its merits, is inscrutably tied to ABC, and thus Disney, and I think this relationship inhibits the show and the directions it can take. Lost doesn't take the huge risks with characters and assets that BSG does, and when it comes to plotholes they've left more dead in their wake than the Cylons killed on the Twelve Colonies.

You could see the game version of Lost as a risky move for the show, and I'll be the first to admit that, faults and all, it's still a far better conversion than Sierra's insultingly bad BSG game. If you want an awesome BSG experience go check out the Freespace 2 total conversion and buy a fucking joystick to play it with, you frakking toaster.

Anyway, Lost game. Right. Lets get to that.

If this torch goes out, you will literally die of dark fright. Seriously. This would never happen on BSG.

You're slotted into the Lost universe via a never-before-noticed standing-around-on-the-beach not-doing-anything-useful until-spoken-to-by-a-plot-relevant-character character, Elliot Maslow. You have amnesia from the crash, natch, but you've also got a camera, which I think as a tool for interaction pretty well sums up the entire Lost: Via Domus experience. You do a lot of passive observation, running from place to place and chatting up the main cast, but aside from an occasional puzzle you aren't given a chance to have any impact on the island.

Play is extremely linear and designed to ensure you move from one set piece to the next while only superficially skirting the familiar events of the show. This would be great if the environments offered any sort flexibility or meaning beyond just a polygonal tour of a few places on the island. The hatch, for example, is lovingly-realized but essentially dead. Sure you get to enter in the code sequence and push the button (Why does everyone on the show insist on calling the fucking Enter key a button?) but you can't do anything else. Elliot isn't visibly surprised by the hatch's existence or the prospect of taking a shower for the first time in weeks, but then again he goes through the whole game looking like a total stoner.


A good example of the disconnect between the player and the action can be found in one of the smoke monster sequences. You have to cross through a part of jungle by following a series of conveniently-placed markers. Survival only entails holding down the run button and identifying the correct bush- sorry- Banyan tree, to approach, then hiding in it and watching the monster swirl around you from a first person perspective. To a Lost fan this is damn cool: the monster's a genuine threat that will kill you if you fuck up, the sound effects are spot on and it looks sinister...the first time. After you've run, hidden, and watched the smoke monster nine times, it gets pretty annoying. Oh, and after making it through -and I'll spare you the suspense, you're getting moldy dynamite from the Black Rock- you then have to retrace your steps, but this time at a leisurely pace so as not to blow yourself up. If the smoke monster came after me my first choice would not be to saunter away from it.

Throughout the whole 3-hour tour I couldn't tell if I was experiencing a game or an interactive story book. (Look, we've digitized Lost! Done!) In fact, Via Domus is just a really well-packaged marketing tool. I'm amazed at this aspect, because as vapid as the game is, it obviously wasn't programmed by morons. I never encountered any glitches or puzzle-breaking issues. The animations for Locke's face are near astonishing -his gold miner voice notwithstanding. What else was Terry O'Quinn doing? It isn't like he was off filming the Pegasus episode of TNG or anything. It's almost as if the developers, independent of the marketers and PR flacks, set out to make something great but just didn't get the assets or freedom to do so.

"To be honest, the whole violating the Treaty of Algeron thing still doesn't really bother me."

Consider Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay or Michel Ancel's King Kong. Both are members of the oft-derided licensed game category, and sure, both might have helped incremental sales of their associated media, but Butcher Bay was based on a schlock film and the King Kong movie didn't really need a boost. Both were very good games. I'd say Butcher Bay is one of my all-time favorites, but they were both made with a coherent philosophy and meant to be enjoyed. Not just ogled.