Written by: Rik

Date posted: May 3, 2021

Picking through the wreckage on the beach.

Before streaming services, keeping up with so-called ‘must see’ TV was a little bit harder. I managed to watch most of the first series of Lost after it appeared on terrestrial television, amid a blaze of publicity, but then kept missing episodes of the second, which was not really an option if you wanted to keep up with the various plot machinations. Eventually Sky bought the rights to show the series in the UK, which meant that it was a case of getting a subscription or waiting for the DVD. At that point, the initial hype had died down somewhat, and I only caught occasional whispers that the show had strayed into slightly silly territory, before reading about reaction to the controversial finale, and wondering whether I would have stuck it out to the end, given the chance.

But it’s not just in the world of gaming that your correspondent belatedly catches up with things that used to be wildly popular, and embarking upon a solo viewing of the full series from the start proved to be an enjoyable distraction from the grim winter lockdown of 2020/21. It possibly helped to know in advance that some people were disappointed with some of the decisions that the series took, and the finale; and that as things progressed, I was more interested in the characters’ stories than all of the questions about the island’s mythology that other viewers were seemingly obsessed with getting answers to.

Anyway, with a taste for 00s TV tie-ins already established, my attention soon turned to 2008’s Lost: Via Domus (actually just known as Lost: The Video Game in the UK, for some reason). Put into development at the height of the show’s popularity and released after the end of the third series, which arguably contains some of its best and worst moments, when the showrunners were tired of stringing things out and spending time exploring less-than-fascinating storyline cul-de-sacs, such as how main character Jack got his tattoos. At some point, that led to a decision to wind things up, and by common consensus the series picked up again from there, even if some might argue that the journey to the end was still rather long and convoluted.

Lost was a show in which every detail and piece of continuity was analysed forensically by hardcore fans, and so the prospect of knocking out a spin-off game that would both complement the series and make it a worthwhile venture for them, while also not containing anything too significant in terms of the main timeline for those uninterested in playing the game, was a tricky one. Via Domus is, unsurprisingly, pitched at those who are at least moderately familiar with the show, and arguably makes very little sense to those that haven’t, without it necessarily being a prerequisite.

Expect plenty of trademark cod-philosophy from Locke.

You play an initially unnamed, and hitherto unseen, passenger of the ill-fated Flight 815 from Sydney to Los Angeles. Following the format of the show, you’ll guide him through challenges posed by the island itself, as well as through events from his recent past. Handily, our chap seems to have lost his memory, and no-one else on the plane seems to know him either, which provides a device for him to go searching for clues as to his identity and background. Along the way, you’ll have the chance to explore key parts of the show’s world and meet the other passengers, as well as participating in some of the set-pieces, including the memorable aftermath of the crash from the series’ pilot episode.

This is arguably the key selling point: you get to be in the show as a passenger, and have other characters want to know more about you, while also needing to find that out for yourself. As you find clues to help jog your memory, you go whooshing back (with the familiar sound effect from the show) to pre-crash days, and a mini-game in which your character has to recreate a partially-obscured photograph from his mind by being presented with the scene ‘live’ and framing, focusing, and taking the shot at the appropriate moment. This then allows you to explore that scene in character and uncover a bit more information about your past.

Finding clues on the island does mean talking to other characters and navigating the various challenges it poses, as seen in the show. The former is less illuminating than you might hope, in most cases, with many islanders having little at all to do with your story and seemingly just plonked there for the sake of appearances. Some are present to simply spout a couple of lines about themselves or another character that anyone who’s watched the show would know anyway and just sound weird when shoehorned into conversation. They’re more like talking action dolls with a few set phrases than participants in the storyline.

What’s more, while your character does talk himself, he doesn’t speak during conversation interactions, and instead you just click on text and listen to the answers, in the manner of the invisible protagonist of the Ubisoft CSI games. Most of the familiar faces do at least look the part, even if they don’t sound it: most voice acting is done by stand-ins, with mixed results. Most are OK, and some, including Jack, are even quite good. But others are fairly appalling: Sawyer’s southern accent makes him sound a little backwards, while Charlie sounds like an English person doing an impression of an American doing a bad English accent. Real actors do crop up, but have relatively minor roles in the game, which seems a bit weird.

The maze-y bits in the dark can be disconcerting.

The island exploration bits are the most annoying, but arguably necessary to drag out the otherwise fairly meagre playing time. They include navigation through jungle sections while hiding from the smoke monster, which is a stealth section and nightmare for the directionally-challenged rolled into one, and exploring some dark caves while managing a diminishing supply of light.

Sources of light come in numerous forms and are acquired through a trading mechanism with certain other characters. If you pick up items you see lying around, most commonly – at the beginning anyway – items of fruit and bottles of water, they can be traded for torches, lanterns and fuel. Later on, there are higher value items, which can be exchanged for guns (although aside from a couple of instances, there is very little in the way of combat here) and fuses, which are needed for one of the other mini-games based upon completing a circuit to restore electricity to a door or other mechanism. These bits are, again, fairly annoying, but you can kind of see why they’re there.

To be fair, there are also genuine moments of tension in some of the more action-type sections: the dark is scary, the jungle is confusing, and you certainly don’t want to get dumped back at the start of a checkpoint having failed to successfully dodge smokey. Particularly if that checkpoint comes at the wrong side of a lengthy and unskippable cut-scene (the story is technically divided into seven TV-style episodes, so you have a ‘Previously on Lost…’ style recap at the start of each new one). Generally, it’s otherwise a plod from one area to another, with it being fairly obvious what needs to be done next, although the log book that is supposedly there to guide you is occasionally a little misleading and seemingly at odds with what you (correctly) assumed was required based on your last interaction with another character.

Part of the problem here is that Lost doesn’t necessarily lend itself all that well to the world of gaming, in terms of stuff for your character to do. While you might curse having to hide in some banyan trees, work out the correct voltages for an electrical circuit, or jump over logs and slide under tree trunks for what seems like the hundredth time, it’s difficult to know what else could have been included that would have been better.

In some ways, they’ve done the best they can here: it all still looks reasonably nice, and exploring the beach, and the island (as well as the mysterious hatch) does take you into the world of the show. And although many of the cast are peripheral to the story, what would at the time have been considered the main characters – Jack, Kate, and Locke – are all fairly central, and you have plenty of contact with them throughout.

Focus up to unlock part of a not very interesting backstory.

But although that story does fit the template of Lost characters revealing who they really are, or were, through a series of flashbacks, your tale isn’t particularly interesting in and of itself, nor does it (understandably) have any wider meaning in the continuity. Who he was, and what he did, doesn’t really feel like it means anything much at all. Plus, the only moments in which interactions with major characters feel significant also see them at their most annoying: Jack being a shouty control freak, for example, or Kate whining, albeit with some justification, about not being included. At one point, even your character tells her to butt out and mind her own business, and it must be some kind of low point for Kate to get bollocked by someone who isn’t even part of the show, and who couldn’t look more like a generic computer game man from 2008 if he tried.

Speaking of which, the ending is one that could only really have worked in 2008, which is, after all, when you were meant to have played this game. It certainly doesn’t make much sense in the context of what happens later in the series. And a climactic action sequence towards the very end arguably veers into the world of farce, one of a handful of moments when the feeling of immersion is disturbed (others include the rather baffling selection of out-of-context quotes from the show that rotate during loading screens).

Still, if you get into the series and belatedly develop an interest in the whole Lost phenomenon, it’s worth a look. It’s perhaps more theme park event ride than game, but it won’t detain you for too long (especially not in comparison to 121 episodes of television) and certainly works as a snapshot of the show halfway through its run, and an opportunity to tinker about on the island itself.