Thursday, 29 May 2008

Lost - Via Domus

Going by my usual timetable, I should have written a large post about the first part of the Lost season four finale by now, filled with the usual screencaps of Michael Emerson's face, but as that episode felt so incomplete (with its bizarre catch-up montage at the end), I thought it best to wait until the whole thing had aired. That said, if the tragic event hinted at in the finale preview clip that aired on Sky earlier today is anything to go by, I'm going to be crying for so long I might not ever get around to it.

Still, I feel I should write something about the show to mark the first airdate of the last episode of this amazing season, and it was by pure chance I got a cheap copy of the Ubisoft game Lost: Via Domus last week. Yesterday I started playing it. Today I finished it. Let's just say it's not much of a challenge, game-wise, and it's lacking in a lot of other respects too. Believe me, I would have liked to write something positive today, but it's not to be. Even with the best will in the world, I can't praise what is an ill thought out experience.

The plot revolves around an amnesiac survivor of the Oceanic 815 crash, and his efforts to discover his identity and his past, details of which are portioned out throughout the island sections of the game and, cleverly, within flashbacks. Those sections are the most unusual in the game, starting when you encounter the ghost of your ex-lover and journalistic rival, Lisa, who is hanging around the island in a Christian Shephard stylee. These moments trigger a bleary memory of a ripped-up photograph. To relive the full flashback cutscene you have to figure out what the pieces of photo represent, and then, while seeing a muted version of the cutscene, take that photo, all the while trying to find the right spot (difficult when you also have to get the camera focused properly). It's a lot of fun (and not as complicated as it sounds), as are the little plot Easter Eggs you find afterwards, that link you to a dastardly Hanso Foundation plot involving sarin gas, as well as Hanso employee Thomas Mittelwerk who, in the Lost Experience ARG, showed little remorse in killing large amounts of people in order to change the values of the Valenzetti Equation and thus save humanity.

Sadly, other than the Hanso links and a couple of bizarre inclusions (which I'll list in a moment), the game itself is very little fun. Sad to say it, but other than Henry Ian Cusick (sounding nothing like himself), Yunjin Kin, Daniel Dae Kim, Andrew Divoff, Emilie De Ravin, and the great Michael Emerson, the majority of the voice cast do terrible impressions of the main characters, leading to much immersion-disruption. The voice of Charlie is particularly inept, futilely trying to capture his accent and mangling it in the process. That's not the worst part of it all, though. Interacting with the characters is probably the meat of the game, the rest of it being a repetitious slog, yomping through barely navigable stretches of jungle, getting picked off by tree-bound Other snipers, or getting hunted by Smokey. Hearing its trademark whir and chitter is fun, but getting past it is tedious. It cannot attack you when you hide in banyan tree clumps, which is fine, but navigating the jungle sections is a question of finding markers and hitting A, which will point you in the direction of the next marker.

That's all well and good, but sometimes the marker is hidden behind trees, and walking in circles trying to find them can lead to you getting caught by Smokey. What's worse, coming out of hiding in a banyan tree cluster means your POV changes direction, and you will sometimes find yourself pointing the wrong way. With barely any recognisable landmarks in the jungle, you will lose your way over and over again, meaning you have to go back to the previous marker and find your way again. If you get caught by Smokey, you go back to the previous save point, which can often be a long way back, or be preceded by an unskippable cutscene. Doing that was where most of my morning went. There is a more dynamic version of this kind of level later on, where you race through the jungle toward the sonic fence, leaping over logs and sliding under trees, which is definitely an improvement, but makes the game look like Crash Bandicoot, except with occasional references to 18th Century philosophers.

Even more exasperating, a couple of levels require picking your way through a pitch-black cave with only a torch (or lantern) to guide you. These can be affected by water or bats, which reduce the amount of time they can remain lit. As you cannot pass through these sections without light, at the start of each section you are given the option of trading objects you have found around the island for spare torches, lanterns, or oil canisters. The trade sections, during which you interact with Locke (or Charlie, or Sawyer, in nickname overload), are not badly done, but they take a while to get through. First time around that's not a problem, but if you fall into one of the many crevasses within the caves, you will go back to the previous save point, and have to trade again. Last night I went through the same trading process about 15 times. By the end of it I was utterly pissed. I didn't buy this game just so I could squint at a pitch black screen, or go through the same menu scenes and badly voiced conversations. Big Fat Ugh.

Those sections tend to artificially pad the game out, which runs for about five measly hours. With repeated deaths and replayed cutscenes, it goes on for much longer. There are some fun moments: the episodic structure of the game, with "Previously on Lost" recaps; finding cool Easter Eggs like the Pearl Station and Roger Linus' van (even though it's standing up and in the wrong place on the island); entering the numbers into the Swan Station computer; finding The Turn Of The Screw; the brilliant opening cutscene showing the front of the plane break off, etc. Most startling, though, are the moments that deviate from the show. Lindelof and Cuse have said that the game is not canon, and I would hope so, as we get too see things surely no Lost fan is meant to see.

::Beware game spoilers::

One of the most notable moments in the game is your character discovering a secret doorway under a waterfall that leads to the source of the magnetic anomaly behind the concrete wall in the Swan Station. There you discover what looks like a broken reactor or generator, covered with debris, and controlled by another computer, which you can temporarily shut off after passing an easy IQ test. Of course, this is before The Incident at the end of season two, so it's fair to say at that point the game deviates pretty drastically from the show, if it hadn't already.

In the final "episode" Ben and Juliet, sitting in a conference room inside the Hydra Station (which you explore to find a large underwater complex) persuade you to get Jack to The Black Rock, so he can be captured, thus invalidating the actual season two finale. At that moment it's obvious the game is playing very fast and loose with continuity, which frustrated me (yes, that good old sense of entitlement that rages across the internet has manifested in my soul, sadly). Of course, your character, now flitting like an enormous Gary Stu through a story that has suddenly morphed into an inconsequential piece of Lost fanfic, saves Jack (and Kate), and then races toward a boat, in a less exciting version of the Crash Bandicoot stage. You then have a chat with Locke, before setting sail on 325 degrees heading that Michael went on, and as you leave the island behind, there is the noise of the Swan Station imploding, followed by the sound of Oceanic 815 cracking up. In the sky you see the plane falling apart, and then you find yourself waking up on the beach to find Lisa, now not a ghost, standing over you and trying to revive you, surrounded by wreckage and carnage, right back at the start of the story.

Can you believe that? I spent the whole game bored, and then in the final twenty seconds it goes bonkers batshit McNuts. It was strange. I had an electric thrill run through me, thinking I had just stumbled across an insane clue as to the nature of the island, that perhaps Desmond's ill-fated cruise away from the island (that had taken the majority of the second season, before turning up again, pissed out of his head and belligerent) had been something like that, but when I calmed down, I realised it was just more fan-fic, with a finale that was nothing more than a speculative take on the central mystery of the island (i.e. why no one can get off the island). Either that, or it was all a dream ZOMG! At least, that's what I think. I guess we'll see tonight.

So is anything good about the game? I will say I was thrilled that the magnificent Michael Giacchino delivers another amazing soundtrack, tinkering with established themes to create something new and melancholy especially for this game. Hearing his work during the many boring sections of the game made it almost seem tolerable. The man is a marvel (and hey, Lost fans, the season three soundtrack is out, and it has a second disc containing the entire Through The Looking Glass score). Other than that, it was underwhelming and kinda pointless, unless you want to explore the island, and even then the geography is all wrong. People bitch about Bad Twin by engine-explosion victim and flight attendant-lover Gary Troup, but it was an entertaining enough mystery, even if its relationship to the Lostiverse was tiny. It was certainly better than this "game". Save your pennies, kids, and buy that soundtrack. Unless tonight a character leaves the island and zips back to the first episode. In which case, buy it tomorrow, because it was canon all along and Cuselof lied to us, those mischievous tykes.

And so, with a few hours to go before our minds are hopefully blown, I leave you with the Orchid Station clip featuring Dr. Edgar Halliwax. If you have any interest in the show you've probably seen it already, but considering tonight we will see the station (and maybe two rabbits who are actually the same rabbit except separated by a few seconds), it's worth revisiting it.

Namasté, bitches! See you on the other side of awesomeness (I hope).

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