Watch a video version of this article above.
In early 2008, Lost was the hottest thing on TV. Three seasons had aired and message boards were ablaze with theories about the numbers, the smoke monster, and the DHARMA Initiative. And fans, myself included, were hungry for any new information—even if it meant playing Lost: Via Domus.
This videogame spin-off was developed by Ubisoft Montreal and released on February 26, 2008, just as season 4 of the show was hitting its stride on TV. For context, this was two days before The Constant aired in the US, one of the series' best episodes. Or maybe even the best episode?
Lost: Via Domus, however, is not a good videogame. It wasn't then, and it isn't now. But having just finished a rewatch of Lost, I couldn't resist revisiting the PC version. And I'll be honest, I quite enjoyed it.
There's a lot to hate about Lost: Via Domus. The same boring Pipe Mania fuse box puzzle is repeated far too often. The sections where you have to avoid the smoke monster are infuriating. Smokey looks and sounds the part—and is sufficiently menacing—but there's seemingly no pattern to its movements, making avoiding it a maddening case of trial and error.
And the part where you have to avoid it while carrying volatile dynamite—which explodes if you move at more than a snail's pace—is so stunningly bad, I can't believe anyone at Ubisoft played it and decided it was fit to ship.
The chase sections suck too, especially the one that makes you sit through two long, unskippable cutscenes every time you make a mistake. The flashbacks, where you have to take photos of stuff to trigger memories, are a chore. You'll swear you're taking a photo of the thing it wants you to, but the game flatly refuses to acknowledge it because you're slightly out of focus.
And main character Elliott Maslow, a survivor of Oceanic flight 815 who seems to be having less fun than everyone else on the island, is entirely forgettable. I could go on. But like the show it's based on, for every flaw Via Domus has (and it has a lot of them), there's something to love about it.
When you're not being chased through the jungle by the smoke monster, or being shot at by the others, Via Domus has the laid back feel of an adventure game. You get to explore faithfully recreated locations from the series, like the beach camp and the Black Rock—and a number of DHARMA stations, including the Pearl, the Staff, the Flame, and, of course, the Swan.
This was always my favourite Lost location, and it's been recreated brilliantly here, based on blueprints supplied by the show's production department. You even have to enter the numbers (I still remember them: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42) and push the button. And if you don't, well, you've seen the show.
The timer actually ticks down in real-time, so theoretically you could never leave this chapter of the game and dutifully enter the numbers every 108 minutes like Desmond. I mean, if you have nothing better to do. Sadly, there's no way to play Make Your Own Kind of Music on the record player.
You can also talk to your fellow survivors, asking them questions about the island, their lives before the crash, or—in true adventure game fashion—showing them random objects from your pockets.
And while some of the cast from the show do make an appearance, including Ben, Desmond, Claire, and Sun, other characters—voiced by soundalikes, who are trying their best, to be fair—are, uh, less convincing. Check out the video at the top of the article if you want to hear 'Charlie' (Dominic Monaghan must've been busy) singing You All Everybody. It's quite something.
You can trade with them too, which is a feature I really like. As you explore you pick up water bottles, coconuts, Apollo Bars, and other valuable items, which can be swapped for useful stuff like pistol ammo.
The attention to detail is impressive, especially if you're a Lost fan. On the beach you see Sawyer reading, Kate gazing wistfully at the toy aeroplane we learn about in her flashbacks, Charlie playing guitar (badly), and Hurley taking inventory of all the supplies from the Swan station.
In flashbacks you catch glimpses of familiar characters, including Mr. Eko, who otherwise doesn't appear, sadly. Stand near the corridor in the Swan that was filled in with concrete after 'the incident' and you can hear the telltale hum of the island's magical electromagnetic energy.
Enter 77 in the Flame computer and the station blows up. You even find one of those DHARMA Initiative VW vans in the jungle while being hunted by the smoke monster—complete with a case of DHARMA beer in the back, courtesy of Roger Linus. It's clear the developers were fans of the show.
If you can track down a PC copy of Lost: Via Domus, it runs perfectly on Windows 10—which is rather unusual for an old game. But should you? Well, as we've established, it's a bad game, full of frustrating design and lame set-pieces. But if you are, or ever were, a Lost fan, and you've built up a certain amount of nostalgia for the show over the years, it's an enjoyable trip down memory lane.
It's also something of a time capsule, representing Lost when it was still genuinely mysterious, before the Man in Black and Jacob were introduced, and the DHARMA Initiative still had some secrets left. And as a former Lost nerd, I got a real buzz out of exploring locations like the Swan and the Black Rock, and hanging out with the cast, weird voice acting and all.