Review: Gameloft S.A. Lost
Whether or not you're a fan of the TV show Lost, Gameloft S.A.'s new fifth-generation iPod game of the same name is appropriately titled: within 3 hours, you'll unquestionably feel like you've just lost $5. With a promising beginning, gameplay that's currently unlike anything else on the 5G iPod, and a popular licensed theme, Lost could have been a huge hit. But as a port of a simple game originally developed for mobile phones, even amateur gamers will find that it's over almost as soon as it has started, and not a good value for the price. (Warning: Subsequent paragraphs may contain game and series spoilers.)
Like the TV show, Lost tells the story of a group of plane crash survivors who land on a tropical island full of dangers—some natural, some apparently supernatural. By touching the Click Wheel lightly in eight directions, you control Jack Shephard, a generally benevolent surgeon, as he runs through scenes taken from the first and second seasons of the show. Though the artwork is entirely two-dimensional—flat images presented from an isometric top-down 3-D perspective—it’s some of the best 2-D art yet seen on the iPod, putting to shame the similar but more cartoony graphics in Electronic Arts’ earlier Mini Golf. Similarly, though the iPod’s controls aren’t the most precise for action games, Gameloft hasn’t made the action so precision-dependent that the Click Wheel stands in the way of your fun. Pushing boxes, dodging wild animals, and stealthily avoiding detection are all intuitive, rather than frustrating, and entering a certain mysterious numbered code is appropriately tense, if not visually thrilling.
Fans of the series should know up front that only a handful of characters from the show are fully recognizable from digitized close-up images and dialogue: Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Locke and Sayid make appearances, as do anonymous members of the island’s mysterious Others, and a number of other survivors are shown in less detail during rescue and exploration levels. The game does spoil, in a light way, a number of events that took place on the show, but it also ignores side stories and skips most of the details that would make viewing the show compelling. The star attraction here is, again, the art; from scene to scene, the backdrops Gameloft picked are surprisingly detailed and interesting.
Our major disappointment was that there were far too few of them. Over the course of 5 “Chapters” of the story, you progress through what Gameloft somewhat generously calls “27 levels” of gameplay; it’s actually 9 non-discrete areas, each broken up into 3 rather quickly conquered portions. Many of the areas are similar to one another, with jungle trees, beaches, and water constituting much of the scenery, but a large wooden ship called the Black Rock, an underground facility protected by the Hatch, and a prison camp all have unique art. You won’t spend much time in any of them, though, as Gameloft keeps its puzzles and action light—the iPod’s central action button is generally used for one type of action per level, varying from using a knife, picking up people, firing a handgun, or dropping dynamite. By traditional game standards, Lost is very easy to complete.
Armed with frequent checkpoints, an overly generous damage meter, and the game’s unlimited lives, we blew through it in under 3 hours and noted as much in an update to our First Look. We were only mildly surprised that a reader posted that he’d had the same experience with the mobile phone version. That’s the shortest beginning-to-end game experience we’ve yet had on a downloadable 5G iPod game, with the possible exception of the 99-cent game iQuiz, which has far more replay value.
Detracting further from the experience was an entirely unceremonious ending: there’s a single text screen reading “To Be Continued…” rather than any visual or audio treat for having finished the game. We were so shocked by this screen that we replayed the last level several times in an attempt to determine if we had missed the real ending, but apparently, this is the way the mobile phone version of Lost “ends,” as well. In past iPod game reviews, we’ve never spoiled endings, but Lost’s is even worse than the iPod’s free Solitaire game’s, and worthy of being called out as such.
Rating Lost is a challenge: what’s there is pretty good, but there are neither enough levels nor enough replay value to make this game generally recommendable, or even worthy of a limited recommendation to Lost fans. Our C+ rating is a compromise, recognizing the game’s quality production values, but taking into account the profound disappointment of its brevity. Rarely do we feel a game is so short and easy that it’s not even worth $5, but Lost is one such game, and for those reasons more than anything else, it fell sharply from good to forgettable the moment it ended. Should Gameloft opt to release additional iPod games, which we hope will happen given Lost’s good art and reasonable controls, a greater level of challenge, more full levels, and a real ending would go a long way to earning our iTunes dollars.