Lost Horizon stays close to the traditions and conventions of the adventure game genre, but it’s an old genre now and frankly some of those conventions are starting to age noticeably. Dialog trees especially are an ineffective mechanic in Lost Horizon. If there is a specific objective and you get the conversation 'wrong', you awkwardly loop round back to the start of the conversation. Personally, we were hoping adventure game designers would have found a way around this annoyance by now.
Character interaction is often let down by the quality of the writing too. We can accept that Animation Arts has stuck to a generally stereotypical cast, as this can make for some decent light-hearted humour. However, characters such as the British officer or the German countess are not presented well enough and feel boring and tired as a result. Stereotypical they may be, but they still remain too loosely defined, making them easy to forget.
Then there’s the voice acting, which is average at best, and does no favours for the already lacklustre characters. The minor characters can become annoying quickly thanks to shoddy accents, though thankfully the protagonist's voice is less grating than the rest. Fenton also gets most of the funny lines too - helpful since he's the one who speaks the most. This ultimately doesn’t save him from bouts of blandness though and it’s not until the later action sequences that he truly rouses.
The German Building stalked Fenton carefully through the streets
The sheer quantity of dialogue and cutscenes is also a problem. Lost Horizon seems to share the same interactive movie aspirations as Heavy Rain occasionally, with even the main menu laid out like a 1930s Broadway cinema. It's a shame therefore that these elements can often lack the urgency and drama they need to keep the interest up. It’s not uncommon for long dialogues to take place in the game world in a very static way, where the voices are dull, the characters motionless and the camera limited to two or three shots. Hardly cinematic.
The biggest problem with Lost Horizon though is that it’s in dire need of an editor to go through the script with a big red pen, as it’s not uncommon for cutscenes to go on for five minutes at a time. Some of them are interesting, but not enough to make you resist the urge to skip through a lot of them. Much of the dialogue feels as though it's only there to lengthen the experience too, as it does not appear to contribute effectively to the story, characters or atmosphere.
On the plus side, the soundtrack works well, with suitably epic music accompanying some of the faster paced cutscenes, and appropriate background music in some of the in-game locations.
My, what a thin beard you have
The heavily stylised graphics of Lost Horizon look great too, as do the hand drawn backgrounds of the vivid and colourful environments. The game never looks dull and makes excellent use of a wide range of settings from Tibetan mountains to a Hong Kong apartment block and an officer's palace. The good looking weather and elemental effects, particularly the rain and snow, complete the pleasant visual experience Lost Horizon offers.
Animation Arts hasn’t tried to fix what isn't broken in terms of gameplay, ensuring that it is tight and flows well. Everything Lost Horizon does has been done before, but there is certainly enough gameplay variety to keep it interesting, and the puzzles are mostly fun too. You even get the chance to play as Fenton’s ex-girlfriend, Kim, too and can switch between the characters in a Day of the Tentacle kind of way.
Our main concerns revolve around the pacing, as not enough of the cutscenes feel as dramatic or exciting as they should, given the big-screen influences. It’s understandable sometimes, as point-and-click is rarely riveting stuff, but the padding is often patently obvious.
There’s a nugget of a good adventure game here and by the end of the second chapter we found ourselves really getting into the swing of things. Still, it took far too long to reach that point - the game still needs a lot of polish.
Lost Horizon is being developed for PC by Animation Arts and will be released on 27 August 2010.