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Gaming -- Lost Horizon Preview

July 13, 2010

Matthew Lambert
July 11, 2010

Lost Horizon Hands-on Preview
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Animation Arts
Platform: PC exclusive
Release Date: 27 August 2010

Lost Horizon's story is one of ancient Tibetan
artefacts, the mythical kingdom of Shambhala,
strange symbols, and of course, Nazis. No prizes
for originality then, but the familiarity of the
Indiana Jones style plot is oddly comforting, and
Lost Horizon has enough unique plot elements to
prevent it from becoming stale too quickly.

Set in 1938, Lost Horizon sees you taking on the
role of Fenton Paddock, a (very) British soldier.
Armed with only his stiff upper lip, Fenton finds
himself attempting to outrun a gang of triads in
Hong Kong, before having to travel to Tibet to
rescue a missing friend. Forced to enlist the
help of his ex-girlfriend, Kim, Fenton soon
discovers a Nazi military operation in full
swing. Naturally, it isn’t long before his rescue
mission soon escalates into something of the usual global significance.

The story starts slowly, with lengthy sections of
dialogue interspersed with small sections that
introduce you to the core gameplay elements.
While the plot does become more compelling over
time, it rarely has the dramatic immediacy of its
cinema counterpart. In fact, it’s occasionally
quite tediously delivered – though it may just be
because FPS games have, over the years, taught us
that we aren’t having fun unless we’re shooting things.

Gameplay takes the form of a point and click
adventure, a genre which has seen a number of
remakes and reboots recently. There are a set
number of observable objects in each environment,
some of which can be interacted with and combined
for puzzle solving, while others are red herrings.

The ability to interact with an object is
signalled by a hand icon when you roll over it,
but the game decides what action you take
automatically. The upside of this is you’re never
stuck trying to find the right verb or command,
but things can feel a bit automatic sometimes.
Either way, it's a tried and tested formula and
one which Animation Arts appear to have utilised
well. The difficulty of the puzzles scales well
too, starting from the basic and progressing
smoothly to harder ones that involve more locations and items at a time.

While the puzzles are generally fair and
sensible, there are inevitably a couple of
occasions when you reach a dead end. We had to
resort to the old try-everything-with-everything
approach a few times in fact, especially when the
usual adventure game logic started to work
against us. Who knew that glue, a broken record
and a touch of gunpowder could be so useful for distracting Nazis?

Still, despite a few exceptions, Lost Horizon
generally maintains a decent balance between
complexity and fairness. Also, for those times
when you're struggling, Animation Arts provide an
examine button, which reveals everything
currently on screen that can be observed and/or
interacted with. Very useful for avoiding the old
hunt-the-hotspot minigame! There’s also a summary
of your current objectives, as well as the option
to alter the difficulty of the minigame sections.

The minigames that punctuate the usual point and
clicking provide a welcome change of pace too and
add variety to the game whilst remaining
relevant. In fact, it would be nice to see more
than the few on offer as, unlike in most games,
the minigames in Lost Horizon make perfect sense for the story and genre.

Animation Arts has made it impossible to fail the
adventure at any point in the game - you cannot
die or lose, even in fast paced scenes such as a
truck chase. Even if circumstances suggest that
you are under some time constraints, you never
are. While this alleviates frustration from
repeated failure, it removes the pressure, and
thus the rush, of having to do something quickly.
How this feature sits with you is ultimately a
matter of personal taste, as while some gamers
prefer the purely cerebral challenge of adventure
games like this, others like to have the Sword of
Damocles hanging over them. If you prefer the old
Sierra-style approach, where you can die with a
simple misstep, Lost Horizon isn’t the game for you.
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