Do you like adventure games? No, we're not talking about the wall-climbing, parkour-filled ultra-realistic action-adventure games of today, we're talking old-school style. The kind of adventure games seen in the early 90's that involved thieving everything in sight that wasn't bolted down so that you could later glue them together in convoluted ways to create new objects that would be used to solve puzzles. They were popular because of their story-heavy and cinematic nature, but eventually died a death due to the evolutionary dead-end of the FMV-game, and the fact that other genres were quickly becoming equally cinematic. So, yes - do you like adventure games? Or, more to the point, did you? Because Animation Arts has made Lost Horizon for you.
There's more than a dab of classic LucasArts adventure titles in Lost Horizon. Games like The Dig and The Secret of Monkey Island had beautiful, but often static, backdrops against which the animated character sprites would move against. It's about as close as you could get to a moving painting with 256 colours, and Lost Horizon takes this aesthetic to its natural conclusion. For all intents and purposes, Lost Horizon is a moving painting. There are no 3D environments in this game, and the backdrops solely consist of gorgeously painted locations and vistas that evoke their intended atmosphere perfectly. It's like seeing beautiful concept art, except somehow the concept art made its way into the game itself. Touches of FMV are found here and there to give water, smoke or background effects as well. The characters are indeed rendered in 3D, but stylised to such a degree that they're almost cartoon-like themselves. Overall, it's a really really good looking package, and if you don't believe us, check out the screenshots in this review. It just goes to show not everything has to be running Unreal Engine 3 to look stunning.
Also, if you're familiar with LucasArts adventure game catalogue, the original 'Lost Horizon' novel, Uncharted 2 or Indiana Jones, then you'll be more than familiar with the story of Lost Horizon. Set in 1936, the player assumes the role of British ex-soldier and lovable rogue Fenton Paddock, as he sets on a journey to rescue his friend from a lost expedition into Tibet. Along the way he encounters old flames, ancient secrets, unimaginable power and, of course, Nazis. If you've played Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, or indeed seen any of the Indiana Jones movies, there's not a lot of surprises here. An opening in a nightclub in a prominent Asian city; a fight on racing Nazi trucks; a visit to bustling Middle Eastern marketplace; a storming of a German castle. We're not sure if these are intentional homages or inescapable cliches, but it all works as classic adventure pulp anyway, and comes together in a tale with a nice pace and a reasonably involving 10-hour story, even if it isn't the most original.
As for the gameplay, it's traditional adventure game stuff and does not stray at all from the formula. The game is divided into seven chapters, and thankfully there is almost no retreading involved in the game, as you jet about to different countries in search of the next doo-hickey that will activate this or lead you to that. The puzzles are pretty well balanced, with only the occasional one being obtuse, and most of them residing within the realms of plausibility. For the adventure game enthusiast, it is sublime. There's even a fantastic final puzzle that crosses time zones, that's highly reminiscent of Day of the Tentacle's main conceit in the best way possible.
And thankfully there is no game-breaking hint system in place, as the only times you'll be really stuck are if you've missed a vital item that you thought was part of the background. However, this is helped by the fact that a press of the space bar will highlight all interactive objects on screen. We only have two complaints. One is that old adventure staple of 'busy work', where you'll have to go to extreme lengths to collect one object you need to progress, and it's used a little too much in Lost Horizon for our liking. The other is there are some puzzles in separate screens, where you'll be faced with a Tex Murphy style 'pick the right wire' or 'sliding tile' challenge. The problem is, they occur about only two times, and each time the game asks you whether you'd rather choose a more challenging variant. Given the fact that they occur so infrequently, the difficulty variant and in fact the whole exercise seems rather pointless.
The dialogue in the game is generally quite clever and well-written by novelist Claudia Kern, and is performed admirably by most of the major leads of the game. Fenton Paddock is probably the standout of the cast, a British Indiana Jones to be sure, but not quite as clever as his American counterpart, with much of the goings on flying over his well-liquored head. However, some of the accents phase in and out among the cast, and love interest Kim honestly just doesn't quite work, as she lacks any kind of subtlety or real likability. She's stubborn because, hey, we need the girl to come along for the adventure, so she can get kidnapped later, but her grating voice means that you'll be glad her screentime is limited. The music is standard adventure fare, but nicely orchestrated and well produced.
Today, there are plenty of ways to experience a movie-like experience other than adventure games. In fact, Uncharted 2 delivers a similar story, in an outstanding 3D presentation with as much murderous gun action and climbing as you'll be accustomed to in this day and age. If you want nothing to do with any of that, and prefer the obtuse collecting and combining of adventure games of yore, Lost Horizon actually holds up pretty well against its blockbuster cousins. It's a beautiful game to experience, and fun to play. It's not original in the slightest, but that's OK. It sets out to be the best point and click adventure game it can possibly be, and it pretty much totally succeeds. Highly recommended for the LucasArts fans among us. You know who you are.