I’m really having a hard time not comparing Lost in Shadow to ICO–given the aesthetic, it invites the comparison. It’s not presented as well as ICO is–for one, ICO’s shadow creatures are inky, smokelike particles that just look wrong and harmful–there’s something almost cancerous about them. The shadow creatures here are…basically grey.There’s too many fights, for that matter–where ICO gave you fights as a pacing device–each of the battles were setpieces, really–this game just throws enemies as general obstacles.
The quality of writing is very different as well–where ICO featured cryptic, often one-sided dialogue, and only at crucial junctures, this features you collecting little “memories”–one-or-two sentence fragments which basically amount to “Boy, being a shadow is weird and scary!” I just came upon a little cutscene monologue–I have no idea who’s supposed to be saying it, what it’s referring to, or what the point of it is, because I’m not playing this one for the story, but it’s…poorly written. I don’t really get the sense that the team paid much attention to the storyline themselves–they were more concerned with creating levels and things, which is fine, but why include it at all in this case? Videogames must have a storyline, seems to be the thinking, so let’s include one. Fact is, they could have simply presented us with completely plotless levels and it would be a lot stronger–the game is just an examination of concepts of light and shadow, the end.
But I guess the biggest issue is–okay, here it comes up again–Sense of Place. ICO is…well, again, I could probably find my way out of that castle if I found myself in there. The logic behind its design is not my logic, and yet there’s a sense of consistency and purpose guiding it all. I have no idea what all of the (largely empty) rooms are for…but whoever designed the castle certainly did. The place is very well-laid-out–all of the rooms fit together. Some of the best parts of the game involve seeing a tower from one part of the castle and then actually traveling there later. You’re presented with an actual physical space to explore–the setting is a character in its own right, and I love that game for it.
Lost in Shadow takes place inside a tower that you have to ascend. There’s no real rhyme or reason to any of it. To give a very specific example, I’m on the 25th floor–the block of floors I’m in is the Reservoir. Floor 25 is called the Sewage Treatment.
WHAT IS A SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANT DOING ON THE 25TH FLOOR. THERE IS NO REASON FOR IT TO BE ON THE 25TH FLOOR. IT SHOULD BE IN THE BASEMENT WHERE IT BELONGS.
Levels are more laid out based on what would provide a platforming challenge rather than by what would make logical sense. Now, I’m all for design based on challenge–my apartment building, for example, would not make a remotely interesting videogame level–but I don’t see why one should be sacrificed for the other. The goal isn’t to directly model the real world, but rather to create a world in its own right. When a game takes place in a single confined space, when you place a focus on setting, you need to make that setting feel real. Let’s face it–the mansion from Resident Evil wouldn’t work as a functional house in real life, but that game characterizes the setting well enough (especially for its time) that you feel like you’re there. That Lost in Shadow just kind of slaps its levels together is part of where it fails. If they hadn’t tried to make the story and setting feel like they mattered, it might have succeeded much better.
It’s odd–I think I’m suggesting that the game’s biggest failure is that it tried to be more than it is.
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