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archived preview: Lost Horizon
 

For those who have taken a look at the teaser website for Lost Horizon, it's understandable if you might be a bit confused. One wouldn’t necessarily associate its 94 second trailer with a graphic adventure: an overfilled movie theater appears, and on the screen scenes play out from the new game by Animation Arts, the development team responsible for both of the recent Secret Files games. The video is a collection of various cutscenes rife with action: two men fighting on the loading platform of a semi-truck, the icy cliffs of Tibetan mountains looming off to their left, the rattle of machine guns, the drone of a prop engine aircraft, the clanging of swords. And a mystical, glowing idol inside an ancient Temple that exudes adventure ambience.

The scenes easily bring to mind the Indiana Jones series. The year is 1936 and yep, the Nazis manage to find their way into this story as well. And just like in the adventures of our favorite fedora-wearing hero, the Third Reich is once again searching for a powerful weapon to assist in its sinister plans. This time the artifact rests in the mythical city of Shambala. And Fenton Paddock, a former British soldier, has plans to stop them.



After seeing the first trailer, one could be tempted to think that there is a bit TOO much action for an adventure game. No worries, though, as in Lost Horizon you won’t personally lay a hand on a machine gun or be forced to complete awkward, misplaced action sequences. Animation Arts is joining the current “playable movie” trend, and although you shouldn’t expect the type of uniqueness that, for instance, Heavy Rain offers, gamers can still expect to be engrossed by a presentation style that resembles a (good) adventure film. The attempts to draw references to Indiana Jones are therefore completely intentional, and the resulting associations with the beloved LucasArts Indy ensure that the setting is traditional and familiar.

A variety of technical and game-based stylistic techniques are intended to make the transition from movie to game as smooth as possible, providing the gamer with a feeling of being the action star in a typical adventure film. The introduction sequence demonstrates this style, complete with a soundtrack containing a typical 1930s-era song. Even the story structure of Lost Horizon is meant to contribute to this effect: the designers capture the gamer’s attention right from the start with a fast tempo and an array of cutscenes. In terms of gameplay, that naturally means a rather light approach to puzzles in the beginning stages in order to spend more time on story development. Nevertheless, the difficulty level is intended to progressively increase throughout the game, and the playtime of the individual chapters will also increase, reaching a total duration just over that of Secret Files 2.

In Cologne we were able to take a look at how Animation Arts is attempting to transport the drama and action of the cutscenes into the actual gameplay. We were able to view a chase sequence where Fenton was standing on the loading platform of a vehicle, the villains close on his trail. As a player puzzled over how best to shake off the pursuers, tense music and convincing camera angles created a distinct dramatic feel even in the crowded and noisy Presentation Hall of the gamescom conference. However, reaction sequences such as those found in Broken Sword 3 (where it is necessary at times to react very quickly) are nowhere to be found.



Animation Arts’ new title continues to look very promising in several other aspects: the game areas are widely distributed geographically and will cover approximately 150 screens over 5 chapters. Players will visit, among others, Tibet, Hong Kong, Berlin, and Marrakech, promising players a good deal of location variety. Within each chapter there is a map that can be used to quickly access previously visited locations. The puzzle solutions, very similar in their style and difficulty level to those in the Secret Files games, are therefore not limited only to the immediate environments. Players will also find the team feature that was seen in the developer’s previous series. As such, a few segments can only be solved through the cooperation of Fenton and Kim, the female co-protagonist in Lost Horizon. Even so, most puzzles are solved without team efforts throughout the adventure.

Technically the game looks to be a clear jump forward from earlier productions. The character control is unchanged from the style found in Secret Files, but this was already fairly unblemished. In contrast, the hand-painted backgrounds are a new addition that, when considered together with the fully detailed game areas and the new visual effects (e.g. pattering rain), give Lost Horizon a very good, even more adult, feel. Nevertheless, there is of course still some room for improvement before release. The final product will support a resolution width of up to 2048 pixels, which should help avoid unpleasant pixelation and, more importantly, a lack of sharpness during the numerous close-up camera angles. As mentioned earlier, the cutscenes are particularly pleasing, managing to transition seamlessly to in-game graphics without distracting the gamer.



The developers of Lost Horizon intend to spare no expense when it comes to sound quality. We were able to hear a few clips voiced by professional Rolf Schult, a German voice actor who functions during the game as a type of narrator responsible for summarizing the events up to the last point the gamer stopped, helping players get going again after a long pause. In contrast, the by-now-familiar “diary” is missing, a move justified by the claim that gamers hardly ever used it in the past. The developers have instead integrated a “puzzle button” that provides information about current tasks.

Animation Arts has demonstrated with Secret Files that they are a capable team who now possess a store of good credit with adventure gamers. Even so, we would like to see a little bit more from Lost Horizon in order to be able to confirm our good impression from the Cologne gamescom. For one, it would be great to get a more extensive look at the in-game dialogue and the accompanying dialogue puzzles that the developer claims are more complex than those in Secret Files 2. These will supposedly play off the various mannerisms and attitudes Fenton can assume when speaking to other in-game characters. We will need to wait in order to see just how much this design contributes to puzzle solving. And since the release date lies somewhere in 2010, we will just have to bide our time and exert a bit of patience until then.

 


This article was originally published on the German website Adventure-Treff. It has been translated and reprinted here with permission. Translation provided by Garret Hayes.


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Lost Horizon is available at Amazon


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