Lost Horizon

Posted on Sun 12 August 2012 in video games

Lost Horizon is an adventure game published by Deep Silver which I came across when looking for new information on the upcoming Secret Files 3. Since I loved both Secret Files: Tunguska and Secret Files: Puritas Cordis for their quirky humor which happened to fit my taste perfectly I was interested the moment I saw that Lost Horizon was going to be released on STEAM. I added it to my wish list and almost immediately forgot it. It wasn't until I received the game as a gift that I started thinking about it again. In an attempt to summarize my extensive notes I present you: Lost Horizon.

The experiences I made

During the prologue the character I controlled teleported himself away to an unknown destination. This is as essential to the game as it gets as well as a first impression of what to expect from Lost Horizon. There will be mystery. Sometimes it will be hard work to keep up your suspension of disbelief. Also, I was wondering how I ended up playing a game that has Nazis in it, since I usually balk at each game containing WW II references.

Berlin during the Olympic games

In the beginning the game tries to guilt-trip you into saving lost soldiers. You have no idea why you should care about them until it says that you are also saving a friend of Fenton Paddock - the male lead. It seems like he is dragging around a great amount of baggage from 'earlier times'; too bad this influences Fenton's choices so little during the whole term of the game.

The manipulation of the Olympic Games later in the game is a great idea, because many people know about the Olympic Games held during that era in Berlin and due to a funny coincidence I happen to write this while the 2012 Olympic Games are in progress.

The scene in Berlin has great flow due to the lead first succeeding and then telling another character what happened and having the player figure out the details of what happened in the interim.

In the end it's very obvious that the female lead is alive since:

  • The fortune-teller in Marrakesh hints at this
  • the Nazis had no leverage against Fenton who is the only one who can open the portal after having used the Eye of the Dragon. 3

Which is one of the reasons that the governor's betrayal works. The other is that it will be seen as very romantic by a lot of players while the rest will either not care or receive condemning the world in favor of a single individual - his son - pathetic. I'll leave my opinion on this to your speculation.

There's one thing in particular that strikes me as completely horrible in terms of respect towards the player: While the player had to endure a complete dump of science earlier which was up to date in the time period the game played now he is told to just ignore all logical and illogical explanation. As an illusion of Richard, who is trapped in the past, appears in the present Fenton - as well as the player - is asked not to think about how this is possible, since 'it's a magical place'. Ah, okay, so you want to tell me that a wizard did it. Fine.

Overall the game shows a certain disrespect towards the player since Richard and Fenton have this lengthy conversation spanning several minutes in which the player is supposed to not do anything besides listening. After that Fenton feels the need for a monologue to sum up the things that we were just told in case the player tuned out during the conversation. Hint: He is not going to like the monologue either if he already drifted off during the conversation.

I have no idea what made the writers decide that Fenton has to get the girl in the end. They mostly quarrel and argue through most of the game and even though, yes, they experience a lot together and managed to achieve a lot, they are still not lovers. Not from any reasonable perspective. This feels like it's totally tacked on to the main story and feels like an afterthought. It's embarrassingly bad.

The thoughts I had

The first conversation puzzle was pure guesswork based on no reason whatsoever. One could argue that being aggressive is rewarded, but I'm not sure about that. To make up for that the player's choice in the next dialog doesn't matter at all.

Sometimes, like on the airfield, it's not properly established how big the scene really is. What pieces of the set one may run around in and what one is permitted to explore. The airfield stands out here because it's not until I was specifically told to go the Fenton's office that I realized the airfield scene being larger than what I had expected.

On some other occasions there are many clickable exits from scenes which are permanently blocked by the plot. E.g.: You are never going to see the train station in Marrakesh. This only serves to confuse the player. If it doesn't add to the game in some meaningful way it shouldn't be there. I'm willing to make exceptions to that rule for Easter Eggs.

The bazaar in Marrakesh

There are two puzzles for which you may opt-in to the higher difficulty. I did that on both. One was a real challenge, the other one I solved in a few minutes by guesswork. I don't think that's supposed to work out like it did for me.

The things I saw

Judging by the mouse icon Lost Horizon and given that it's from the same developers as Secret Files, it uses the same engine (or an upgraded version of that engine). The characters, however are not nice to look at, I'd even go as far as saying they were ugly even in their time. Oh, wait the game was released in 2010. In that case: the character models are horribly outdated and a pain to look at.

The FMVs are an especially bad case. Leaving them out would've improved the game by lengths. The worst example of this is the 'dragon sequence' at the end of the game: It's not only sub-par compared to modern standards, it's repeated three times after the initial view (though mirrored for two of them). It could have been more impressive if it was used one time and mirrored one time or preferably extended a few scenes and not reused at all. The cinematic experience would be greater and most importantly the player would not be exposed to what might be budget constraints or points of low priority in the development process.

On the positive side I adore the beautiful animations of the map when traveling between the game's many locations all over the world.

Castle Wewelsburg

The sounds I heard

I admit not paying much attention to the music. But I'm fairly sure the 'sad theme' is reused from the Secret Files franchise and I'm not okay with that considering Lost Horizon isn't part of said franchise.

I think it's a nice and very thoughtful touch that the engine sound is louder or quieter depending on the viewpoint from which the conversation on the plane is currently shown. I wish every game was as detail-oriented in its sound design.

The places I visited

The map from India

The feelings I had

Fenton Paddock is an incompetent idiot.

He demonstrates several suicidal tendencies and is generally not really sensible. I have several examples of stupid behavior for your amusement:
After nearly being murdered by Triads he goes directly to his home instead of hiding. He needs a sheet of paper to remember his safe's combination, '12345' according to the item's thumbnail. In Marrakesh he sells a valuable ring made with gold for an incredible small amount of money. While entering the enemies' fortress he takes item the enemy wants with thim without any indication that it might be needed there. He claims to be a former scout in the army but doesn't realize that using binoculars in enemy territory is dangerous due to the reflection of the lenses which might give away their location.

Besides, he insults a cat and that makes me dislike him. A lot.

As if to counter Fenton's inadequacy the female lead is somehow either a sage or miraculously gifted when it comes to deciphering ancient texts. She is the only one able to read the secret code language she and her father came up with and instantly knows how to translate ancient stone tablets just using some notes her father had thrown together.

Tibet

This game is about peaceful solutions. I am not.

I wasn't very happy during the sequence in which you're helping a little kid who is holding Fenton's wallet hostage. In my head I threw the kid into the water 1 and walked away with the wallet. Not one moment was I inclined to help someone extorting my cooperation.

So the Nazi who has been torturing an allied soldier is unconscious after being knocked down by the explosion. He's still alive. Fortunately we have this saw blade to change that. Unfortunately, that's not how Lost Horizon wants to handle this.

Two planks and white powder. What could that be? Drugs? Phosphorus?

Frustratingly it's not possible to feed the goat to the man-eater, whoops, pardon the pun. Wrong man-eater, I meant the tiger in India. Neither is it possible to feed the goat to the shark. Nor the tiger to the shark. After being disappointed the first time I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up.

I also quite liked the train of thought where we waited for the Nazis to tap into the stream and kill each other due to its effects, but unfortunately that's not an option for the game.

Every adventure needs MacGuyverism.

Lost Horizon features some of my favorite homemade weaponry, like DIY Rocket Launchers and DIY AntiAir Pumpkin Bombs; which are awesome. Also, we get duct tape, so you know from the start that everything is going to be alright. It's common knowledge you can fix everything with duct tape.

Rockets fired from the DIY launcher

There's some research in this.

It's fascinating how you come across certain historical persons again and again while playing video games. Assassin's Creed and Lost Horizon feature Piri Reis. Assassin's Creed and Secret Files 3 feature Leonardo da Vinci.

So it seems morphogenetic fields are not just pseudo-science. I'm afraid that didn't stop me from tuning out during Fenton's lengthy monologues when finding the Thule society's notes on that subject.


  1. The kid waits for your help at Hong Kong's port. 

  2. No, Tibet is not fictional. Khembalung is. Stop trying to be funny. 

  3. In MMO terms, the Eye of the Dragon is bound on pickup. Speaking of pickup, I'd like to have one right now.