It’s 1942, and Dresden in eastern Germany is in the grip of the Second World War. A panicked professor hides his young daughters in a crawlspace and hastily burns his research as the Nazi Secret Service hunts for him in the decaying apartment building. Minutes later, it’s all over… and the saga begins, of families torn apart by cruel lies and bitter truths, spanning decades and nations. The story resumes in Egypt during the Suez Crisis of 1956, with British Air Force officer and returning hero Fenton Paddock rushing to prevent the indiscriminate bombing of Port Said by his own troops. He is rescued during the messy operation by Mossad agent Anna, on a mission to expose Nazi atrocities by raiding their secret treasure troves. On paper, Lost Horizon 2 unfolds over a grand canvas of historical facts and intriguing fiction, but hackneyed execution and average production quality woefully limit its impact. It’s not a lost cause by any means, but by the time the credits roll after seven-odd hours, any ardent fan of the very popular Lost Horizon will likely have a disappointed hole in their heart about what could have been.
Once again developed by Animation Arts, Lost Horizon 2 is a somewhat tired attempt to continue the classic adventure series. It invokes the staples of the genre: conflict of personal lives and professional duty, scenic locales steeped in history, and maniacal villains ratcheting up the body count. But with only a few wooden characters, ultra-brief dialogues that rarely venture past the tasks at hand, only two or three screens per location, bland jigsaw- and match-based puzzles, stilted 3D animation and some silly bugs, the game never hits its stride. Instead, you are hurriedly segued from one short scene to the next by stylish but blurry cutscenes with neither conversation nor quests to keep you invested in the people or the events. Despite my keen interest in the series I was often distracted, which is a great pity considering the immense potential of the sequel given the foundation it was building over.
The story tries to link several disparate events, people and mythologies together, but doesn’t delve deep into any aspect, choosing instead to dole out tiny bits of information between brief bursts of activity. This choice, to withhold information as the ruse to create curiosity, does not work for Lost Horizon 2 as the goings-on are simply not riveting enough make you anxious for explanations. On the contrary, you get mired in the tedium of opening doors and fiddling with McGuffins stuffed with rusty keys and telltale notes. In fact, for a large part of the game, Fenton just sits in a plane wondering about the whereabouts of his young daughter Gwen. Anna knows where Gwen is, but instead of telling him upfront, she drags him through flashbacks of the tasks she did that summer while on her artefact-hunting mission. Which could have been interesting, but proves not to be.
The gameplay involves a lot of manic globetrotting stitched together by a handful of inventory quests. The six chapters cover locations as far-flung as Port Said, Moscow, Jersey, Gotland and even the mythical Asgard, but the frequent flying – in seaplanes, helicopters, jittery old airliners – yields little more than air-miles. With just a couple of scenes each, Moscow and Jersey feel tacked on, but even key scenarios like Port Said and Asgard are typically set indoors, severely limiting opportunities to explore these exotic locales, interact with the local folk, and imbibe their influence into quest design.
Progress is linear and compartmentalised by location, to the extent that almost all objectives are solved with items within your immediate reach. The mechanics are easy: left-click to walk, pick up objects and talk to people, and right-click to reveal hotspots. Each screen has only a few interactive objects, however, including the purely cosmetic ones. The inventory is accessed by rolling the mouse over the top edge of the screen, and usually comprises a dozen or so items that may be combined with each other or onscreen counterparts. Several can even be opened or dismantled to get new ones, adding to the scrolling clutter of sundry already-used and useless objects arbitrarily left in the stash. The protagonists do not run, but double-clicking exits hastens the pace. A few timed sequences require either some dexterity, like a high-speed escape on a motorbike that needs you to correctly click onscreen buttons, or proper planning to execute tasks in sequence while the clock ticks down. I found the game quite buggy as well. It crashed on occasion, and without an auto-save function, if you don’t save frequently you can end up re-playing sizeable chunks. Also, doing simple things like dialing a rotary telephone or finding a door in a forest can become frustrating due to in-game glitches.
Some of the inventory quests are intuitive and well-designed, like decoding a cypher hidden in paintings, or another lengthy inventory-puzzle combination to unveil the mystery of Asgard. The game does make an effort to occasionally mix things up with top-down perspectives to navigate some maze-like areas, like a run through a derelict Port Said bathhouse, and also pitches in a couple of brief but fun-while-they-last tandem play sequences between Gwen and either Anna or Fenton. But the rest of the time you have to contend with childish puzzles like making tea or assembling documents by matching the few ordinary items you collect – or worse, swiping the cursor repeatedly across the screen to ‘wipe down’ surfaces to discover clues. The complexity of quests is uneven as well: while opening a simple grate can take numerous items and iterations, it only takes a quick minute to infiltrate a fully-reinforced KGB facility in Moscow. If you do get stuck, you can consult the in-game walkthrough for short, step-by-step solutions.Continued on the next page...