Lost In Time 
by Bacardi Jim
November 20, 2004

 

Lost in Time (1993)
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: Coktel Vision


Every so often, a game comes along that has both so many good things going for it and so much that is wrong with it that a coherent and definitive review is nearly impossible.  Usually, such mixed reviews are reserved for games from Arxel Tribe, developers of such wonderfully idiosyncratic messes as 7 Games of the Soul, Ring and the stylish but virtually unplayable Alfred Hitchcock’s The Final Cut.  

The wary gamer might do best to think of Coktel’s classic Lost in Time as an early progenitor of an Arxel Tribe game.  The plot is so convoluted as to be senseless and impossible to follow.  But the style and puzzle content generally make the game worth the effort. 

Lost in Time follows the adventures of Doralice Prunelier, a rare (for the time) female protagonist.  The game begins with Doralice swimming to consciousness in the hold of an old wooden sailing ship.  After some exploration, Doralice discovers a fellow captive who clues her in to the fact that she is no longer in the year 1992, but has somehow been transported a hundred or so years into the past.  She eventually discovers that the ship belongs to a criminal time hopper from the future.  A “time cop” who has conveniently stowed away aboard the ship enlists your aid to help bring the renegade time hopper to justice and, incidentally, help prevent him from screwing up your own family’s history.  Part of the game’s unique charm lies in the fact that the vast majority of the game is played in the past, thus allowing the chapter that takes place in 1992 to be presented as a flashback.  It is your/Doralice’s duty to uncover the mystery of just why she and the ship’s other prisoner have been taken captive and assure that her grandfather survives to actually become her grandfather.  

Or something like that.  

The plot becomes an incomprehensible mishmash during Chapter Three, where it is revealed that Somebody stole Somebody Else’s wife, but then she had a baby by So-And-So, but her new husband didn’t care because he was really only after the Treasure of Whatever, which is some Radioactive Thing that will screw up time traveling.  Then, there is a side plot about two shamans who Doralice has to make fall in love so that she can gain access to the household of (depending on which version of the story you choose to believe) her mother or great-grandmother.  

My advice is the same as it was for Ring.  Forget the plot.  Play the game for the style and puzzling.  

 

ANCIENT TECHNOLOGY  

Your first puzzle in Lost in Time is getting the game to play.  Although it will install under Win95/98, I was unable to get it to actually play that way.  Many trials and tribulations finally convinced me that this was because the game had a problem with my integrated SiS sound system.  Even following the advice on various sites instructing me how to get LIT to operate in a DOS window ended up with it freezing at the end of the introductory cutscene.  However, the game ran perfectly fine when I broke down and ran it in DOS.  For those of you who are using WinXP, I highly recommend downloading DOSbox before attempting to play LIT.  You will also have more luck if you choose the AdLib soundcard during the setup, regardless of the soundcard or motherboard you actually have.  

The graphics are an incredibly odd mix.  LIT is presented in the now-traditional 2D-1st-person-perspective-slideshow format.  For the great majority of the game, the graphics are rendered static drawings with occasional bits of animation.  The quality is somewhere between Gabriel Knight and The Journeyman Project.  (It is hard to believe, sometimes, that Myst came out only a year later.)  Clicking on an object performs whatever action you need, whether examining it, moving it or “using” it.  Sometimes clicking on an item will bring up a small inset “close-up” window, allowing a more detailed examination while leaving the main view in the background.  The real strangeness comes in Chapter Two, when Doralice is in the “present.”  This chapter is presented in primitive Full Motion Video.  The main views are static FMV “photographs,” while the close-up insets are full FMV, showing (for example) Doralice’s hands pulling a battery out of a tractor while the larger main view shows the static photo of the tractor itself.  The conversational cutscenes are also presented in FMV, with the speaking actor set against a blurred white background and no lip-synching even attempted.  The designers avoided the lip-synch problem during Doralice’s speeches by only showing her face from the bridge of the nose up.  

Somehow, despite your never getting a look at her face, the combination of repetitive close-ups of her eyes and grainy FMV videos of her body manage to make Doralice one of the most attractive and sexy female protagonists in adventure gaming.  I guess the old adage is right… it’s what you don’t see.  

The interface is a generally intuitive straight point-and-click.  However, given that so much of the game depends upon combining inventory items, this portion of the interface is unnecessarily clunky.  Rather than selecting an item and drag/clicking it directly onto another in your inventory, the inventory window closes once you select an item, with your cursor now replaced by the item icon.  You must re-open your inventory window a second time to combine that icon with another item.  Since my copy of the game came without a manual, this took me quite awhile to discover on my own, thus making the first part of the game frustrating in the extreme.  

 

MacGyver Lives  

As with most adventure games of its era, the real emphasis of Lost in Time is on its puzzles.  Once again, we are offered an inconsistent mix.  Most all of the puzzling is inventory-based.  Doralice is no moron, possessing a smattering of knowledge of physics and chemistry.  The majority of puzzles require you to combine and use everyday objects in unconventional ways, often making use of this knowledge.  For the most part, I found the puzzles to be tough but fair.  In fact, most of them were a delight, really putting my brain to the test about how I could combine the items at hand to produce the desired result.  Often I had to reuse items in a variety of ways.  But every so often, I ran across a puzzle that flew in the face of all the scientific logic of the rest of the game.  (SPOILER AHEAD!)  For instance, would even a professional chemist know that by combining paint thinner and sea salts he can create a gas that will first make a parrot sick, then make it hungry?  This bit of weirdness seemed to come straight out of a Chem101 class at Wassamatta U.  I also found myself stymied when confronted with the impossibility of “plexiglass” I could fold like paper; perhaps the word means something different in its original French.  There were a few instances in which I had to resort to the old “try using/combining every item in the inventory” trick.  

Then there was the problem with searching desks, drawers, wardrobes, boxes and other containers.  Whenever you click on such an object, you get to see a close-up view of the drawer/box/etc. in question and see the found object within it.  However….. what you don’t know (unless you are lucky enough to find a copy of the game that includes the manual) is that you must search the drawer/box/etc. again and again to see if there are any more items in it that weren’t revealed during the first examination.  

The combination of having left behind items because I didn’t search a drawer enough times and having to use inventory items in completely nonsensical ways in what was otherwise a very logical puzzle-based game proved exasperating at times.  Yet, overall, the puzzling was several cuts above any game in recent years.  If I ever found myself suddenly trapped in the hold of a 19th Century ship, Doralice is exactly the person I’d want at my side!  

 

Not Bad For A Chick Flick  

Overall, I have to give Lost in Time a thumbs-up.  It was ahead of its time in many ways: the use of FMV, the choice of a female protagonist, and the convoluted Dickens-meets-Bronte-meets-Verne romantic plot.  Despite the truly horrid acting of the rest of the cast, Doralice’s perky British lilt was generally on target and kept me interested through even the most tedious and ridiculous bits of exposition.  The MacGyver-like puzzles truly shine, despite the occasional bit of illogic.  The puzzling joys outnumbered the drawback of the sappy and incomprehensible storyline.  However… I highly recommend that if you go looking for a copy of Lost in Time that you make sure to purchase a copy that includes the manual.  You’ll save yourself an Excedrin headache.

Score: 7.5 (out of 10)

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