Known more for their 2D point-n-click adventure games, such as The Inner World series and Minute of Islands, German developer Studio Fizbin is charting different waters with their latest: Lost At Sea. The allure of the narrative adventure/walking sim template seemed fitting for this studio. But as can often be the case, transplanting your previously accumulated expertise from one style to another can result in tempestuous seas; sadly, Fizbin's new release is another example of that.
While drifting out at sea, your unnamed character spots a mysterious island in a distance. An oil tanker jutting out of this island's center sees its large, beaming light source split into four as you arrive. This isn't merely a light show. These 'entities' are trapped within four distinct biomes, each representing disparate epochs of Anna's life. As this possibly ethereal sojourner, your goal boils down to discovering "mirages" within each of these biomes, completing some type of simple puzzle for a special object, and then filling in said mirage to hear Anna's complete thoughts.
Looking Towards The Past
It's initially unclear of your connection with this geriatric lady who's ruminating on her life decisions, but that plays into the grander mystery. The rueful narration seems overdone at first, but it's justified once you understand the throes of loss and grief she's experienced. She ought to look back with a poignant effect, rather than as a cold documentarian. Considering how the creation of this seems to be an allegorical representation of her current isolation and loneliness, players are able to infer their place within it.
That dynamic is – sadly – the only nuanced part of a typical and somewhat questionable story. To explain this in more detail I ought to warn about SPOILERS now. I'm not sure if something got lost in translation, but I didn't follow why Anna would be regretful of seeking end-of-life care for her dementia-afflicted husband. It's framed as though she's just "given him up," but it seems like she was incapable of managing him alone anyways. Maybe there's more to it, but there's so little context given that I felt lost about her emotional state. Also, it's weird to hear how much they yearned to raise a child, yet... never considered adoption? Even if there are reasons as to why – which I can respect, the audience is never given much to go on. It’s weird to get so little information from someone looking across the arc of their life.
This lack of emotional context feeds its way into the whole narrative: she's less character and more AI-driven facsimile giving scant monologues. Anna’s voice actor (whom I can’t see credited anywhere) succeeds in capturing believable feelings, but the script is going through the motions. You traverse both tragic and happy times in Anna's life, but none of them really did anything engaging or new with the material. It's a routine battle against despondency that doesn't keep engagement for long.
What Compels Players Forward Though?
Another aspect poisoning Lost at Sea is banality. The sub-genres' tendency towards extremely simplified game systems can be a huge detractor, although there are some counter-examples. They've gradually added more adventure elements as time goes on, but typically it's been quite limited. Lost At Sea is one such example.
Armed with a trusty compass, you venture out to acquire the necessary object needed to complete a mirage. To the game's credit, it's actually a handy tool. I like gameplay devices that act as both a marker and a quest checklist; plus, the intuitive UI is nice. But all that neat assistant does is lead you to mostly generic puzzles. Whether it's as simple as interacting with stars in the night sky (X button) or removing obstacles for a floating orb, I hardly remember any elevated brain activity over these "puzzles." There were a couple of cool ones, such as guiding footprints in the sand or playing musical chairs, but they were incredibly rare.
Traversing the island isn't a breezy cakewalk either. Since Anna's fear is a part of the island, popular pathways have a dark aura about them: her harmful thoughts come up when you cross an invisible threshold, the sky becomes darkened, and this floating black light gives chase until you've escaped this area. It's basically the inverse of the light 'orbs' you collect: thin, black strands perpetually orbiting an invisible nucleus. This Mephistophelean entity may seem scary, but it's more of a nuisance. Since your compass indicates which direction it's attacking, all you do is run away from it and hopefully not get stopped by a random invisible wall or unseen textures. Should you get caught, you get transported back to your last save, effectively meaning the sole consequence of failure is playing the game longer.
Meandering around a barren island accomplishing fetch quests is the extent of gameplay. Sure, completing all the quests for one of Anna's timelines can emotionally connect: guiding that orb back to the middle to challenge the "walls" she's put up makes sense. There's a short, vivid light show once that's accomplished. But it gets boring fast. Beyond the majority of bland "puzzles," even the sensation of jogging is insanely slow; your run is akin to trudging through snow up to your knees. Its template is the gameplay equivalent of oatmeal.
Outside Of Their Element
Even limited gameplay structures can suffice with great presentation, but no such credit is due here. It's especially weird here because of how devoid of character it typically feels. Although I do my best to avoid stereotyping the results of games powered by Unity Engine, the slapdash world design is really tough to ignore. Hell, I haven't even played Minute of Islands yet still see purer artistry in its screenshots than anything here. Sunsets have this peach-tinted visual filter that's overly bright, most environmental objects look blocky, and several artistic choices feel either generic or random. For example, Anna's reflection during her high-school years is presented through a biome littered with school buses for no rhyme or reason. The one quality that showcased genuine Fizbin work is the lovely illustrations upon completing any mirage.
Similar to visual design, the sound is another phoned-in quality. Past the voice acting, Alexander Binderer & Luka Meirardus’ melancholic composition is limited and quite repetitive by the conclusion. Even sound foley has a cheapness to it, like there's so little texture for anywhere you step. I occasionally experienced buggy audio during some failure states too. It's disheartening that I have to plea with viewers not to judge the studio by this game. The effort feels night and day from what I remember in The Inner World.
To continue this streak of "what the hell gives?" critiques, I can't believe this is retailing for $14.99 (as of now). I tend to focus more on the game experience versus a strict runtime-to-dollar valuation, but it's simply impossible to ignore here. Discounting that, it simply doesn't feel whole either. I feel like critical chapters of Anna's life were slashed for a shortened development time; if that's not the case, then I'm not sure how the writers & designers felt this was a complete journey.
Lost At Sea is a personal project in search of a game. That sounds rough, but it's hard to get over just how poorly it fares compared to other walking sims. It wants to capture this tangible sensation of coming to grips with your past and moving forward. By itself, that's a noble goal. But I rarely – rarely – felt that connection meaningfully transplanted into these mundane fetch quests. It's made even tougher when it feels incomplete. For these reasons and more, this is Studio Fizbin's most uncreative work to date.
TechRaptor reviewed Lost At Sea on Xbox Series X with a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on PlayStation 5 and PC.
- Decent Voice Acting
- Immersive & Intuitive UI
- Starving Script
- Boring Fetch Quest Structure
- Mostly Shallow Puzzles
- Distracting & Underwhelming Presentation
- Little, Annoying Bugs That Tend To Distract