Darren is a scientist and an educator by day, and a writer and reviewer by night. While he enjoys shooters, RPGs, platformers, strategy, and rhythm games, he takes particular interest in independent games. Additionally, he produces the Zero Cool Podcast, and he plays board games quite a bit.
The Lost Symbol is the most recent text adventure by famous designer Dan Brown. It is his fifth published work, and the third chronicling the adventures of Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon.
As a fan of Brown's text adventures, I was looking forward to finishing The Lost Symbol, and having recently beaten it, I can say that it was well worth the relatively cheap price of $18. But for a more in-depth review, read on.
First off, the more superficial aspects. The graphics certainly aren't anything special, but then, one doesn't expect much in this department from a text adventure. Similarly, the sound design is minimalistic, allowing the player to imagine gunshots and explosions, but still fitting the more tense, silent moments of the narrative.
Truly, the narrative is where this game shines. Without spoiling too much, it contains several unexpected twists, and it constantly keeps the player guessing. Additionally, it is divided into several very short "chapters" that encourage the player to go through "just one more" over and over again until he realizes that he has spent five hours with it at a time.
Of course, anyone familiar with Brown's earlier games could tell you that these elements are characteristic of his storytelling. What sets The Lost Symbol apart is a truly detestable main antagonist, and one of the most interesting uses of player death that excite this author to see how it can be expounded upon in the upcoming Quantic Dream title Heavy Rain.
Gameplay-wise, it is your standard text adventure fare. There is very heavy use of written narrative (it seemed like 500 pages!), some navigation of dialogue trees, and light puzzle solving.
The puzzles, while few and far between, were diabolically difficult, more so than can be found in either Professor Layton game, but thankfully, there is a very forgiving hint system built into The Lost Symbol. If the player cannot deduce the solution to a puzzle in a short period of time, one of the supporting cast members will offer hints, or Langdon will muse to himself in order to steer the player in the right direction. If the player is still stuck, more menu navigation will reveal the correct solution. It is a pretty ingenious system where the player determines how quickly he receives hints and solutions, but through organically going through the narrative rather than hitting a button asking for help.
With that said, the game suffers from simultaneously being too easy and too difficult at the same time. Most of the puzzles seem impossible to solve without at least some help, but they can all be solved for the player if he chooses to bypass them. Couple that with a tense, yet completely uninteractive final boss encounter, and this games seems very hard to rate. On that note, I will say that its narrative is its strong point, and in that regard, it deserves a four out of five stars.
If you are a fan of Brown's previous text adventures, or the movies made from Langdon's other journeys, then I can recommend The Lost Symbol. However, if you require interactivity or constant sensory input, you may be better off playing something else.