Last stop review – Loud pixel
What would you do if you had the choice to improve your own life at the expense of someone else’s? The moral dilemma and the gulf between selfish and altruistic are brought to light by the latest game from developer Variable State. Last Stop is a story-driven supernatural sci-fi drama adventure game that feels like a crossover episode between Doctor Who and The Twilight Zone. However, the game feels like a story that could have been told without the mechanics of the video game. Last Stop is a game about ordinary people who embark on extraordinary events. The five-hour adventure is divided into three separate stories that revolve around three characters who have nothing in common until they finally blend together to form a larger plot.
The prologue of Last stop begins in a London Underground station in 1982. Two teenagers are chased by police in the maintenance halls when they meet a mysterious man in a brown suit. The man opens a door behind him, revealing a portal from another world, and gestures for the two to enter. As Samantha walks through the portal, Peter the boy deflates and is arrested.
Fast forward twenty years, the three stories unfold over seven chapters. You are free to choose which story arc to play first, by chapter. First, there’s John Smith, a disorganized single dad who struggles to make ends meet. His story begins when a curse drives him and his neighbor Jack to swap bodies, like Freaky Friday. Then we have Meena Hughes, a cheating, career-obsessed wife who ruined her relationship with her father, husband, and son. She pulls away further when forced to compete for a promotion she’s worked so hard for. Finally, we have Donna Adeleke, an ordinary high school student from London struggling with family life and friendships. She becomes an accidental kidnapper after following a suspicious neighbor who doesn’t seem quite human.
The developer does a brilliant job with his art style, storytelling, and sound design. The design is minimalist, focusing on the characters rather than the backdrop. Last stop manages to capture the chemistry and personality of the cast through their interactions and expressions. There are a few incidents of awkward animations and words that don’t match each character’s mouth movements, but there’s a good mix of loud writing and voice acting to keep players engaged.
Gameplay, on the other hand, is extremely limited by range. These items include choice of dialogue options, walking, quick events, and the occasional puzzle or mini-game. The mini-games are refreshing, and include events like putting books back on a shelf and piecing together broken ceramic objects. But, unfortunately, in most cases the interactions you have as a player are largely meaningless and inconsequential, to the point that it feels like a chore to make a character run faster or grab some grain. and drink coffee.
While my interest has remained in the story, the game requires you to travel long distances for no real reason. From your home to school, to the store, to the office. Sometimes it’s not obvious which way to walk, so you end up bumping into an invisible wall before you realize you are going in the wrong direction. Moreover, all the dialogue choices, whether it be to make a particular character cold and harsh or warm and endearing, make absolutely no difference to the outcome of the narrative. It makes the experience truly disconnected from its gameplay elements.
The journey to get to the meat of the narrative ends up being a predictable journey. When the paths finally connect, Last stop does a great job sorting out details while leaving others intentionally untied for player interpretation. There is a fantastic authenticity in the characters because I found each of them relatable. The moral and existential decisions they face still linger in my mind. Although this is a sci-fi tale, the emphasis is still on ordinary life instead of the supernatural element. Variable State also did a great job of mixing characters from different personalities together: Meena being a logical, ruthless alpha, Donna being an innocent teenager, and John being a comedic relief and general blunderer. While the final chapter is enjoyable due to its twists and turns, the ending is awkwardly paced, weighing down the entire experience.
Last Stop serves up a strong narrative, mixing existentialism with ordinary people’s lives, but it forgets to be a game at times. The interaction and story elements keep you invested at the expense of choice and navigation segments that do nothing for adventure. At its best, Last Stop should be enjoyed as a relaxed storytelling experience, but asking for more can get you out before the line ends.