Reviewed on PC
This review contains light spoilers. Last Stop is a narrative heavy game, but this review doesn’t talk about any of the plots. All of the main characters are mentioned in this review, as well as their motivations.
Imagine meshing together a sci-fi story, a teenage drama, a family comedy and a detective.
Ready? Alright. Let’s go.
Last Stop is an interactive story by the people at Variable State, the studio responsible for the detective story Virginia. from 2016. Last Stop is an interesting game to write about, as the gameplay mechanics are by far the least interesting aspect of the experience. I’ve even hesitated calling this game interactive, but we’ll get to that later. First, let’s travel to London in the 1980’s.
The story: the great, the weird and the missed opportunities
We start the game as we meet two people running from the police. It seems one of them has stolen a police cap. But at the end of this pursuit, we suddenly find ourselves in a sci-fi story. One of the characters walks into a strange green portal and this is where the game starts for us.
In Last Stop we follow three main characters in three seperate stories in present day London. Each character arc consists of 6 episodes, some more lengthy than others, and the game ends with one final chapter. This is where everything in the story joins together. When the prologue is finished, you’ll get the option to choose between one of the three story arcs, but you’ll have to get through all the story arcs chronologically, so you can’t just finish one story arc completely and leave the others be. If you want to know the ending of one of the three arcs, you’ll have to play all three of them.
The three characters have little in common besides residing in London. I was happy to discover the three stories are entirely different in characters, motivations and plot, which means the narrative keeps you engaged during the entire 6-7 hour journey as you jump between the different plotlines.
We follow John, Meena and Donna, our three characters in the following storylines.
The story of John is that of a rather simple but well done family comedy where John, a middle aged father who is struggling with his health and his job swaps bodies with Jack, a video game developer and fitness freak. During our time with both these two characters and John’s funny daughter Molly we experience the craziness of swapping bodies.
Having to do another persons job, act like you know complete strangers and getting used to a different physique are all aspects which you’ll encounter in Last Stop. Obviously, John and Jack want their own bodies back, so they are on a quest to find out what might have happened to them….
Every narrative experience needs a character who is difficult to like, and in Last Stop that surely is Meena. She’s having an affair, works for a commercial technology company and has a rocky relationship with her father. While she has the most interesting life of all three characters, it’s her story arc that’s the least developed and interesting. The sci-fi elements only happen in the later part of the story. Meena’s motivations aren’t very clear throughout the story, as she is dealing with a set of problems. With her family, her job and herself.
The last protagonist of Last Stop is Donna; a teenager living with her mother and sister. Her sister is an overprotective police offer, while her mother is very ill. The Donna chapters in Last Stop have a very different feel to them, and in my opinion, could well be adapted to be a Netflix style sci-fi teen drama. Donna is hanging out with her friends when one of them, Vivek, tells them he has noticed something mysterious. The teenagers foolishly follow…
The voice acting in the game is superb. The characters sound very natural and the writing of all three stories is sublime, though the quality of the characters varies. Some of the side characters are pretty underdeveloped, while others suck you in completely. This is where the story of Donna disappoints, as it feels like more could’ve been done to enhance this storyline. A better cast of sidecharacters could’ve helped here.
Meanwhile Meena’s storyline was helped greatly by the presence of her dad. He disapproves of Meena’s job at a high tech commercial company, as it conflicts with his marxist views. Meanwhile he has taken on party drugs, possibly just to annoy his daughter. The conversations between these two characters is great, but also shows how all the other side characters in Last stop are underdeveloped.
Overall the writing of the game is above your average video game story, and halfway through the game I felt like this was one of the better narrative experiences I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy in the medium for quite some time. Sadly, this all seems to fall apart at the final hurdle, as the final chapter of Last stop is a frankly, a disappointing mess.
The way the three stories blend together feels rushed and doesn’t do justice to the stories set up in the 5+ hours leading up to it. The sci-fi world building is poor at best and the choices you get to make at the end of the game are the first bit of gameplay after a very long cinematic. As if the developers gave up on making an interactive experience at the end, or ran out of budget.
Nevertheless the overall storytelling in Last Stop is very enjoyable. The developers were heading toward delivering a very impressive feat of bringing a story to life in a video game, which makes the ending a bitter pill to swallow.
A joyful experience for your ears
As previously mentioned, the voice acting is great – but that’s not all there is to it. The score, composed by Lyndon Holland and played by the Prague Philharmonic shines in Last Stop. It elevates some of the moments greatly. The sad beats are emphasized beautifully, often combined with a rainy London as the backdrop of a scene. If you as a player have musical aspirations you are in luck, as the player themselves can show off their musical skills via the inevitable rhythm mini game included where you play the piano by pushing 4 buttons. This rhythm game lasts around 20 seconds…which leads me to the most disappointing aspect aside from the end of the game – the gameplay.
Earlier, I’ve mentioned how I hesitated to call this game an interactive thriller. It obviously is, but compared to other games by the likes of Telltale or Dontnod, I felt like the gameplay elements didn’t work well and just slowed down the experience.
Sure, some of the choices you make in the game have their effects on the story. And the walking moments, which make up the majority of the gameplay parts of this game, had some very nice cinematic camera angles. But overall I feel like this experience wouldn’t have been much worse off as a 6 episode Netflix series. During the 6 hours I’ve had to use my controller to make characters drink coffee, or tea, or pour milk in their cereal. It doesn’t add anything to the story and is just a way to keep players engaged while the story is unfolding. This isn’t what I’m looking for in an interactive sci-fi thriller like this; the strength in these kind of games is being part of the story and having the means to impact it, even if it just a slight adjustment to the main storyline.
Oh, and just one pet peeve before we’ll move on to the summary of this review. Why is everyone walking around in regular clothes in this game when rain is pouring down constantly? We’re in London, get yourself a coat!
Now, I don’t want this to sound overly negative. As that is not at all reflective of my time with this game. I really enjoyed the storyline, the voice acting and most of the characters. The soundtrack is great and I was very pleasantly surprised by the polish and overall presentation of the entire experience. Halfway in I was truly thinking about how this was one of the better narrative experiences I’ve had in interactive entertainment in quite a while.
But, there are also aspects of Last Stop I wasn’t that impressed by. The ending should have been better (and that’s not due to the overload of very soft sci-fi that happens near the end – I love sci-fi!). In addition, the gameplay itself just wasn’t very engaging.
Interactive storytelling is a difficult genre to get right, as it requires both an interesting story and a story that can be interacted with by the player. You want your actions to have meaning, you want them to matter. In Last Stop this isn’t always the case, and combined with the filler gameplay segments this is the aspect where the game let me down a bit.
Overall Last Stop is a well-crafted game by very talented independent developers which will keep players engaged for a couple of hours. A polished and well-built experience. Sadly, the journey is definitely more interesting than the destination with this one.
|Reviewed on||Windows PC|
|Available on||Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Playstation 4|5, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC|
|Release Date||July 22nd, 2021|