Last Stop Is An Overlooked Adventure Game About Extraordinary Things Happening To Ordinary People
Last year, Annapurna Interactive—purveyors of quality, artful narrative games including Kentucky Route Zero, Outer Wilds, and What Remains of Edith Finch—launched Last Stop. Now, a lot of you might be thinking "They did?" And I don't blame you. It was released into the world with very little fanfare, and seems to have been completely forgotten about. Which is a shame, because it's an interesting game and well worth a few hours of your life—with a few caveats. But before I get into the many things it does well, and the equally abundant things it does not, let me get you up to speed about what the hell it is.
Developed by Variable State, the studio behind stylish minimalist detective thriller Virginia, Last Stop is a game about incredible things colliding with the everyday. It's set on the streets of modern London, but we're not talking Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, and all those other picturesque parts of the UK's capital. This is a game of tube trains, suburbs, pubs, and chip shops. The real Britain that the tourists don't take photos of. It's the most authentic depiction of this part of the world I've ever seen in a video game, and its understated blandness makes the story's drift into the supernatural feel extra uncanny.
It's an anthology of sorts, telling three very different stories about four ordinary people who find themselves tangled up in extraordinary events. In one tale John, a browbeaten middle-aged single father with heart problems who hates his job, mysteriously swaps bodies with Jack, a cheery, fitness-obsessed 20-something game developer. It's part slapstick comedy, part Twilight Zone episode, and disarmingly moving when the gravity of John's health problems, and his relationship with his daughter, come into play. The premise of this story alone should give you a good idea of Last Stop's particular brand of magical realism.
Then there's schoolgirl Donna and her friends, who end up stalking and kidnapping a strange, otherworldly man (it's a long story) who has seemingly magical powers. The overarching plot here isn't as compelling as John and Jack's body swap, and occasionally veers into the nonsensical. But much more successful are the snippets of Donna's home life and awkward, unrequited teenage romance we see, which are convincingly, naturally written. Despite its supernatural leanings, Last Stop is ultimately best when it's telling smaller, more relatable stories—to the point where the fantastical aspect of the narrative feels a tad unnecessary.
Finally we have Meena, a woman juggling a job at a tech company and an extra-marital affair. As well as navigating a high pressure career, she also has to deal with a rocky marriage, a son who wishes she was at home more, and a young woman vying for her job. Meena is the strongest character in the game, and I love how unapologetic she is about her lifestyle. Yeah, she's screwing someone behind her husband's back—because she wants to. The characters in Last Stop are all flawed in some way, which is the real heart of the narrative. It's not really a story about spooky weirdness; it's a story about people with problems.
Last Stop is a 3D adventure game in the Telltale mould. There really isn't much to it besides wandering through linear, heavily scripted scenes and speaking to people to advance the plot. It's actually less interactive than the likes of The Walking Dead, because you don't even get to explore the environments. You're pushed through to the next chunk of story before you get the chance, which is a shame considering how detailed London is. There are some pointless Quantic Dream-style stick-twiddling interactive bits too, which are just a bit silly. Last Stop isn't much of a game, but the story and characters are enough to prop it up.
Eventually the stories collide, and I wish they didn't. They stand strong enough on their own, but once Last Stop starts bringing everything together towards the end the results are, uh, mixed to say the least. I don't want to give too much away, but it's one of the most baffling and least satisfying conclusions to a video game I've ever experienced. But don't let that put you off: the journey getting there is worth it. I've come to forgive the ending—which had me screwing my face up at the screen the first time I saw it—in light of how richly painted the characters are. These are people worth spending some time with, glaring flaws and all.
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