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If not for Game Pass on Xbox, I likely would not have heard of this little gem of a video game called Last Stop. Developed by Variable State and published by Annapurna Interactive, the game tells the story of three ordinary people and how their lives are not only affected by, but also brought together by, the supernatural. I’m a fan of a good gaming narrative, and wasn’t about to pass this up.
Last Stop can best be described as a sci-fi adventure game. The story takes place in London, England, which is what drew me to it in the first place. However, the game is not set in touristy London. This is surburban London with terraced housing and no crown jewels.
I had zero expectations when loading the game, but right off the bat, I noticed Last Stop felt a lot like the Life Is Strange or Telltale games. There are quite a few similarities with dialogue choices and enjoyable characters. I am hesitant to call this an exploration game, however, as there are no objects to interact with, and quite frankly, there is nothing to explore. This is a walking simulator, at best, and a very linear game. Though, I would be remiss not to mention the story is quite compelling, and kept me very interested throughout.
There are six chapters containing stories of three different playable characters, and one final chapter tying all of the stories together. Each personality is connected to one another in some way, and I felt this was great writing. The majority of the game is centered around conversation choices, allowing you to “choose your own adventure,” if you will.
The three characters’ stories can be played in any order within the chapter. The game begins in the 1980s in London with two young friends, Peter and Samantha, running from the police in the Underground. A man opens a door for them exposing a green portal, and a very brave Samantha steps through it.
The story fast-forwards to 2020s London, and opens with my personal favorite story of the game, the “Paper Dolls” chapter. This is the story of John Smith and Jack Smith, who are ordinary, everyday neighbors that have not interacted much outside of exchanging their mail. Jack is a video game developer. He is young, fit, has great hair, and based on my dialogue choice for him, he is a die-hard Arsenal fan. He is also a carbon copy of someone I know in North London. I might have a tiny crush on Jack, but the good thing is that no one will ever know. Oops.
John is a “down-on-his-luck” middle-aged, debt-ridden man. He is a single father to eight-year-old Molly, who is a delight. She’s a very funny, honest, and quite independent child. I adore her character. She gives Jack an incredibly hard time about his clothes, and then tells her dad afterwards, “I like him!”
Whilst on the way to work, the men run into each other, and experience a chance encounter with an odd stranger at the Underground. Thinking nothing of it, Jack runs to work, and John takes Molly to school and carries on to his job. From there begins a line of unfortunate events for poor John. Exhausted, he returns home, naps, and wakes up the next morning to find he and Jack have switched bodies. What could possibly go wrong from here?
The second playable character is Meena Hughes. Her story is called “Domestic Affairs.” She is an intelligence agent, and by my account, the least interesting of the three. Meena’s story centers around her love affair with another man alongside her love of her career. She continually feeds her family lies, and seems to be disinterested in her son, as evidenced when she didn’t know which swim meet her son was taking part in. Meena can assess risk and reputation with her intelligence equipment. She’s bold and independent, having no qualms about confronting the man who supplies her dad with drugs. Though Meena does become slightly paranoid when she feels as though she is being stalked by someone who knows about her affair.
The third story is called “Stranger Danger” and is the story of Donna Adeleke, a schoolgirl with an ill mother and a very overbearing sister who is a police officer. One night, Donna is out with friends, Vivek and Becky. Vivek points out his neighbor to the girls, a handsome man known as The Stranger. Vivek explains that The Stranger brings people back to his place, but those guests have never been seen leaving. Donna and friends follow The Stranger and get caught spying on him whilst he’s swimming… and glowing green. The kids run for their lives and Donna gets caught on a fence. The Stranger reaches out to grab her, and Donna’s friend hits The Stranger over the head whilst saving Donna’s life. Next, the kids tie The Stranger to a chair at the abandoned pool, and they each work in shifts to watch over him. The kids have become kidnappers, and the strangest thing about The Stranger, is that he lets them. The Stranger is the most fascinating personality in the game. He is a shape-shifter with bright-green eyes and the ability to completely wipe people off the face of the planet.
We continue the journey with each of our main characters, wondering what will happen to them, and who will make it out alive. What happened to the young adults in the prologue? Will anyone else step through a portal? In the end, all of the stories are tied together in an unexpected fashion… you get to choose their fate. It’s important to note the game has no deep, underlying meanings. It offers no life advice. It’s not even an empathy game. But the characters are very well-written, each having their own distinct personality and charm (and accent!). Last Stop has a superb story that left me wanting more. I couldn’t play the chapters quickly enough.
So, to the nitty and gritty. The gameplay is not very good. Rather, there really isn’t any. It definitely leaves something to be desired. Last Stop feels like a television show where you occasionally guide the character through a linear path. There are quick-time events and dull controls that exist solely to make the game feel more interactive. In an effort to show you John’s monotonous job, you’ll stamp envelopes and watch him call tech support. You’ll press up on the joystick to sort through mail. You’ll walk here and you’ll walk there to the point that the gameplay feels like you aren’t contributing anything. You’re just watching a television show with a game controller in-hand.
In addition to the simple gameplay, there are dialogue choices for each of the three main characters, giving you the sense that your choices matter. Unfortunately, they don’t. This is where the game goes south for me. Your choices have no impact on the game, apart from choosing your character’s outfits, and again when you get to choose each character’s fate at the end. This, along with the lack of objects to interact with, the ceaseless walking in this direction, and then walking in that direction, are quite frankly, boring. Was the game designed this way so that you feel as if you’re actually playing a game, or was it to prevent your controller from falling asleep from disuse?
Are there ways to tell a linear, story-based game without insulting the player? For the record, there are. I would have walked in a straight line for hours if it meant protecting Clementine in The Walking Dead game season one. I cared about her character as if she were my own child. I felt immersed in that game. Last Stop was definitely missing that immersion with the laid-back gameplay. Some narrative-based games are heavy on story to the point the gameplay takes a backseat, though, the stories are usually so well-written, you don’t even notice. I feel this is a great way to describe Last Stop.
In the end, I highly recommend playing Last Stop as it does have a strong story and is absolutely worth the playthrough. This game is a little gem with a lot of charm. The story outshines every other aspect of the game. It even overshadowed the music to the point that I didn’t notice any music until the second time I went back through it. I hope for a sequel, and that it has the same charm. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for that. I’ll also be hoping for more of Jack Smith’s story. That’s not too much to ask, is it?