Last Stop is the latest game from Variable State, the studio behind the excellent minimalist detective drama Virginia. Five years later, they’ve released another strong, character-driven game with three branching storylines creating a vibrant blend of supernatural and magical realism.
After a brief prologue that introduces us to the fact that the London Underground is the epicenter of supernatural activity via a glowing green portal behind a door, the player gets to choose between one of three characters to start the game.
In “Paper Dolls,” you’re treated to a body-swapping family comedy starring Jack and John. Your typical corporate drone, the main bright spot in John’s life is his charismatic 8-year-old daughter, Molly. Things get tricky for John when he inadvertently does a Freaky Friday with his neighbor Jack, a video game developer in his 20s.
The genre shifts sharply into a dark thriller territory in “Domestic Affairs,” a story that focuses on Meena, a cutthroat spy working in a privately-owned intelligence agency. Throughout Meena’s chapters, you’re generally trying to help her keep her family together while simultaneously dealing with an ambitious ingenue competing for Meena’s job and juggling an extramarital affair.
Finally, Donna’s story, “Stranger Danger,” is more like a teen supernatural drama with Donna and her two friends Vivek and Becky, accidentally getting in over their heads with a handsome yet terrifying stranger. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, the teens end up taking the man hostage, and things spiral out of control from there.
Each character’s story is comprised of six chapters, with the seventh chapter consisting of all three characters coming together to try and solve their respective problems, all of which lead back to the mysterious supernatural force connecting them all and operating beneath the city. The ending is pretty shocking as it goes completely into new territory and feels much different in tone from the bulk of the story that comes before.
You can play as any character, to begin with, but you will have to play Chapter 1 of each character’s story before you can proceed to Chapter 2 and so forth. I’m not sure if it was necessary to do it that way, as these stories really don’t intertwine until the end. There were times I just wanted to play Meena’s story until it was over rather than go back to John/Jack, or vice versa.
Last Stop is better to play slowly rather than binged at once
I genuinely enjoyed getting invested in this story as Last Stop‘s strengths are definitely in the writing, characterization, the cinematic visuals and score, and the voice acting. But I would recommend not trying to binge the game across two days. I had to do it to get the review out in time, but it’s similar to good television. You’ll want to savor the stories being told here and let them settle.
I think it would work better to play through all three Chapter 1 segments and then take a break until the next day, for example. The game is easy to keep up with because, again, it’s episodic like television, with each segment even beginning with a skippable “previously on” if you need a refresher.
However, like some of the other reviews have mentioned, the weakest attribute is the gameplay itself. The fact is, you don’t actually do that much as the player. The majority of the game is spent directing these characters to walk from one place to the next while choosing various dialogue options.
When it comes to making significant “choices” with meaning, there is one major one at the very end of each character’s story, but that’s about it. Otherwise, all the choices you make are related to character development and the relationships you make, but not necessarily to the overall story. I’m not complaining about that because I don’t necessarily think all games need to have lasting choices. Yet, the final massive choice you make at the end also felt a little unearned because of this.
The main thing that frustrated me about Last Stop is the lack of interaction with your environment. Meena was often the most fun to play for me because she, at least, has the ability to analyze people, which results in the player zooming in on certain parts of a character. Also, Meena can assess if they’re a threat, suspicious, etc., sort of like a pared-down version of Batman does when looking at a crime scene in the Telltale game. It’s the closest the game really comes to letting you feel like you’re an active participant in the story and more rewarding than wiggling the joystick to pour wine or eat cereal.
One chapter in Meena’s story also lets you explore someone’s living space for clues, picking up files and reading information and data. That’s what I wanted more of from Last Stop! I’m one of those people who explores every nook and cranny of a game I play, and I was itching to interact with the gorgeous environments the developers created here. But you can’t read notes on the refrigerator, ruffle through papers on John’s desk, or really take any time to explore because the cinematic shifts and cuts are always making you move one way or another.
At times, the walking itself even becomes clunky as the sudden change to a wide shot, while engaging and pretty to look at, makes you lose track of where your character went until you realize he’s stuck behind a trash can. Along that line, sometimes there is no indication of which way you’re supposed to go on screen, so you spend a few moments shuffling around trying to get your character to align with the doorframe or the right exit.
These mechanics are minor grievances if you’re more interested in the writing and story itself, but even that does leave something to be desired in some instances. I felt like John/Jack, and Meena’s stories were more engaging and had more traditional character arcs than Donna’s tale. I was pretty disappointed with how Donna’s story ended and the lack of answers we got from the “stranger” and even with Donna’s friends. It just didn’t feel as rewarding as the development we saw with John and Meena, specifically.
Yet overall, Last Stop is a rich, vibrant, and fascinating world. I did enjoy getting to know these characters, and there is some replayability value here, so I’m sure I will revisit it in the future. If you go into this game expecting more of a visual novel or interactive Netflix episode, I think you might enjoy it more. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by some of the minigames and mechanics. It’s definitely not as interactive as other games in the story-driven genre so adjust your expectations accordingly, pace yourself, and I think you’ll find a lot to love in Last Stop.
Last Stop is out July 22, 2021 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft Store, Nintendo Switch, and Steam.