Last Stop is a third-person, interactive narrative experience developed by Variable State and published by Annapurna Interactive. Dive into the daily lives of three unfortunate Londoners who are forced to face the supernatural in a narrative that could be the lovechild of Doctor Who and Broadchurch.
Set-in present-day London, the player guides three characters; John, a middle-aged single parent, Meena, a covert operative with a dark secret and Donna, a pressured high-schooler still trying to find her place. There are five sectioned chapters before a merged finale, with each chapter requiring the player to complete each of the three protagonists separate story arcs before moving on to the next chapter.
As with most interactive experiences, gameplay largely consists of selecting various dialogue options during conversations or various, minimally designed mini-games to break up the “gameplay”. Walking or running around the linear world sets-up nice movements of overlap wherein you might walk past John sitting at bus-stop while hunting down a drug dealer as Meena.
Nearly every scene or moment in Last Stop is shot from a different angle, leaning in heavily to the sense that what you’re experiencing is less a video-game and more a bingeable series. In these cuts that can sweep from invasive close-ups to wide overhead views, the game helps orientate the player with clever uses of world lights, signage and camera focus to explicitly show where the player needs to go.
This strict linearity however is perhaps one of the largest drawbacks to Last Stop depending on what you expect to get out of the game when loading it up. To those who seek drastic choice and consequence scenarios from their interactive drama’s then the Last Stop is not for you.
Dialogue selection can largely be focused around how much you would like to present yourself as a git to other characters, but will ultimately never derail the plot. Same for the mini-games, presented more as flavour and an attempt to squeeze in some diversity of gameplay at odd moments.
The epic finale that brings all three story arcs together and brings our protagonists face-to-face simply ends up as a good choice / bad choice binary after the last of the action. That option can then be replayed from character select to easily see all endings. This essentially nullifies any illusion of choice or impact you may have assumed you had on the game.
However, the locked in, rail-shooter control Last Stop has over the narrative is not a game breaker, more something to be aware of before buying. The storylines are tremendously written and voice acted by a range of professional talent to cover a diverse and representative cast. The script tackles depictions of child-care and social services, infidelity and even video game development crunch!
More importantly it feels watchable, bingeable even, and it was a delight to switch off for a moment and enjoy the very British, murder-mystery style plot that was on offer. The supernatural elements are subtly woven into the plot to keep you guessing until the last moment about how it will all come down.
Clearly designed and developed with nothing but pure indie gaming passion there are a few bugs and issues that present themselves over the course of the approximately six-hour game length. Some odd texture breaks or camera sequences occurred but nothing to break the flow of the game.
The worst element I came across is just how robotic and janky each of the characters look like when a running sequence occurs (which is painfully often). The depicted motion is square and awkward and breaks the flow of the immersive world every time a character has to pick up the pace.
The cell-shaded art style suits the tone of the overall narrative which is heavily focused on adult themes but broken up with tender moments and comedic scenarios (mostly from John’s storyline). It even gives an artistic cause to have any non-story related character depict a blank mannequin-like face to help focus the story telling.
Last Stop features a stellar original score composed by BAFTA award winning composer Lyndon Holland. The entire soundtrack that captures the intensity of daily lives spiralling out of control as well as alien, sci-fi ambiance was performed entirely by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.
As the second title to be developed by Variable State after the award-winning Virginia, it’s clear the team is committed to creating niche, heartfelt experiences that contest basic expectations of what a video game should be. Released July 22 2021, Last Stop is available on PC, Nintendo Switch and both the Xbox and PlayStation console families. Last Stop is an engrossing narrative delight that any gamer could pick up.