Aliens and the London Underground. Two things that are seldom mentioned in the same sentence. For Variable State, developers behind the magnificent Virginia, they form the basis for Last Stop. It’s massively different to their award-winning game, but it’s good to know they’re willing to push the boundaries of their own creativity. While it has some positives, it never quite reaches the heights of their standout title.
Last Stop: Three interesting stories
In Last Stop, you play through three stories featuring the lives of Londoners in the midst of some strange goings on. Paper Dolls focuses on John, a middle-aged single parent, and Jack, a talented young games designer. After their bodies are swapped in a chance encounter in the London Underground, they do all they can to find a way back. Their story is perhaps the most-light-hearted of all. Cliched hilarity ensues when they realise they might be stuck like that forever, and try to make their new situation work.
Paper Dolls is the funnier of the three, but it can also be rather poignant. John has a daughter called Molly, and he tries to do his best by her. Jack isn’t quite as successful or as carefree as it appears at the start. Their lives are in plain sight for each to experience. In Domestic Affairs, Meena is the main character. She works in a secretive government facility, trying to balance her home and work life. When you find out she’s having an affair whilst trying to look after her sick father and maintain the illusion of a happy home, it becomes clear she’s struggling to be the woman she feels she needs to be.
Meena and her colleague Amy are being tested for the perfect assignment by their boss. This puts added stress on her, and causes her to lose focus of what’s important. Stranger Danger is perhaps the most enjoyable of all three. It focuses on a young girl called Donna. Her mother is ill and her sister’s on her back. After a night of suspicion goes awry, she encounters a stranger who has the ability to change her life forever.
An interwoven narrative
Each story does a fantastic job of intriguing you about the wider scope of the story. The supernatural and science fiction elements are hinted at throughout. Quite often, a character from one story pops up in another. These cameos remind you there’s a link between all three, even though they are wildly different. Some characters are likeable, but others are just twats, however, you aren’t meant to like them. They represent every facet of friendship and life. That narcistic, sexist boss. The self-obsessed friend who cares more about their looks that those around them.
Saying that, Vivek is a great friend to Donna, and John’s friend/potential partner Shaza is sweet and caring. Last Stop does a good job of introducing the right amount of characters for you to keep track of. They are mostly there to move the narrative along, but none feel arbitrary. It’s just a shame that in the end, some of these characters kind of get forgotten about.
Last Stop: More questions than answers
There’re six chapters in each story, followed by one final one. Up until the end, I was enjoying each story. Without spoiling, the way these narratives come together and fully introduce the mysterious nature of Last Stop was disappointing. After spending hours coming up with my own theories, the big reveals were unexpected and flat. In all good horror films, you never actually see what threatens the protagonists. Sometimes, it’s nice to hold onto a little bit of mystique.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me is the lack of answers to some of Last Stop’s bigger questions. Again, no spoilers, but there’re some big moments that never get explained as well as they could, or should. I was left a little annoyed as the credits rolled because it felt like I wasn’t privy to things I felt like I should have been told. When the final chapter drops a huge new direction for the game, you’re never given enough time to process it. All you’re allowed access to is 30 minutes of a whole section unlike anything else in the game. In that sense, the journey is far better than the destination.
Mending broken plates
In terms of the actual gameplay, you are given plenty of dialogue options throughout. They shape certain story beats, but they’re there more to build the personalities of the main characters. Most of what Jack, John, Meena, and Donna do can be done by the player. Meena pushing her son Dylan around on a roundabout at the park; Jack and John going for a jog; Donna picking out a uniform for the day. At times you can choose how to respond to a text message, and walk from one place to the next. Out of everything you get to do, movement seems a little backwards.
Some segments require you to walk five yards before a cutscene kicks in. When you’re running longer distances, movement can be broken up because of the way the camera jumps from one area to the next (think original Resident Evil). It’s a bit off-putting, and sometimes feels unnecessary. I would have been happier if all I had to do was choose my responses and complete a mundane task like mending a broken plate every now and again.
Last Stop is a nice attempt at melding three narratives together. While the end result is disappointing, the lives of the main characters are interesting. There’re some great ideas when it comes to the gameplay, if at times some of the tasks feel pointless, and the dialogue options help to build the personalities of Jack, John, Meena, and Donna. It may not be to the same high standard as Virginia, but it’s still an enjoyable story. If the end was more ambiguous, and certain questions were given some form of an explanation, I’d have enjoyed it a lot more.
Enjoyable narrative journey
Some well-written characters
Ending lets it down
Movement is frustrating
Some gameplay sections feel arbitrary