Review – Last Stop

Overview

Developer Variable State
Publisher Annapurna Interactive
Genre Indie, Adventure, Action
Platforms PC (Microsoft Windows), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date 7/22/2021

London is host to some strange things, but not quite as strange as the supernatural events you’ll experience in Last Stop. This mysterious journey through the lives of three people keeps you guessing at every turn. While the ending seems a little out of place and falls flat, it doesn’t change the fact that there are some wonderful elements at play here. 

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: One of the three main stories revolves around a body swap. At one point, some characters visit a psychic shop for a consultation, but this is ultimately played for laughs. Curses and supernatural creatures are present.

Violence: Characters get shot, clubbed, and stabbed, in addition to thinking or acting violently towards others in various ways. As such, guns, clubs, swords, and blood are shown. There are some jokes made about violent events.

Sexual Content: There are a wide variety of sexual references and jokes. In addition to make-out scenes and partial nudity, characters have sex that isn’t explicitly shown on screen. One person has an ongoing affair, and you can find sex toys in another person’s bedroom. There’s a lesbian couple, but they’re very loving and kind towards each other.

Language/Crude Humor: Language ranges from mild to severe, including taking Jesus’ name in vain numerous times. Additionally, there’s a fair amount of sex and toilet humor (a lot of these jokes or slang terms are British vernacular, however, so they may not register with American audiences).

Drug/Alcohol Abuse: There are references to smoking weed and drinking. One person regularly takes psychedelics, and others can be seen drinking. At one point, a character visits a vape shop to speak with someone named “the Vape Lord.”

Other Negative Elements: Some characters do illegal and disreputable things such as breaking and entering, stalking, kidnapping, and ditching school.

Positive Elements: There are some great examples of positive yet imperfect familial relationships, including a loving single dad and a woman who’s concerned with her father’s drug abuse. Additionally, the game brings attention to harmful crunch-time conditions in game development spaces, and includes positive messages about processing grief in healthy ways and moving beyond your past. Furthermore, the cast is quite diverse, with two-thirds of its leads being women of color.

Review

In Last Stop, you play through three stories simultaneously: Paper DollsDomestic Affairs, and Stranger DangerPaper Dolls follows John, his daughter Molly, and their neighbor-across-the-way Jack. John and Jack are less than fond of each other, but they’re forced to work together when they swap bodies. Domestic Affairs follows Meena, a top-secret government employee who’s having an affair behind her husband’s back. Between this, her dedication to her work, and her father’s drug habit, household tensions are high, and she stands to risk losing everything she loves if she doesn’t play her cards right.

Finally, Stranger Danger follows Donna and her school friends, who catch on to a peculiar man who brings people into his home, only for them never to leave. They make the mistake of following him and discover that he’s far more than meets the eye, meaning they now have a secret to hide. Eventually, these stories all collide, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

For starters, this whole game was very nostalgic for me given that it mostly takes place in London, and I’ve been fortunate enough to visit many times thanks to my mom’s family members who still live in England. I was enthralled by everything from the dialogue, to the settings, even to some of the sound effects. If you’re a fan of BBC or Masterpiece dramas, you’ll likely be a fan of this.

And drama is definitely the name of the game here. Gameplay, rightfully so, takes a back seat to the three narratives. You have the occasional minigame or interactive segment, but aside from that your main role as the player is to move your characters and choose what they say. With these things in mind, perhaps it’s more accurate to call Last Stop an interactive TV show.

It’s got all of the fixings in this regard, from lovely shot compositions, to a nicely stylized art style, to a truly fantastic score (which I have on in the background as I’m writing this). But all of these factors, like the gameplay, are in service to the narratives. And at the core of these narratives lies the wide cast of characters.

Last Stop‘s characters, while not the most original, are effective nonetheless. Most of them are based on fairly cliched stereotypes –the reckless high schoolers, the inconsiderate millennial, etc.– yet they feel real and fleshed out enough to work, thanks in large part to the vocal performances. They aren’t perfect, but they sell me on the emotions each character is feeling in their respective circumstances. 

For example, Meena is initially presented as nothing more than a cold and calculated observational genius with her steady voice. However, she really wrestles with her life choices and genuinely loves her family, which is apparent in how gently she speaks with her son sometimes. But that doesn’t change her dissatisfaction with her marriage, preoccupation with work, and concern for her father. She’s an extremist who goes too far when she’s close to achieving her goal, and we see that in both her past and her present. All of these elements combined make her compelling in a way that I entirely didn’t expect, given her character’s basis on a tired trope. 

The vocal performances also play an important role in developing the chemistry and dynamics between certain characters, which are simply a joy to watch. By far my favorite example of this was Paper Dolls‘ main cast of John, Jack, and Molly. The way that Jack and John don’t talk down to Molly but include her in part of their planning process is sweet, yet she still acts like a primary-schooler. For instance, I love how easily she accepts the body swap between her dad and their annoying neighbor. We see in the story that any sane adults think these two are out of their minds and disregard them but, hilariously, Molly never questions it.

On that note, each story has a distinct tone: Paper Dolls is comedic and heartwarming, Domestic Affairs is serious and dramatic, and Stranger Danger is like a supernatural teen drama. Each one works as a standalone narrative, which is nice considering you gain access to a chapter select upon completing your first playthrough, allowing you to play a single story from start to finish. Anyway, even though side characters from the other stories will pop up from time to time, they’re more like fun cameos, than anything. However, the main characters don’t properly convene until the final chapter, which is a shame, seeing how well they play off of each other. I wish all of the events leading up to the final chapter were only the first half or two-thirds of the game, then we could see more of this unlikely crew delightfully butting heads.

I want to discuss this ending some more, as it somewhat rubbed me the wrong way. As mentioned earlier, the main “gameplay” element in Last Stop is choosing dialogue options. Your choices don’t make any difference in the outcome, which is a bit disappointing, but I would’ve been completely fine with this if it wasn’t for the strange and abrupt ending. In the final chapter, you get an A-B choice for how each story ends. This sounds alright on paper but, in practice, it’s weird given that you only get about two minutes’ worth of an epilogue per person. Your choice here has zero implications on the game moving forward since it doesn’t go beyond this point. 

If they were planning on providing multiple endings from the outset, why not make your dialogue choices the deciding factor for what ending you get? Alternatively, if your final decision was always meant to have so little impact on the story as a whole, why offer a decision at all? It just seems disjointed to me, almost giving the impression that the team planned on committing to one idea and simply couldn’t deliver. However, this is pure speculation on my part. 

On the whole, I had a great time with this game and plan to replay it very soon. There was enough promising material here that I absolutely want to check out Variable State’s first game, Virginia, and keep an eye out for what they come up with next. And I suggest you do the same!

The Bottom Line

 

Last Stop puts forth some interesting narratives with compelling characters and relationships at its core but, unfortunately, falters a bit with its ending.

 

7

Ellie Rush

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