It’s hard to say if developer Variable State tried to do too much or too little with their indie adventure Last Stop but the one thing that’s clear to see is that it just doesn’t work. Last Stop fails to deliver an enjoyable experience and barring a handful of streamers looking for something to fill their channel, is likely to be forgotten.
Even with respect to games of its kind, Last Stop totally fails across the board in the areas that narrative adventures are designed to function in. To reach an agreeable benchmark, games in this mold need a rich story, decent voice acting, functional gameplay and (at the very least) nondistracting graphics. But none of those aspects make for an enjoyable experience, save for its music, which may even be strictly average but shines against its horrific backdrop.
The game’s story is told through the three characters, Donna (British-burnout Nancy Drew), John (a middle aged man with a sad life made worse by a Freaky Friday-like curse) and Meena (A 007 type super spy with serious misanthropy issues), in a terribly frustrating system. The player will play one chapter of each before being able to play another chapter of the same character. This method breaks the storytelling arc in a couple of ways. The first and most obvious way is that nothing feels “fluid” or “flows” correctly. Last Stop’s storytelling method leaves the player with a few choices at the end of a chapter, none of which are good.
Last Stop totally fails across the board in the areas that narrative adventures are designed to function in.
For example, if you play Donna first in chapter one you won’t be catching up with her until you at least complete the other two character’s chapter one. The obvious workaround would be to start the second chapter with the same character you just finished chapter one with, effectively creating a bigger continuous chunk of story. But doing so is detrimental to your experience with the first character played, as that just widens the gap between your first chapter with them by about a chapter or two.
This restriction isn’t entirely arbitrary, but it hurts your understanding and the flow of the story. There must have been a better way to pace these stories. Effectively, by giving you control over the story, but placing arbitrary restrictions, Variable State has only given players the power to damage their own experience of the story even more.
All of this would almost be forgivable if Last Stop’s story landed with me somehow, but it doesn’t. Last Stop’s story packs no punch and I doubt it will make much of a connection with players. The gameplay also chooses to worsen the player’s experience. Almost immediately on the very first chapter of each character is the introduction to walking through scenes with a cinematic camera angle and zero guidance or directions.
While the player isn’t attempting to get unstuck from the various obstacles and regular corners in the game, they can “enjoy” one of two modes of transportation based on what type of controller is being used. For the gamepad enthusiast, holding awkward diagonal directions on the left stick is required in every scene. Meanwhile keyboard enjoyers will get a decent finger workout zig-zagging through the streets (or in this sense I suppose “pavement”) of Old Blighty.
After my fingers were well warmed up, I came to my first quick time event. It involved climbing on some boxes to grab a video with a smartphone while playing as Donna. I would attempt this clunky and tutorialess quick time event 16 times (perfectly executing it at least six times) only to finally accept that it will fail no matter what and I deleted photos of my rad kickflip to make space for nothing.
Another point of friction in the overall experience is Last Stop’s voice acting. The actual dialog content written in conjecture with odd timing of dialog line playback make conversations sound unnatural and a headache to follow. Voice actors are often not on the same page when it comes to the tone of a scene. The true errors in voice acting and dialog playback really show when a character interrupts another midsentence. In those dramatic or humorous instances there’s an awkward pause followed by either a bone dry dehydrated joke or cringe quiet yelling that holds no weight.
The actual dialog content written in conjecture with odd timing of dialog line playback make conversations sound unnatural and a headache to follow. Voice actors are often not on the same page when it comes to the tone of a scene.
It’s also difficult to see what the characters are going for in those moments because of the graphics, specifically in the facial expressions. While games with more modest budgets of this genre could be given a “free pass” in this area of judgement, Last Stop finds no salvation here, as its transgressions seemingly oppose the hard work of the voice actors and writers. The only two jobs graphics realistically have in this type of game is to not be distracting and to make the game not a visual novel. It’s hard to tell if it’s a style or an engine issue but it remains detrimental to the delivery of the dialog. Sometimes the dialog comes out before the expression can change or a meant-to-be-taken-seriously romance scene is just too awkward and clunky to even watch.
Last Stop fails to meet the benchmark for its own genre. It can barely punch within its own weight class. One can only hope Variable State’s next effort is better.