Last Stop

laststop1I don’t write about video games here too often, but I feel I must regards this game which I just played to completion- something I find myself managing all too rarely now. There is a tendency for video games to be sandbox experiences these days, without any real endgame one could mention, so an adventure game like Last Stop, which has a single-player narrative with a beginning, middle and end is rather unusual lately (perhaps quaintly old-fashioned to some). Its a third-person adventure game where players take control of one of three characters, deciding via multiple-choice options what they say and performing minigame sections.  I found the game really interesting, with well-written characters, excellent voice-acting (the best since Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, in my mind) and a really wonderful, evocative score from Lyndon Holland that takes it to some other level. The art style refreshingly does not take an overly realistic approach- the character models and settings have a colourful feel not unlike 1960s television, or perhaps an animated movie.

Set in modern-day London with supernatural undertones, Last Stop is an anthology drama: its actually three seperate stories, each with six chapters, involving seperate characters whose adventures slowly bring them together for the finale. Paper Dolls is the best of the three, a Twilight Zone-type story in which a messy encounter in a Tube station results in two neighbours, middle-aged single-dad John and the young, always-distracted Jack waking up to find they have swapped bodies. The premise may seem daft but the character arcs are so well written, and their connections so endearing, that it was a joy just to play through the chapters and discover what would happen next: episodes of their misadventures, such as when both have to go to work pretending to be the other with ensuing fish-out-water comedy moments are really funny. As usual in the best-written dramas, having gained our emotional connection the humour turns dramatic when things go wrong and young Jack, trapped in John’s middle-aged body with a failing heart, becomes ill. 

Of the other two storylines, Stranger Danger is a more obvious supernatural tale about teenage Donna’s fascination with a tall handsome stranger with a penchant for glowing green eyes and suspiciously disappearing the people he takes to his house, is also quite good. There were some subtle writing choices here, and I enjoyed the initial disorientation I felt when I noticed that once someone was disappeared, oddly nobody in the game seemed to notice: it wasn’t that they were suddenly gone, it was like they were never there and totally forgotten. Quite unnerving. The third storyline, Domestic Affairs, is the lesser of the three, although it has to be said it was a brave choice for its main character, an unfaithful wife caught up in an office promotion rivalry, to be such a decidedly unlikeable playable character. It was quite polarising compared to how much I was rooting for the two guys in the Paper Dolls story.  

laststop2After finishing the game I turned to reviews to learn more about it and sadly it transpires that a lot of the choices I was making possibly didn’t effect the plot as much as I had assumed. The adventure is fairly linear, more so than I has thought when playing it, more the illusion of choice than genuine choice- not the ‘future of interactive entertainment’ that Edge Magazine was promising back in the 1990s, anyway. I think I can forgive some of that as the overall narratives were so involving and entertaining: maybe limiting how much the player interaction actually impacted outcomes was a trade-off to ensure the arcs flowed so well (it must certainly be a tricky balancing-act in game design). I haven’t enjoyed a videogame quite as much as this since, well, possibly What Remains of Edith Finch, which was another really involving single-player adventure. 

In a nod to modern television trends (making me wonder if developer Variable State have a few frustrated wannabe tv producers on its roster) Last Stop actually ends with a bit of a tease/cliffhanger, suggesting that its characters may yet return in a Last Stop 2– I’d certainly be open to that. Meanwhile, I’m going to play that last chapter again, see if I can’t alter how John and Jack’s storyline ends after all- my playthrough ended with a rather downbeat conclusion that felt at odds with my in-game choices. Disturbingly, all I’m thinking now is regards the illusion of freewill and choice in real-life: perhaps not the intention of Last Stop‘s programmers and developers, but hey-ho. If I can get the game outcome to change, maybe there’s hope for us in the Real World too…

Last Stop has just been released on Xbox Game Pass and is well worth a punt if you’re a subscriber.

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