A car park near a chippy isn’t a quintessential video game setting, and neither is the living room of a council estate flat. Yet those are the places that make Last Stop – anyone who’s set foot in England for any amount of time is going to find its idiosyncrasies written all over the game. Meanwhile, its characters are as normal as its setting.
You’ll meet three different protagonists, who all live along a made-up version of a London Tube line: John Smith, an overweight single parent in his fifties; Meena Hughes, a woman working for a secret government agency; and Donna Adeleke, a high schooler who likes to hang out with her friends at the aforementioned chip-shop.
All three struggle with issues many of us will be able to identify with – John’s perpetually caught between his mid-life crisis and the struggles of parenthood, Meena can’t seem to cut back on either her affair or her work for her family’s sake, and Donna is tired of her overbearing sister. These problems are exacerbated when the supernatural enters their lives – Meena finds out in a very dramatic fashion what her job actually entails, Donna finds herself accidentally kidnapping a mysterious stranger, which is just as odd as it sounds. And John ends up swapping bodies with Jack, his hip game developer neighbour across the road. Last Stop is more of an interactive movie than a game, in the same way that games by Quantic Dream are. There are in fact several things Variable State nab from the French developer, among them going ham on camera angles and offering uninspired gameplay. The characters are well-realised, dialogue is spirited, and the voice acting is a joy – but when you get to do something, it’s likely rotating an analogue stick to shovel cereal into your character’s mouth, or fumble your way through making a cup of tea. The rest of the interactive parts consist of deciding between conversation options, and here, too, Last Stop disappoints. Often, the choice descriptions don’t clearly convey what you’re making a character say, and a lot of the time, the three options amount to exactly the same thing.
Gameplay isn’t everything, but when you do try to engage a player and that engagement feels more like arbitrarily moving your thumbs for the sake of it, things become especially frustrating. And the supernatural story elements hurt more than help – Last Stop doesn’t seem to know how to use them effectively, culminating in an ending that feels rushed and makes little sense. A pity – its mundanity was Last Stop’s unique strength.
No other recent game has such an amazing sense of place – from terrible pun shop names to pubs and Tube stations, Last Stop has all the details of a London suburb. It’s also brilliant at portraying the stresses of day-to-day life – including calling a helpline, dealing with right-leaning parents, and enduring a ‘cool boss’. Thanks to some brilliant facial animations, characters really get to express their dismay, too.
Last Stop looks great and boasts engaging character-writing, but stumbles over superfluous gameplay elements and a baffling ending.
Genre: Adventure Format: PC (tested) / PS5 / XB S/X / PS4 / XBO / Switch Developer: Variable State Publisher: Annapurna Interactive Price: £19.99 Release: Out now SOCIAL: @VariableState