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February 2023

Last Stop

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Variable State
Release Date: July 22, 2021


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PS4 Review - 'Last Stop'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 13, 2021 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Last Stop is a single-player third-person narrative game about secret lives, the ties that bind and how magic can be found in the mundane.

Certain subjects are better as video games instead of other forms of media, and that usually that boils down to one thing: interactivity. A title like Until Dawn or Phoenix Wright lives and dies on the feeling that comes from interacting with the gameplay to drive the story. Without that gameplay, does it still feel like a game? Last Stop has an interesting cast, memorable plots, and an engaging and often beautiful world. Rather than amplifying it, though, the gameplay feels like it gets in the way.

Last Stop is set in London and follows the adventures of three different characters who come in contact with supernatural events. You choose a character, live through a chapter of their story, pick another character, and repeat the process until the endgame. The gameplay mostly involves walking from one place to another or tapping a button to interact, so the story shines through the most.

The first character is Meena, a former soldier-turned-desk jockey. Of the three, she feels the most nuanced and has the most depth. Starting out, you discover her frustration at having her abilities doubted, annoyance at a new employee who's vying for her spot, find out that she's cheating on her husband, and then witness her come home and awkwardly lie to her husband and child. Of course, the shadowy organization she works for has something mysterious hidden within that could make her life very difficult.

Meena feels like an actual person and not a cardboard cutout, but unfortunately, she's also very hard to like. That isn't due to bad writing, but she can be so abrasive and unlikeable that it can sometimes make it difficult to empathize with her, even in scenes that portray her as a sympathetic character. She's not a character type that I remember seeing in a game before, and Last Stop would be a poorer story without her.

Next up is John, who's a single father stuck with the job of raising his precocious young daughter and working in a dead-end and thankless job. His life is turned upside-down when a chance encounter with a stranger causes him to swap bodies with his young video game designer neighbor. Hijinks ensue as the two attempt to find a way to fix themselves without ruining each other's lives.

John's chapter is easily the funniest of the lot. John is a likeable schlub who's an excellent fit for the Freaky Friday-style adventure. It helps that his daughter manages the very difficult task of straddling the line between annoyingly precocious and genuinely likeable. I sort of wished for more antics, but it does a good job of not overstaying its welcome.

The last character is Donna, a teenager who is dealing with the stress of her home life when she and her friends discover a man with supernatural powers at a local pool. One thing leads to another, and before they know it, they have him knocked out and tied to a chair. As you can imagine, this is not a great plan when dealing with the supernatural, but nobody said teenagers made good decisions.

Donna is the least interesting of the three tales, perhaps because she feels the least distinct. Her story could be right at home in a Stephen King book, so it feels more predictable. John may be in a traditional body swap, but it stands out well enough, while a group of teenagers dealing with a supernatural incident made me want to rewatch "Stranger Things." Donna is a good character, and she hits her stride during the quiet moments when she can focus on her own personality and not the situation.

If there is one thing that feels odd about the three stories, it is that they are so different in tone. In Meena's story, you start off with depression, infidelity and lies. In John's tale, you have what amounts to a slightly comical workplace drama alongside a much brighter cast. The three stories are almost entirely separate until the very end of the game, which is a pretty big tonal shift. Overall, I enjoyed the feeling of Last Stop, which felt like an anthology series in a good way. Not every story was a hit, but none of them were bad.

Last Stop has a serious and pervasive problem: The game has button prompts and QTEs that feel perfunctory and meaningless. You can choose dialogue options, but they're all slight variations on the same idea. You have QTEs, but if there's any meaningful difference between success and failure, I couldn't see it. There are Heavy Rain-style mundane QTEs for things like brushing teeth and drinking coffee, but they feel like busywork that interrupts the flow of a scene rather than something interesting.

The game feels painfully inflexible in terms of what it hands over to the player. Any changes you can make to a character's story are so minor that they're irrelevant, such as the color of the shirt they're wearing. It doesn't seem like you have a real way to influence the stories as they trudge down their inevitable paths. This doesn't necessarily hurt the stories except for making some of the pacing feel rather awkward, but it makes me question why this was a game. I'd rather sit down and watch each story play out rather than occasionally having to push a thumbstick in a direction or tap a button. It lacks the sense of interaction of Telltale titles or something like Until Dawn.

How much this impacts your enjoyment really depends on how much you enjoy watching a narrative versus interacting with one. If you're fine with the idea of letting the narrative play out with minor differences here and there, you'll be fine. If you're hoping for something that lends weight to your decisions, Last Stop isn't the game for you. I'm fond of narrative-based games so I mostly enjoyed it, but I wished it had more engaging gameplay or no gameplay, rather than the in-between that we got.

About 90% of Last Stop looks amazing. The environments are bright, colorful and distinctively real. Alas, you can't do much exploring, but walking around provides some beautiful sights, and there are lots of fantastic touches in the environment. I didn't mind that the game had me walk in a straight line as long as it kept looking good. The other 10% consists of awkward and stiff facial animations that do the job well enough but were distracting when I should've been focusing on the character's emotions. Thankfully, the emotions come through amazingly well through a stellar voice acting cast. The cast is small, but they nail their roles and bring the various characters to life in a way that the graphics alone can't do.

Last Stop is three interesting stories tied to an entirely pointless set of gameplay. The narrative drives the game and holds your interest, while the gameplay veers between pointless and distracting. Overall, it is an enjoyable romp for anyone who's fond of narrative-driven games. It's hard to escape the sense that I would've enjoyed an animated movie or television show more, but Last Stop is a satisfying, if not very interactive, story.

Score: 7.5/10

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