I’ll cut straight to the chase: Last Stop is bloody incredible.
If you want to get the most out of Last Stop, you should probably stop reading this review right now and go ahead and play it. This narrative-driven adventure is best entered into with as little prior knowledge as possible. All you need to know is that it features some of the best storytelling you’re likely to experience in a video game.
You want more information? Okay then, but I’m keeping this review as vague as possible on purpose. The joy of playing Last Stop is to witness its story as it unfolds, chapter by chapter; each one leaving you on a knife’s edge, desperate to find out what’s going to happen next.
Last Stop is presented as three completely separate tales: Paper Dolls, Domestic Affairs and Stranger Danger. For a while, you’ll probably wonder why developer Variable State didn’t just release each of them as its own game – after all, there’s enough content in each of them to warrant it. But the further you get in each story, the more their similarities start to unfold. By the last chapter, you’ll see these three separate narratives, complete with their own individual cast of characters, collide in the most spectacular – and completely surprising – way.
To describe Last Stop‘s genre is a difficult one. There’s more than a helping of gritty drama here; each story is based in London, telling the story of three completely different families living and working in the city. But there’s a heaping of sci-fi; some sci-fi threads are apparent right from the very start, so to reveal that much is not to give anything away. It’s a mixture of a gripping BBC primetime drama, Freaky Friday and, er, Star Wars. But there’s nothing at all derivative here; Last Stop is wholly original, and tells one of the most enjoyable stories I’ve experienced in quite some time – and not just in games.
The writing is absolutely phenomenal, to the point where it’s almost hard to believe that these aren’t real people you’re witnessing on screen. Jokes and quips land every time, even in the midst of a serious situation. Everything feels natural and completely human; no line of dialogue feels cheap or out-of-place, and that’s supported by a cast of truly excellent actors. Every single character in Last Stop is believable, and even the most despised of them (and there are a few) make for compelling viewing.
I say ‘viewing’, because Last Stop often does feel like you’re binge-watching the next great Netflix series. Of course, that’s not the case, and there’s plenty of interaction to be had. Paper Dolls sees you take control of John, a single father struggling to balance his mundane job with taking care of his precocious daughter. In Domestic Affairs, you play as Meena, a woman who appears to care far more for her high-level and top-secret government job than she does for her son and husband. And in Stranger Danger you take on the role of Donna, a secondary school student who’s sick of her older sister always breathing down her neck.
In each one, you’ll guide your character around environments, making dialogue choices and occasionally interacting with the world around you. There are some Quantic Dream-style quick time events as you pick things up; to drink your coffee, for example, you need to do a half-circle with your thumbstick. There’s also a couple of purposefully impossible Twister-like button presses asked of you. They’re designed for you to fail as part of the narrative, but they’re fun to attempt.
While there are narrative choices for you to make – and some decisions near the end of the game will affect its outcome – Last Stop is mostly linear. You can’t wander around London; when you’re walking around, you’re intended to follow a very set path. It means you’ll frequently come up against invisible walls. It’s rarely an issue, but feels a little clunky when your character suddenly stops walking. The direction you’re meant to go in isn’t always clear, so bumping into a barrier is inevitable. It could break immersion somewhat for some players, though it’s rather unavoidable unless the game removes control from you entirely – and that wouldn’t be a great solution.
In the grand scheme of things, though, it’s a tiny problem. Often, you’ll be too engrossed in your characters’ conversations to notice or care you’ve bumped into something that isn’t there. What I do appreciate is that when the camera angle changes – which it does often, thanks to its stylish use of film-style fixed cameras – you don’t suddenly have to scramble over your controller to change the direction you’re walking in; you’ll carry on moving in the same direction even if the camera has rotated a full 180 degrees.
Last Stop tells a story so compelling, so wonderfully told, that you’ll be glued to the screen for the entirety of its six-or-so hour running time. With an incredibly high standard of voice talent on board, sublime art direction and an outstanding soundtrack, it sets a new standard for interactive narration. This is more than a video game, it’s a work of art. And once you’ve played it, it’s one you won’t be forgetting about in a hurry.
Last Stop Review: GameSpew’s Score