I’ve always found it a little bit difficult to review story-driven video games, especially since the narrative is the most important aspect of the experience but also something that I don’t want to spoil for the reader. It’s a problem I face yet again with Last Stop, the new release from developer Variable State that looks to tell the tale of three VERY different individuals. Whilst there are aspects of gameplay to be found across the game, it’s very much a cinematic experience where players get to see the story unfold and make minor conversation choices along the way.
It just so happens to be REALLY good at storytelling too, which is why I’ll be trying to keep spoilers to a minimum in this review. If you’re looking for a video game which tells an intriguing and impactful story, just buy the game and don’t worry about reading this review – you won’t regret it. If you hope for a bit more than that though, you might want to read on.
As mentioned, Last Stop tells the stories of three different characters: John, Meena, and Donna. Each have their own (and very different) lives that they lead, with players working through six-chapters with them until reaching the game’s conclusive chapter that brings them all together at once. These chapters play out with synchronicity too, with the player having to work through a chapter with each of the characters before being able to progress through to the next set.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
John is a single father who finds himself struggling to make ends meet, with his ill-health, frustrating job, and fatherhood all having a strain on his life. Things take a very unusual turn when an encounter with one of his neighbours and a peculiar man at a tube station see him switch bodies with said neighbour – a younger, fitter man named Jack. Working together, they then have to try to find a way to switch their bodies back, all whilst trying to live each other’s lives in the process.
Meena works for a very shifty organisation that certainly like to be secretive, with the details of her job kept to a minimum throughout. She’s also married and has a young son, but with work having a huge strain on her relationship, is in the midst of an affair with another man. With the risk of this secret coming out as well as the stress of competing with a younger worker for a ‘promotion’ within the company, Meena has to use her ‘unique’ skillset to ensure she comes out on top.
Finally, Donna is a teenager who just wants to spend time with her friends, but constantly finds herself under the microscope of her older sister Emma (who also just so happens to be a police officer). After her and two friends try to spy on a peculiar man that seems to make anyone that he takes into his house disappear, they end up having to take him hostage after bashing him on the head. Funny how things can take a REAL turn for the worst at times, right? With her aforementioned issues at home, this hostage situation turns into a real headache for Donna – especially when the man begins to reveal his strange set of skills…
“I found John’s tale to be quite comical and almost feel-good at times, with the cast of characters certainly the most endearing of the game.”
Each character’s stories bring with them a very different tone. I found John’s tale to be quite comical and almost feel-good at times, with the cast of characters certainly the most endearing of the game. Meena’s tale on the other hand felt a bit more nerve-wracking, especially with all of the sneaking around and worry that you’ll get caught in the act. Admittedly, I found Donna’s tale to be the weakest of the bunch thanks to the fact that a lot of it felt unbelievable – I’m not talking about the mysterious man, but rather how a group of kids manage to keep him hostage for a long time whilst staying away from school and home without raising suspicion. A man who makes people disappear? That’s fine. Bunking off school and not having a ton of calls from the headmaster? No way, wouldn’t happen.
Each one certainly kept me entertained though, with the suspenseful pacing and some brilliant writing helping bring each chapter together perfectly. There were times where the cliff-hanger at the end of a chapter would leave me itching to find out what would happen next, whilst other times I just wanted to see what possible solution a character would come up with to get out of a tricky predicament. I wasn’t initially a fan of the character-switching, chapter-based style of the game, but as I played further, I found it to be a highly effective means to keep me fully invested in the game and each character’s story.
“There were times where the cliff-hanger at the end of a chapter would leave me itching to find out what would happen next, whilst other times I just wanted to see what possible solution a character would come up with to get out of a tricky predicament.”
What will also help engage players is the choice-making in conversations, with players able to choose one of three options when responding to different characters. Whilst these choices don’t feel as significant as those found in the likes of a Telltale Games release, they do give the player the chance to add their own influence on how conversations play out. Last Stop is a very cinematic game with gameplay kept to a minimum, after all, so these moments in conversation will at least keep you involved.
There are other moments where the player will be kept busy, mind. When moving from place to place, the player will have to control the character and keep them plodding along. Admittedly, there isn’t much to do in the way of exploration and the cinematic camera angles make it clear where you need to go, but it at least lets you feel like you’re a part of the action. There are also some QTE-style sequences when performing actions in-game and even some mini-games (playing a piano was a highlight).
It shows that there’s not ONLY storytelling in Last Stop… it just makes up about 90% of the experience. That might be worth bearing in mind if you’re the sort of gamer who doesn’t like to simply watch a story unfold. Last Stop felt a LOT like a TV show at times, with minimum effort required on the player’s part. It’s not a problem by any means and it doesn’t make playing the game any less enjoyable, but there isn’t as much ‘playing’ to be done as some players might hope.
“What will also help engage players is the choice-making in conversations, with players able to choose one of three options when responding to different characters.”
I wish I could delve into the details of the story more, if only to gush about some of its finer moments, but it really is better for the player to discover themselves. It bears influences of pop-culture across its design, whether that’s with the likes of The Twilight Zone, Stranger Things, or one other *big* property which I won’t mention not to spoil anything, with everything coming together to make for an experience which feels very supernatural in design but also believable. It’s all thanks to the brilliant storytelling and characters, with each feeling like a real person that could be out living in London right now. There are plenty of crossovers to be found across each character’s stories too, with some minor character interactions always bringing plenty of ‘ah-hah’ moments along the way. They’re small instances, but they always brought a smile to my face.
As I said at the start of this review, if you’re looking for a game with a great story, Last Stop certainly delivers. It’s fantastic and I was hooked in from start to finish. However, there were some other aspects of its design that didn’t always deliver. Whilst the game had its own unique visual style, I found that some of the character models could be a bit hit-and-miss. Don’t get me wrong, it’s clear that the developer hasn’t strived for realism with character faces, but some just looked… weird. The character animations felt very unnatural too, with some scenes in the game looking very clumsy in-action.
“It bears influences of pop-culture across its design, whether that’s with the likes of The Twilight Zone, Stranger Things, or one other *big* property which I won’t mention not to spoil anything…”
I was left with a few unanswered questions by the end too, especially with some of the game’s weirder turns. Whilst each character’s stories brought with them a satisfying and rewarding conclusion (and there are multiple endings that each play out differently), the minor details along the way kept me intrigued but didn’t always have a payoff.
Other than that, though? I loved Last Stop. I haven’t even touched upon the music and environments yet, which were great throughout. Composer Lyndon Holland nailed it with his work in Virginia, so I’m glad to report that he has delivered another banger of a soundtrack that fits the tone of the adventure perfectly here.
Last Stop is a fantastic story-driven adventure that ties together elements of the supernatural with real-life situations in an impactful manner. I was totally hooked into each character’s tale, and whilst some chapters hit a little harder than others, I simply HAD to see how everything would unfold by the end. Add to that some brilliant writing and a wonderful soundtrack and it all comes together to make for a very memorable experience.
There are some missteps along the way, with some iffy character models and animations as well as a few missing pieces in the story, but they don’t stop Last Stop from offering a gripping adventure. I was already a fan of Variable State following their work on Virginia, but Last Stop feels like a real step up for the team.
Developer: Variable State
Publisher: Annapruna Interactive
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC