All Aboard The Alien Express!
HIGH The chaos that ensues from the body-switching.
LOW Having to move from point A to point B for no real reason whatsoever.
WTF That final chapter is something to behold.
Last Stop is the second adventure title by Variable State studio. Their first was Virginia, an interesting experiment in narrative with no dialogue. For their second foray, they went with a more classic style that feels like a cross between an episodic TV series and the average modern interactive narrative title.
Last Stop features three different stories running concurrently. While the three main characters seem to have nothing in common at first, their connection will become apparent by the end, as the plot brings them all together for a common goal.
In the first story, middle-aged and balding John switches bodies with a young and upcoming game developer named Jack. This might be the best story out of the lot, as it features several absurd and comical situations, along with well-written characters.
In the second story, strong-willed Meena will have to face the consequences of her extramarital love affair while trying to balance her work/life responsibilities.
In the third story, teenaged Donna and her friends find themselves in a conundrum, as they’ve inadvertently kidnapped a mysterious man who’s more than he seems.
The gameplay in Last Stop is very simple, in that it’s limited to moving the currently-active character from point A to point B in standard third-person fashion, and then choosing which reply to give during dialogue sequences. There are some slight and mostly forgettable variations — a running minigame using the shoulder buttons, a weird shooting minigame that pops up just once, a rhythm game, and a recurring “rotate the analog levers to eat breakfast” activity.
I couldn’t help but feel there might have been something more interesting to keep the player busy than rotating a lever to brush teeth. No changes occur in the story should one fail to eat breakfast or run fast enough. The reply choices during dialogues seem equally irrelevant — they rarely represent what the character will actually say and seem to make little difference no matter what’s chosen. In Last Stop, the important choices all come at the very end.
The parts when characters are free to explore their environments might have been the real meat of the interactive mechanics, but unfortunately, there’s nothing to look at, nor interact with — like the minigames and most of the conversations, these sections are only about reaching the destination with no alternative routes. The locations are well designed and feel natural, but they’re a letdown as they’re devoid of things to do.
In the end, letting the story play out is 90% of the experience in Last Stop. Overall it’s well-written and mostly engaging, except for Donna’s third. Her section feels weird from the start as it’s never made clear what the three ordinary students kidnapping a man plan to do other than keep him from going to the police. On the other hand, Meena is a refreshingly strong woman character, and definitely the kind that I would like to see more of in gaming.
As far as the story’s resolution goes… to put it bluntly, it’s out-of-this-world. Without spoiling too much, the game’s underlying sci-fi vibes are evident from the start and Last Stop goes into an outlandish final chapter which might leave some feeling a bit estranged. The different endings players can reach are also rather quick and abrupt, with no great satisfaction to be had in the end. The feeling it gives is that there are probably plans for a sequel.
In the end, Last Stop is an entertaining collection of three narratives, but given the superficial nature of the player’s interactions, I can’t help but think that the whole project might have worked better as a straightforward visual novel.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Variable State and published by Annapurna Interactive. It is currently available on XBO/X, PS4/5 and Nintendo Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Sexual Themes, Blood, Violence, Use of Alcohol, Drug Reference and Language. While there are indeed some borderline situations in the narratives, I would say they are on par with an average modern sci-fi/thriller TV series and can be recommended for teens from 15 ages up.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game features spoken dialogue but all dialogue is subtitled, with the text not resizable. (See examples above.) The game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. Basically, the player moves the characters with the analog stick and interacts with the A button, with the other buttons used only for minigames.
Years later, he got the idea that he was the most Sega-knowledgeable person in the world, so he opened a website in 1997, The Genesis Temple.
He's a sucker for great stories in gaming, he loves adventure and indie titles, but he never shies away from action and triple-A RPGs.
Damiano's been writing about videogames for 20 years, with no plans to stop. Say hi to him on Twitter at @damgentemp, or on his blog https://genesistemple.com (now dedicated to the history of video game design).