“Last Stop” game review: Great sound, good looks, but mixed feelings

The Last Stop game sounds intriguing on paper and literally sounds great… with outstanding voice acting and a masterfully composed and performed score.

This makes the uneven narratives and unsatisfying ending all the more disappointing.


NOTE: This game is available on PC, Playstation, Switch, and Xbox

To quote the publisher: “[Last Stop is] a video game about secret lives, the ties that bind and how magic can be found in the mundane […] a single-player third-person adventure set in present day London.

I actually recommend against watching the trailers unless you don’t mind being exposed to some spoilers.

The gameplay

This part’s straightforward. There just isn’t much “gameplay,” at least in the traditional sense. I’ll explain more in a moment, but in the meantime, have a listen to the marvelous score while you read; you can select amongst the 71 (!!!) music tracks by clicking the three-line icon on the top right of the embed below (but see Spoilers warning below!)

WARNING: Song titles may be spoilers; consider listening to the songs without looking at the titles 🙂

“Last Stop” full soundtrack, composed by Lyndon Holland
and performed by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra

So what’s “game play” like? Well, you stir tea. Reassemble broken china. Play an orchestral piano (!) duet in one of the more actually delightful ‘mini-games.’ And you walk a lot! But mostly you just choose dialog options which — until the last 10 minutes of the game — generally don’t affect anything other than the immediate verbal responses. Again, until the end, “Choose Your Own Adventure” this ain’t.

If “walking simulators” aren’t your thing,
then this game almost certainly isn’t for you.

I love games where you get to explore and experience at leisure, generally without worrying about ‘dying’ or even really getting stuck. But — unfortunately in Last Stop — the game is so ‘on the rails’ that there’s barely any free exploring to be enjoyed.

At first I was a bit annoyed by the lack of interactivity and near-total lack of agency… feeling that the performative actions required to move the game forward were both unnecessary and unhelpful. But then I oddly grew to appreciate the forced engagement. While the game’s three (eventually) intertwining stories could have almost certainly fit into a short TV mini-series, even the limited interactivity here still at least slightly increases the immersion and connection.

The sound

The voice acting in Last Stop is simply stellar! The spoken dialogue is clear (though subtitles are on by default — helpful for non-Brits given the British accents!), and the intonation is heartfelt but not campy. And while some might find the voice of the young kid (I think age 9?) to be grating in its effusiveness, I appreciated the cheerfully sassy and playful tone as a bit of comic relief :).

As for the music, oh wow! Especially the tracks associated with John, Jack & Molly theme… such a wonderful combination of joy & whimsy & regret and more. And the balance is perfect; the music never crowds out the dialogue; it’s noticeable and emotionally powerful without being obtrusive.

Oh, and the score is really brought to life by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra; what a pleasant surprise in professionalism and depth for what I perceive to be a not-huge-budgeted indie production!

Didn’t listen via the YouTube embed above? Well, below you can listen to at least snippets on Spotify 🙂

The graphics and animation

I appreciate when game artists eschew the look-de-jour — photo-realism — and instead go with nearly any other style.

With Last Stop, the artists have indeed crafted characters and an environment that help keep one immersed and feeling connected, effectively telegraphing character emotions and a delightful sense of London (or at least London’ness). This pleasantly avoids the “uncanny valley” effect of photo-realism in other games that encourages scrutiny but lacks enough realism to achieve believability. Colors pop, shading is nicely done, and transitions often feel sweepingly cinematic.

The animation style is… a bit more of a mixed bag. For instance, when you’re controlling a character’s walking or running, direction transitions can be Sims-like jarring. And the animation choice to have characters walk in place if they hit a ‘wall’… well, that feels simply awkward and annoying :(. In other situations, though, particularly in cut-scenes, characters’ motions seem more fluid and realistic. And facial expressions and overall movements tend to be pleasantly expressive and overall fairly decent.

The characters

This is where things start to get a bit more… mixed :-(. All of the main characters are well-fleshed out… for better or worse, since one of them in particular is just an awful person (albeit with some backstory ‘justification’), and some others make choices of the sorts that teens are wont to do in horror films (e.g., “There’s a killer on the loose, there are strange noises in the basement, let me go investigate… alone and unarmed!”). But on the other hand, teens \_(ツ)_/¯ amiright?

The Jerkface and impulsive teenness aside, the characters (at least the main ones) are relatable and reasonably nuanced. As with many other reviewers, apparently, I particularly took to the trio of John, Jack, and Molly (and their friend Shaz), who collectively appear in about one-third the game’s running time. Despite some warts and such, they turn out to be pretty decent, likeable, and growing-over-time characters. Often rather funny, too! Other character arcs (or lack thereof) were, unfortunately, often less… rewarding.

One other positive note, though: there’s a darn good amount of diversity. This London has plenty of folks — both starring and supporting — of Indian and African descent, with a laudable array of skin tones. There’s also diversity in relationship types, with a sister of one of the characters in a loving relationship with another woman.

The story(ies)

But the story, dear readers, is regrettably the part that has me hovering right between “lightly recommend” and “lightly dis-recommend” when it comes to this game, and I’ll start with the elephant in the room… the ending.

The last 5-10% of the game, frankly, maintains the visual and aural delights of the first 90% but is otherwise jarring, amateur’ish, and, well, kind of head-scratching. There are just too many times I was grumbling, “Oh, come on, that just doesn’t make any sense!” or “Really? All the possible creative options, and you chose such a safe, pedestrian one?” and also “WAIT! You never explained…” 🙁

But perhaps most painfully, of the six possible endings… three are bittersweet, and the other half are just downright depressing.

So after spending about 6 hours playing this game, I was left with disappointment, confusion, and quite a bit of sadness… not only about the endings themselves, but about the lost potential, about what this game could have been.

Okay, enough about how I felt about (and at) the end. What about the middle, the journey?

In a nutshell… one of the stories was delightful if a bit predictable, another was thematically uncomfortable and featuring a character whose motivations & origin were never explained, and a third just felt implausible in too many ways, particularly from the perspective of character motivations.

Thoughts on the three stories (MINOR SPOILERS)

The “Paper Dolls” story has little in the way of twists and turns, but it’s by far the most good-natured, humorous, and relatable story.

“Stranger Danger” is uncomfortably beset by extensive gaslighting and related emotional abuse. In the early-to-mid part of this story, I kept hoping for a twist that’d upend one’s understanding of characters, but this never came. Worse, the entire story and many of the characters felt somewhat hamfisted.

“Domestic Affairs” just had too many unanswered questions / situations in which character motivations were either grossly unexplained or poorly manifested. Among other things, the malevolent “set-up” seemed implausible, and — more importantly — the grand mission itself… really, all those decades of work… motivated by that!?

Towards the last 30 minutes or so of the story, the characters and — to a lesser extent — the plots become intertwined. But I found the environment and narrative turn to be deeply disappointing. At least loosely (if not thematically) it reminded me a bit of how I felt at the conclusion of the TV show Lost. “All that investment, all those intriguing threads… for this?! Really?!!”

Bottom line

Note that Last Stop is one of the games included free with an Xbox Game Pass membership. Reviews seem frankly fairly consistent — engaging journey, disappointing ending — so if you’re okay with that as your likely experience, you have little to lose but a few hours of your time.

For the rest of y’all, well, I suppose the decision is a bit tougher. If you’re up for an oft-nailbiting and roller-coaster journey and are less concerned about the destination, then for you this may be money and time well-spent :).

*** MAJOR SPOILERS *** Gripes, questions, and other musings


CLOSE THIS NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS! 😮

Okay, now that I’ve double warned you…

*** Things that frustrated me

– Stranger Danger: Re the Stranger… who is he, the Devil? What exactly were his powers? And — more importantly — what were his motivations? All that aside, I found his emotional abuse of Donna to be very uncomfortable and not the sort of thing I enjoy experiencing in a video game (I don’t like violent, bloodshed’y games, either). And his rising from the dead (“Donna, you killed me…”) was… seemingly a pretty damn cheap and annoying plot device.

– Domestic Affairs: What was the deal with Amy?! Had Pete hired her really just to ultimately blackmail Meena?! And when Meena rants about being set up (seemingly re the murder of Amy)… was that really orchestrated by Pete? How could he have known / directed the gunfight with Spider?! More importantly, given Meena’s background and hugely problematic baggage, why would Pete be grooming her (?) for a mission that’s so important to him? Er, moreso, seriously, all of that incredible, risky effort… to “save” a girl he had a boyhood crush on? REALLY?!! Overall, just so much didn’t seem realistic / logical in this story, particularly from a motivations standpoint.

– Paper Dolls: Well, I found this to be just charming overall and have few complaints :). Except maybe Jack’s growth in maturity and kindness was perhaps a bit sudden, given how he seemed to be so self-absorbed at the beginning?

– The ending: Ugh, the ending <sigh>. This felt like a really cheesy mix between a bad X-files episode and an equally-bad original Star Trek episode. Traveling to the other end of the galaxy and we see… what largely resembles an American Old West town, complete with saloon, train, etc.? All the aliens are apparently bi-pedal and generally humanoid in appearance except for their funny rubber face masks. Most seem to understand and speak a bit of English. And the purple-skinned creature that rescues Meena… just happens to be headed to the capitol and is comfortable with and willing to help an alien stranger? Not to mention the crazy coincidence of a human-breathable atmosphere, Meena and gang surviving seemingly without water or food, etc. etc. etc. Oh, and all three of the main characters just *happening* to show up at exactly the right place & moment (I mean, I’ve seen deus ex machinas before, but ugh).

And yes, lots of other questions, too…

– Given that the Stranger’s “disappearings” upend other folks’ memories of the past, why did Vivek remember all those folks going into the Stranger’s house, since all of those people were apparently disappeared? And why was the Stranger disappearing all those folks anyway?

– Why didn’t an apologetic Frank just give the bracelet to the Vape Lord to give to John/Jack rather than making one of them come to him? More broadly, what’s Frank’s association with Earth?

– Yet more Frank questions, so to speak :p. At the beginning, who was he waiting for? What was the bit about “refunds”? And why do the aliens even have portals to Earth if the humans are so dangerous?

Ugh. I guess I’m just really annoyed with what I perceive to be the crappy ‘worldbuilding’ of the alien world and other sci-fi elements when other aspects of the game were generally smartly fleshed out (characters, the city of London, etc.)


Score: 6 out of 10

Pros

  • Great voice-acting
  • Compelling, lovely soundtrack
  • Exciting journey
  • Pleasant graphics
  • No “getting stuck” frustration

Cons

  • Disappointing ending
  • Especially uncomfortable theme in one story (may trigger some)
  • Dialogue choices affect very little until the choices at the end
  • Some character motivations remain unknown or quite questionable


Looking forward to your comments & questions below!

Re SPOILERS… I’m gonna go with allowing spoilers in the comments; just please put “SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS” at the top of your comment so people can skip it if they want.

And people reading the comments… do so with the understanding that you might encounter spoilers, so proceed cautiously below if that’s a concern!


Want to play Last Stop?

Visit the publisher’s site for more info
and links to buy the game on PC, console, etc.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.