(macOS/PC/PS4/PS5/Xboxes) Every gamer has encountered a game that desperately wants to be a film instead. (I’m looking at you, METAL GEAR SOLID 2.) You know the type: long-winded cut-scenes, overly flamboyant camerawork that often gets in the way of interactivity, shamelessly cribbing from other films — usually Tarantino — all with the intent to make the player feel something.
LAST STOP, from VIRGINIA developers Variable State, is one such game.
LAST STOP consists of an intertwined story of three primary characters: John Smith, an aging father who has a precocious eight (excuse me, eight-and-a-half) year-old daughter named Molly; Donna, a teen girl who sneaks out at night to be a bit rebellious with her friends; and Meena, an agent with a nebulous intelligence agency that deals with the supernatural or aliens — that isn’t quite clear out of the gate — but it also leads to some body switching and other high-concept notes.
While ostensibly it’s interactive fiction by way of Telltale’s games (THE WALKING DEAD), the dialogue choices really don’t matter, and most of the interactivity consists of walking to a door or clumsy item finagling, a la David Cage (the ‘auteur’ behind HEAVY RAIN, DETROIT: BEHIND HUMAN, who also desperately wants to create ‘cinematic experiences’ and they often ring false).
When you get to the third chapter of LAST STOP, which nakedly indulges in the trope where a camera circles around a table during what is ostensibly heist planning, well, yeah, it becomes crystal clear that this should just be a film rather than a hackneyed patchwork of filmic gaming experience.
That may sound harsh, but I couldn’t scrub that feeling from my mind and it’s a shame, as their prior game VIRGINIA managed to navigate those interactive narrative waters far more smoothly, partially because it felt more thoughtful and thought-out.
So why am I grousing about it in this blog that’s all about recommending works? It’s because I’m still a sucker for these sort of games; they’re perfect fodder for tucking into on a lazy Sunday. Also, Meena? (See above.) She is one hell of an ice queen and one of the best modern video game characters of our time. However, it’s a far cry from the silent meditative and askew nature of VIRGINIA.
While it’s far from perfect, it is quite playable — for as little that you actually can play it — and while I played, I was quite invested to see where all of the high-concept facets would lead to. Additionally, the visual design and artistry is quite compelling in a LIFE IS STRANGE simple, but effective, way. When the story hits, it lands well; these are complex people living different but vastly similar lives to the way most live.
I’ll note that it is extraordinarily British. One chapter practically feels torn from a Mike Leigh film.
Again, it’s a bit of a misfire and isn’t for everyone, but it is a fun lark and we all need that sometimes.
One nice touch: one of the lead characters has a very visible caesarean scar, perhaps the only time I’ve ever seen that in a video game.