Developer – Variable State
Publisher – Annapurna Interactive
Platform(s) – Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5 (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC
MSRP – $24.99
Release Date – July 22, 2021
Disclaimer: Review Copy was Kindly Provided for the Purposes of this Review
Annapurna Interactive has quickly become one of my favorite publishers over the past few months. It started with The Pathless last year around the launch of the PlayStation, then it was Maquette back in March. And to think, there are still tons of games that I’ve yet to play but hope to at some point in the future.
Games that I’ve never touched such as Outer Wilds, What Remains of Edith Finch, & Sayonara Wild Hearts have been critically acclaimed by fans and critics alike. Then there are upcoming titles such as Stray, Solar Ash, & Twelve Minutes (lookout for a review of this in August) that have my eye as well.
The quality and output that these developers are producing under Annapurna Interactive is terrific to see. I could go on and on about this but that’s a discussion for another time, right now the spotlight is on Last Stop, a game from Britsish developer, Variable State.
Last Stop has a similar style to the games from the now-defunct Telltale Games. There isn’t much actual gameplay, the majority of your playthrough will be spent choosing between 3 different dialogue choices on screen. It’s an interactive game that’s more about the story instead of the gameplay. You follow the expeditions of three characters in Meena, Donna, & John.
- Meena – A woman with a stern and upfront attitude. She’s competing for a high promotion at her work. At the same time, Meena is caught in an affair that is proving to cause her problems personally and professionally.
- Donna – A high schooler who’s feels trapped by her complicated home life. Along with her 2 friends, Becky & Vivek, an unusual incident occurs that alters the lives of not only them but their families as well.
- John – A single dad to his daughter, Molly. John lives a fairly simple life until an odd event with his neighbor Jack makes both of their lives extremely entangled with one another.
Variable State does a good job at making sure each character’s story feels varied in terms of tone and plot. Its weird and unusual narrative design functions as the devs had intended. At the same time, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have my ups and downs with how certain stories and characters played out as well as certain design choices.
This game is still fairly fresh, so I won’t go into spoiler territory. So to keep it simple, Meena & Donna’s stories have their ups and downs while I enjoyed John’s story from start to finish. The stories of Meena & Donna have a lot of interesting moments as well as awkward ones. I didn’t find Meena as a character likable at all and there’s also a plot point in Meena’s story that doesn’t necessarily pay off. John’s story was an enormous surprise to me and enjoyable from start to finish. All 3 main characters in John’s chapter felt likable and the story had a lot of fun and wholesome moments. Donna’s story felt nonsensical from the start and I don’t feel her story does the best job at adequately introducing the characters.
A good bit of the dialogue in Last Stop has its moments. Some lines got a good chuckle out of me from time to time. I’d like to also mention that Variable State did something in Last Stop that I can’t recall any other game I’ve played doing. Last Stop openly talks about crunch in one instance and lets the player condemn it. Whoever at Variable State had the idea to include that in the game, I commend you.
As I mentioned earlier, the game gives you multiple choices to choose from. The problem with these choices is that they have no overall bearing on the story whatsoever. The only time your choices ever make a difference is at the very end of the game. Occasionally, the choice option doesn’t necessarily match what Donna, Meena, or John actually say. For example, a choice option could say “Not, necessarily” and then our protagonist(s) could go off on a random speal about something completely distinct from the original option.
Each protagonist has their own story set in chapters. Each character has 6 chapters and you progress through each one in whatever order you please. On a quick note, I love the addition of the “Previously on Last Stop” videos. It’s sometimes hard to remember every plot point when you’re playing through three different stories at once. Variable State probably realized this and added them to refresh the players’ memory.
Last Stop is a colorful and vibrant game in many of its set pieces. One thing that I will always set out to appreciate is art direction. While Last Stop isn’t especially distinct in terms of its look, what’s there shouldn’t be overlooked. There are certain design choices such as the decision not to give facial animations to a lot of the NPC’s. This is something that some may see as not enough “attention to detail.” In the end, it’s something I barely noticed and didn’t care about all that much considering it doesn’t impact anything noteworthy.
I’ll give the game this, Last Stop has a unique feel to it. From the main menu, I knew that the experience would at least be distinctive which is on par with most games published from Annapurna Interactive. When you’re controlling your character, for the most part, you’ll be wandering from place to place. When walking in a large area, the camera angle will shift continuously. You’ll have an overhead shot heading into a tunnel, then when you enter the tunnel the camera will change to the backs of your character and so on. The camera shifts may not be important to most but I grew to enjoy them.
I will say that that this game is polished and I didn’t experience a single bug or glitch throughout my entire playthrough. Although, some animations can feel a bit janky specifically in regards to the movement. For example, when a character walks up and downstairs it looks like their feet teleport from step to step instead of moving organically.
Last Stop isn’t a bad game by any means, I can’t say I found the game boring at all. I feel that Variable State set out to make a unique game and they succeeded on that front. It’s just that the fact that dialogue for about 95% of the game doesn’t mean a thing. The dialogue itself is good and even great in some parts but I can’t say that your choices not making a difference for a majority of the game didn’t hurt it.
Its large bright spots are definitely its dialogue, art direction, and John’s story in particular. Last Stop is a good game for what it is, it just has a couple of noteworthy issues. It’s not a long game at all, I finished it in about 5-6 hours and I suspect that the average player will as well. So for my first title from Variable State had its ups and downs but I have no doubt they’ll improve on them in their next title.
Rating - 7/10