Simulating the mundane and ordinary is usually something games give a wide berth. After all, how do you fit bullets and explosions into the run-of-the-mill careers most people use to support their families? It doesn't really work, but then there are those who don't conform to the rules. Virginia developer Variable State is the perfect example of that with a new title that follows the lives of three unsuspecting Londoners whose lives are involuntarily turned upside down. Wild for its narrative, Last Stop will satisfy those happy for gameplay to take a back seat.
Three storylines form the adventure's basis, each of which focuses on a different character caught up in a seemingly unrelated conundrum. John, who's stuck in a dead-end office job and caring for a child alone, suddenly finds his body has been swapped with the younger and much cooler Jack. Then there's workaholic Meena, who is letting her marriage fall by the wayside to try and prove she's the right candidate for a promotion. Donna rounds out the main cast, a high school student at that awkward age where family is more of an annoyance and social status means everything.
The three plots remain largely standalone, with a few members of the supporting cast crossing over between acts. That is until the final chapter brings the three protagonists together and reveals what links them together. And while that revelation is what fuels suspicions, keeping you guessing as to what's really going on, the build-up is just as enjoyable.
You're likely to have your favourite after the first round of chapters as each story brings something different to the table. John's predicament has the comedy angle with genuinely funny dialogue and amusing skits, while Donna will appeal to twentysomethings with nostalgia for education and those years you'd rather forget going through puberty. Meena, meanwhile, is tough to like. Unfaithful and selfish, her arc is perhaps the most interesting.
Last Stop forces you to engage with all three faces, though; you cannot drop one character and concentrate on the other two. Each chapter must be tackled before another storyline can progress, purposefully leaving you on cliffhangers at every turn. It's because of this that each narrative remains engrossing, however. The stakes are heightened the more you play, slowly revealing more of the mystery and presenting new challenges for the cast. While the final twist presents a pleasing climax, the journey to get there is just as fun.
But it's important to set expectations correctly because what Variable State has put together here is not in the same vein as a TellTale experience. Dialogue options are present almost all of the time, but their influence on the story is minimal. Outside of the final chapter (where your choices dictate the ending), these speech checks merely affect the flavour text that follows.
The game's narrative is essentially set in stone right from the off, with your actions simply introducing some personality. Think of it as a paint by numbers rather than a choose your own adventure. That may be disappointing for some, especially given the prominence of dialogue options throughout the three adventures. When just the closing hour holds any real meaning in terms of your actions, it can make previous chapters feel like a waste. They may contain worthwhile content, but ultimately, they matter little in the grand scheme of things. You just have to accept you're along for the ride rather than chopping and changing your decisions in the moment.
At least it's a breeze revisiting previous scenes and picking up where you left off — each chapter is no more than 20 minutes in length and offers a welcome recap of the events so far. The game has that pick up and play feel, culminating in a roughly seven-hour playthrough that never stops to take a breather.
Gameplay is on the opposite end of the spectrum, kept to a minimum at all times. Last Stop never amounts to anything more than controlling the direction of a character, activating a simple interaction, or engaging in a quick-time event. This was obviously a conscious decision made during development, ensuring interaction is never a tough task and keeping the story going. While you can explore some small indoor environments, the game is waiting for you to reach the correct position so it can continue.
That's no bad thing, though, because some of the ways it engages buttons on the PS5 DualSense controller other than the left thumbstick are fun. It's a lot like the work of Quantic Dream (Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human) in this regard — examples include brushing your teeth and making a cup of tea through input prompts. It's all still very simple, but these short scenes are fairly gratifying as monotonous tasks are brought to life through interaction.
Quick-time events also feature throughout, with Variable State once again taking a page out of the famous French developer's book. While their stakes are nowhere near as high, long sequences of button holding pepper the more tense chapters. It's quick-fire pleasure tasking you with grappling your PS5 pad in ways you never knew you could.
One more obviously deliberate decision made during production is the game's art style, which remains relatively minimal throughout. Environments are quite simple, using blocky colours to coat the scenery in single tones and lacking much of anything to look at. Some scenes are much better than others, but there is the odd location that feels a little too sparse. The same goes for character models, with the main cast treated to fairly detailed faces and outfits. Random NPCs completely contrast that — many wandering the street lack face models entirely. This is clearly all part of the vision Variable State was going for, but we think it sometimes goes a little too far.
Last Stop is all about the story, making its three storylines the centrepiece of the experience. Characters introduced by them quickly become staples as their personalities and unfortunate predicaments take hold, all the while the overall plot takes shape and builds to a crescendo. It's disappointing that the vast majority of your decisions have little to no impact, but the ride Last Stop takes you on is worthwhile regardless.