The team at Variable State love a supernatural crisis. Much like 2016's Virginia, which told the story of an FBI agent who uncovers a bizarre secret while attempting to solve a missing person investigation, Last Stop is a narrative game that injects the supernatural into the everyday and drags you along for the ride.
While both games feature music from Lyndon Holland (who won a BAFTA for Virginia's score) and minimalist graphics that deftly tell emotional stories, the similarities end there. Virginia is a first-person experience honoring '90s shows like Twins Peaks and The X-Files without a single line of dialogue, while Last Stop takes the camera and swings it to third-person to tell the story of three distinct characters whose lives will eventually intersect. Virginia was set in the United States, but with Last Stop, the team at Variable State (based in London) decided to return to a world closer to home: the UK.
Playing a movie
"It's an opportunity to tell something that can speak to our experiences," explains Variable State founder Jonathan Burroughs. Last Stop isn't just about everyday experiences, however, but the strange intersection of the bizarre and the mundane. It's a setup the studio excels at delivering.
Virginia puts you behind the eyes of an FBI investigator and takes you along a bizarre journey, but Last Stop allows you to watch three different stories play out in third-person. This meant that Variable State had to seriously reconsider how to frame scenes, as Last Stop has an added cinematography element with a third person camera that shifts and swings, sometimes mimicking iconic director's shots.
There's a distinctly cinematic feel to Last Stop, as if you're playing a game composed entirely of cutscenes. There are moments where a character will begin walking somewhere on their own only to drift to a stop, the camera idling over them to let you know it's time to pick up the controls and get moving. But for much of Last Stop, you're watching, taking in the characters and the wild situations they've gotten themselves wrapped up in. The camera does a lot of the work, offering up visual nudges or sweeping (and sometimes breathtaking) angles – including quite a few that feel very Sam Raimi-esque.
Last Stop has three separate stories that each contain multiple chapters: 'Paper Dolls', 'Domestic Affairs', and 'Stranger Danger'. You choose one of the three stories by selecting a main character from the start screen, which you'll get after a brief opening cinematic that features an extraordinary – and perhaps extraterrestrial – event. The three characters are all sitting next to each other on the train, with the title of their stories emblazoned over them. It's a clever nod to what will eventually happen in Last Stop: these three disparate people and their stories converging into one supernatural hodgepodge.
Three stories in one
During our look at the game, Variable State took us through 'Stranger Danger', which focuses on a school-age girl named Donna Adeleke. Donna's friend has become convinced that his next-door neighbor is up to no good, as he's watched the handsome stranger bring a new person to his flat every night – but he's never seen them leave. Of course, the teens want to figure out what's going on, and what unfolds in the first chapter will give off distinct Fright Night vibes.
I ask the team if that was intentional and get a resounding "no." in return. "I love that movie, though," interjects game director Terry Kenny. He points out that all three stories have distinctly different tones, with Stranger Danger leaning more into the horror/sci-fi genre, offering up a "playful horror tone." So, light Fright Night.
Conversely, 'Domestic Affairs' follows a woman named Meena, who works at a shady government organization and frequently cheats on her husband. While I can't speak to anything that happens beyond the first chapter, the devs promise that a "dark, personal family drama" will unfold before your eyes – and if Meena's new coworker has anything to do with it, I wouldn't be surprised if that were true. Then there's 'Paper Dolls', which is pure body-swap comedy. A down-on-his-luck single dad named John wakes up to discover he's in the body of his younger, hotter, posher neighbor who definitely wears track pants to work. The plot of 'Paper Dolls' hinges on a character who pops up in the opening cinematic, so the connective tissue between all three stories is apparent early on.
Throughout all of these stories you'll choose dialogue options within a time frame, walk your character along to trigger another cutscene, and occasionally use your controller for some fun little interactions, like brushing John's teeth or helping him finish his tea and breakfast. At one point, Meena gets a text message from her father, and you can navigate over to the phone pop-up and scroll through their conversation (it's a nosy person's dream). You can even choose which photos to delete off Donna's phone to help her make space for more pictures. The interactions in Last Stop aren't involved, but they do further involve you in the story, allowing you to swap between passive viewer and active participant.
Like Virginia, the choices you make won't affect the end game, although players "can make their mark" according to Burroughs. And there's no failstate, so my attempts to walk John into traffic were all fails (he can't step off the curb). But as the stories continue and things get even weirder in these otherwise banal London lives, you'll notice more and more connections between the three characters and wonder what kind of event will thrust three disparate people together.
Last Stop is set to release July 2021 for Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and PC.