The recent GOG summer sale didn’t leave me unscathed, as I was tempted into snapping up a few heavily discounted deals, including Cosmic Star Heroine, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Epic Pinball, and both of the Last Door titles. I guess I was intrigued about the latter for fairly strong reviews and an interesting graphical style.
In fact, while the indie games industry is ga-ga over pixel art these days (and I’m not complaining, since I love it too!), I can’t recall too many that get, well, THIS pixelated. The Last Door’s art style is chunky and blocky, like early King’s Quest entries or later Atari 2600 efforts. I mean, it’s good for what it is, but I think what works with this is that the lack of fine detail makes the player imagine a whole lot — which is a very useful quality for a horror title.
Which this is, of course. The Last Door is a sort of spooky adventure game set in the late 1800s and dealing with some (pixelated) disturbing imagery and themes. A guy named Devitt is drawn back to investigate some strange goings-on with some former schoolchums of his, and without spoiling too much, let’s just say that an experiment that they performed back at school has had dire consequences and drawn all of them into different forms of madness.
Plus, there are birds. A lot of birds. A lot of angry birds who are possibly channeling things you don’t want to know about.
Each of the four episodes of the first game run about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how fast you can figure out the relatively few object puzzles. None of them are that hard, as each episode takes place in a single location (a house, a school-turned-hospital, a city block, and another house). There are even handy shortcuts to quickly transition to the next screen when you’ve already explored that location, which is a nice alternative when you have to backtrack a lot.
So is it scary? Um… sometimes. It’s not the most frightening thing I’ve ever played, and these days I have a pretty low bar for being too scared to play on, but there are a few scenes that made me jump or recoil. A few unexpected smash cuts or creepy things or what have you. I wasn’t too much on edge, as Devitt can’t die or be harmed, so the threat of death isn’t so much present as a cracked doorway into insanity.
The real star is not the visuals, but rather the sound design. The minimalistic music, the odd noises, the use of loud chords at dramatic moments, all of this had a deep impact as I was wearing earphones. One episode even ended with a black screen and nothing but the sound of dirt being shoveled on top of the coffin that trapped you. It was highly effective.
I found myself intrigued and enjoyed what the team did with the art style and the gradually unfolding tale. I suppose my greatest complaint is that the narrative doesn’t really move forward that quickly nor is it resolved by the end of the first game (there’s a whole “Hey, come play the second game to find out what happens!” cliffhanger here, which I did not appreciate even though I own the second game). There are several abstract weird moments that are never explained or put into context, as well as a few moments where scary things happen just to be scary, I guess.
For about two hours of play, The Last Door delivered on an interesting enough experience that I didn’t feel cheated out of the 99 cents that I spent on it, and if that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is. Now I guess I’ll have to dip into the sequel, if only to find out how all this ends.