The Last Door Review (PC)
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Sounds obvious. Then again they also say “One raven does not peck out another’s eyes” and whilst ravens worldwide are probably wiping their brows in relief, it’s not exactly the mantra you want carved on your gravestone.
Perhaps we should start at the beginning – “The Last Door” is an episodic, low resolution, pixelated horror game. If you just scoffed at the notion a game with graphics equivalent to ‘Pong’ could send shivers down your spine, don’t worry. It’s not difficult to imagine everyone else feeling the same.
We’re all wrong.
I have never known a game where subpar graphics enhance the overall experience, but there is a first time for everything because this game isn’t concerned with how crisp the texture of its blood is; it’s focused on the race of yours.
Whilst I refuse to talk about the story of the Last Door, an in depth discussion of the plot would leave no one any wiser than they were before the game anyway. The story is deliberately vague and cliché – although I’ll go out on a limb and say I trust developers ‘The Game Kitchen’ to develop a continuum worthy of Lost in future episodes) and the graphics are deliberately murky, but that all adds to this overwhelming sense of isolation and confusion that threatens to engulf you with every passing second you play the game.
This is not to say that these are necessarily 100% good things; this is a point and click adventure which won’t win any prizes for originality in mechanics, yet even then the pixel-effect leads to an intensely frustrating opening section where you end up having to click meaninglessly at various blobs until things happen. This wears off somewhat as the episode progresses, but you never quite escape the feeling that atmosphere triumphs over usability.
What an atmosphere though! From the ambient background noises to the cryptic notes scattered over the house, it’s the little details that make this game and at an average of just 45 minutes of playtime, the little details are a Godsend. You move by clicking a point on the screen, and your character will walk there. Slowly, deliberately, at his own pace. Should you find an item worth examining (They’re not exactly difficult to spot, a giant magnifying glass appears to suggest you should take a look if you hover over anything interesting, like the most terrifying episode of Blues Clues ever) then tough luck, it’s still going to take forever to reach it. At first it seems needlessly frustrating, but then you realise that it’s just an easy way to build tension in the player.
Or, another example, when you move to another room. There’s that brief moment of darkness before the screen loads and at first you dismiss it as nothing more than your average display loading, but then it seems to linger that extra second longer than necessary, just enough for you to think ‘oh no, terror is coming’ and never enough to prepare yourself for it. It’s clever. Downright dastardly. But clever.
And above all of these things, The Last Door is a game about sound. Here’s an experiment: put the game on, play for five minutes and then shut your eyes. You’d think that without visual stimulus your fear will go away, but the combination of screeching crows, ticking clocks, gales of wind and that violin-driven soundtrack maintains your fear. Most impressively, it’s never so evidently in your face that it loses all meaning; the power of this soundtrack lies in your subconscious and you’ll barely notice it’s there until you flinch at every little thing in game and outside.
And now the flaws. I sort of hate this part because this game is an enjoyable psychological horror and by all accounts I implore you to go and play it and decide for yourself, but that’s not to say it’s perfect by any means. The play time is the biggest gripe, even for a free web browser game. It feels too light to sink your teeth into properly and just as you begin to build momentum it concludes. This will probably be alleviated as more episodes become available but for now it’s a nuisance and impossible to ignore especially considering the awful amount of backtracking the game forces you to do in an attempt to extend its meagre lifespan.
Then there’s the decision to make every item you inspect only available to pick up on a second click. It seems like a small niggle, but it actually breaks the flow of the game until you force your brain to adapt to the needless feature, and until then you’re forced to roam the house repeatedly until you start from scratch and suddenly find yourself able to collect items. Even so, the number of items you need to collect is substantially smaller than you would expect and all possible combinations are so well-trodden that a child just out of the womb could probably guess them (matches and a lantern?! Goodness, whatever shall I do?)
Ultimately, please don’t take these criticisms as the inevitable downfall of this game for they aren’t by any means. Instead they are flaws, little pests that distract from what has the potential to be a fantastic game. It’s an experimental combination of a series of well-trodden genres and if you can get over your initial rejection of the graphics, you’re in for a great ride. With any luck as the series progresses the kinks will be ironed out and the game can finally get the praise it comes so close to deserving. Either way the first episode is free and I encourage you to find a spare half hour, sit in a darkened room, throw on the old headphones and play through it. There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.
Okay, maybe one little plot thing. I used a proverb earlier about raven’s not pecking out each other’s eyes. Unfortunately it would appear the same cannot be said for crows because, seriously, they are everywhere in this game and if you do not dread the creatures with a burning passion by the end of the game, you have no soul. As they say, a bird definitely dead is worth two in your nightmares.
Or something like that.
3.5 beady-eyed crows that won’t stop staring at me out of 5