Who would have thought that the next great horror game would be a pixilated homage to Lovecraft and Poe? I had been following The Last Door's development since its Kickstarter roots, and as soon as it popped up on Steam the game was in my cart and my wallet $10 lighter.
The game starts off ominous enough; a suicide, a letter, and a friend vowing to uncover the truth of it all. Set in the 1880's, our protagonist Devitt embarks on a journey through forgotten memories that threaten to lead him to the depths of insanity itself. That's not exactly what I was expecting from this game, but I am certainly not complaining.
I realize the graphics are a turn off for a lot of people, especially considering how the pixilated art style is used in lots of games these days, many of which are of questionable quality. However, if you can look past them and allow yourself to delve into the atmospheric world The Game Kitchen creates, you might find that the art style works to enhance the game setting rather than take away from it. The best horror stories let your imagination fill in the blanks, which is quite often much more terrifying than anything the author can show you. Here, it is almost as if The Last Door provides your mind with a canvas of outlined images and then invites your imagination to paint in the details. The result is quite effective and works much better than I would have expected for a game in this medium.
What the graphics cannot infer is tasked to the sound design which does a phenomenal job of conveying actions that we are unable to distinguish from the low fidelity images. There is a memorable instance in which the game goes black and we must experience events solely through audio clues. This again enhances the horror of the situation as your mind works to figure out what is happening through sound alone.
Mention must be made of the amazing orchestral soundtrack that helps set the time period and builds atmosphere while providing needed emotional cues as you make your way through the game. I am not exaggerating when I say the soundtrack is worth the price tag alone. Thankfully a downloadable version will be added to the Collector's Edition very soon.
Amazing atmosphere means nothing without a compelling narrative to pull it all together, and this is where The Last Door truly excels. Each episode is created very much like a chapter in a novel with a narrative structure that leads smoothly through the story while allowing the flow of events to move back and forth through flashbacks. This serves to build the protagonist's back story while unfolding the mystery in an engaging manner. As such, it takes more than a single play through to appreciate missed details that further develop the story. Once finished, the mini-sodes only available in this Collector's Edition fill in tiny details surrounding the characters and events, further building the world and mythos. The season ends in a cliffhanger with quite a few unresolved threads that lead into the next, yet the story is well rounded despite it. I can see the potential for this story translating into other mediums with how well it has been plotted, written and structured.
Having said all that, I have yet to mention anything about game play. When a story is this good, sometimes it is easy to overlook flaws in the game itself, not that there are many here assuming you enjoy classic LucasArts-style adventure games. The Last Door is your very standard point and click adventure that has you searching for items to complete tasks which opens up additional areas of exploration. The game logic is pretty straightforward without anything overly obtuse. Objective clues may take a bit of thought but make sense and are not too vague. Some of the game's difficulty indeed stems from the lower quality graphics making a few obtainable/clickable objects unrecognizable. However, the pointer does a good job of alerting you to areas that have actions, one just needs a little patience to thoroughly search their surroundings before moving on.
I can go on and on about the many things I love about this game, but it's best for one to fully explore and experience it for oneself. The Last Door exceeded my expectations in so many ways, I will surely follow and support these developers in their future endeavors. It seems as if finding a truly great indie game these days is like finding a diamond in the rough. Fortunately, this diamond sparkled bright enough to draw my interest.
One final note - The Last Door can be played on Kongregate for those who may be interested in trying it out before purchasing. Episode 4, however, is currently only available through game pledges on the developer's website and in this Collector's Edition, which also includes 4 exclusive mini-sodes and achievements.