Halloween 2017 Gaming Special, Day 3: “The Last Door: Season 2” (PC)

Note: This review was written in cooperation with Future Sack editor Annagram.

After The Last Door: Season 1 already proved that low-res pixels can create a convincing horror atmosphere, does The Game Kitchen‘s The Last Door: Season 2 succeed again to tell an engaging story?

The Last Door: Season 2 (PC)
(Spain 2016, developer: The Game Kitchen, publisher: Phoenix Online Publishing, platforms: PC, iOS, Android)

Psychiatrist Dr. John Wakefield, together with Dr. Johann Kaufman, investigates the disappearance of his patient and friend Jeremiah Devitt, and soon finds himself on the brink of insanity and death surrounding him.

A different perspective on an old story
The first episode The Playwright is highly reminiscent of the first season’s second chapter Memories, i.e. patients and staff are interrogated about mysterious events that are somehow connected to Devitt. However, this time it’s not a hospital, but a lunatic asylum. One also visits other London places, e.g. a house in the slums or an opium’s den, which provide a much bigger playground where clues have to be gathered and the Victorian England era is drawn in a depressing picture. As a starting point, the first chapter works well with its investigative nature, presents some memorable patients’ stories and puts Wakefield through disturbing nightmare sequences, but one is left with too many questions unanswered at the end. My Dearest Visitor changes the scene to the coastal village of Wickport where Kaufman’s mentor Professor Adam Wright could help in the search for Devitt if only he would regain his memories after having suffered from a genetic brain condition. This again opens up different locations with people telling their sad life stories, but like in the preceding chapter, one is more on a scavenger hunt for clues of Devitt’s whereabouts than becoming part of this community. Of course one wants to know what triggered the professor’s condition, but it would have been more interesting to learn more about the people who only seem to hand out items or give directions.

The same problem crops up in the third episode The Reunion that takes place on the Irish island of Éilís Mór where people disguise themselves as animals to celebrate an old festival for protection against evil spirits coming over from another realm. While it’s commendable that one visits another location and even uncovers a dark family secret, much of the dialogue and events are without a purpose, as they don’t make the island’s inhabitants any easier to relate to, with the overall plot also suffering in the process, even if it gets rather creepy towards the end. The final episode Beyond the Curtain is surprisingly different and is presented like a hallucinogenic nightmare that captures H.P. Lovecraft’s work perfectly. It’s the most linear, but also the most focused tale, finishing the first and second season with flashbacks, a satisfying twist, and ending, something that can’t be said about the previous chapters.

Even if it’s great to follow another investigation with a different character, the overall story of the second season of The Last Door is less suspenseful, while the episodes themselves are mostly underwhelming with their abrupt endings and therefore incomplete conclusions. The reason for this narrative inconsistency is that the player is asked to fill in too many gaps about the development of each episode and also about the less than smooth transitions between them. This doesn’t mean that the Lovecraft influences aren’t welcome and some of the writing is still powerful with vivid imagery, but this time it’s as if the creepy settings and strange occurrences are used simply to tick off weird allusions to the classic horror author without presenting anything substantial to the story arc, with too many loose ends and characters that don’t bear much importance, especially in the third episode. Surreal scenes come in abundance and work well to confuse the player’s mind, but the horror is nowhere near as tangible or as subtle as in the first season. Being able to play only one additional episode after beating the game is also disappointing, as it’s too short and doesn’t add anything special to the plot or characters. This is a shame, because with more NPCs and places to visit, there would have been a lot of potential to learn more about them. At least two different endings that depend on specific choices in the finale compensate for this somehow.

More puzzling, talking, and walking
The game is less linear and more open with its wider range of characters and locations, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. While puzzle fans will be delighted to hear that more inventory combinations and environmental puzzles are included, one soon realizes that these don’t add much to the atmosphere or story development. Unfortunately, the more one tries to solve them, the less suspenseful the story becomes and the more everything feels like a scavenger hunt for items and open doors instead of an investigative, supernatural thriller. Of course it’s nice to be presented with a more expansive world, but if this means wandering around without having a clue of how places are connected and events are triggered, frustration becomes the norm rather than the exception.

The quality of the puzzles isn’t as high as the number of items to collect. While one will never have more than one inventory-row of objects (unlike in other point-and-clickers), there’s more hoarding objects one will only find later use of than in the previous game, so the old routine of trying to pick everything up sets in, which doesn’t make for a compelling horror experience. The return of old adventure tropes like labyrinths isn’t welcome, either, as it’s a boring way to extend playtime, which becomes obvious when one has to go through a forest with symbols on trees that don’t have any other purpose than making the player remember a specific order that was hinted at on random stones, something that was avoided in the first season where wading through the mist and entering specific areas due to noises made sense in the story by reading about it in a book. Running around a mansion to turn stones with symbols also shows this lack of originality. In general, one usually finds out that by doing something in one place affects another place, but it’s so much guess work that one can’t really focus on the story or the environments without being stuck too often.

Minimalist horror look and sounds
The graphical style of the game still pays tribute to the original minimalist approach, i.e. character models are low-res and objects in the environment aren’t always easy to make out. This is too bad, because the horror isn’t as effective as in the previous season, and with more locations to visit that are surprisingly detailed, one wonders if the look is actually justified this time. Another problem is the involvement of Kickstarter backers who contributed to many environmental object descriptions which makes it more than a little bit tedious to click on them, because one can’t figure out if they can be picked up or interacted with. In addition, some of the text passages accompanying sequences during which one walks on a linear path should create atmosphere, but they disappear too fast to read, something that can be annoying, too.

Voice acting is absent again, although there is the sound of street crowds and a bit of incomprehensible mumbling at some points in the story. This is intentionally atmospheric, like the use of other sound effects, e.g. footsteps through the snow, howling of the wind or breathing noises in the dark. The soundtrack with its classical instruments is beautiful to listen to as well, although one shouldn’t be averse to moody, depressing tunes.

A mixed bag of storytelling and puzzles
The Last Door: Season 2 brings the series to a mostly satisfying end with an abundance of H.P. Lovecraft references. While the main investigation is still interesting, the episodes’ mini-stories themselves aren’t that memorable and engaging, but full of narrative holes. The inconsistent pacing isn’t helped by the higher number of puzzles. It might sound strange for classic point-and-click adventure games, but including more items and environments doesn’t necessarily make for a more immersive experience. The final episode, except for an annoying labyrinth, actually showcases that one can do much more with atmosphere and surreal puzzles in a linear way than simply throw all kinds of standard and often nonsensical puzzles at the player. All in all, the game has to be played for enjoying the complete story, but with a bit more focus on the plot, characters, and subtle horror and less on puzzle solving, this could have been a much better sequel.

Score: 7/10

Buy the digital version for PC on
GOG
Steam
the Phoenix Online Studios store

Buy the mobile version on
the iTunes store
Google Play

Official website

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Using the GOG link and buying the product also helps ;).

About nufafitc

Being an avid gamer, cinemaniac, and bookworm in addition to other things the internet and new media present, I'm also very much into DIY music, rock and pop in particular. Writing short or longer pieces about anything that interests me has always made me happy. As both an editor for German website "Adventure-Treff" and UK website "Future Sack", I like to write reviews and news about recent developments in the movies, games and book industry.
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