Escape games can be quite puzzling to play but horror escape games will test your resolve at focusing on the puzzle side of the game rather than the creepy thing ready to get you if you don't figure out how the hell to escape the environment fast enough! Such moments can put you in the shoes of those poor kids from many a horror movie that wind up in some sleepy psychotic town full of mutated humans ready to do a real good hatchet job on them. With such a delightful thought in mind let's take a closer look at one of the most promising series 1st chapters - the Last Door...
The Last Door: An Indie Masterpiece That Will Chill You To The Last Pixel
Yes, The Last Door makes use of pixel graphics and no, that doesn't make it any less eerie. Kicking things off with the mysterious death of your dear old friend, the unnerving atmosphere is set even before you start the actual game. We've gotten our fair share of goose bumps and nervous trigger finger twitching as we traversed the seemingly haunted halls of the Beechworth Mansion.
Before the game's website began accepting donations directly, this episodic title began as a Kickstarter campaign. Developed by a Spain-based group, The Game Kitchen, Chapter 1 of the Last Door gained 285 backers in total. Since then, the number of supporters have grown considerably and it's no surprise to us. It's one of the most compelling pixelated horror indies released as of late. The developers even have a participation program wherein forum contributors get credited for their ideas. Puzzles were tweaked to perfection, aided by community feedback and new elements were included to reflect what players wanted to see in the game.
As it is with any horror game worth its salt, there are dark secrets to be uncovered, deaths to be explained and, pun intended, doors to be opened in The Last Door. It is October 1891. You take on the role of University professor, Jeremiah Devitt who has just received a disturbing letter containing only the words "Videte ne quis sciat". It was sent by a dear old friend whom you have met in a boarding school when you were a child. You decide to take the first train trip to Sussex, heading to the address stamped on the envelope. Without further ado, the game begins after you enter the gates. Walking to the right of the mansion rewards you with a gruesome sight. A murder of crows is eagerly eating something. What could it be and why does this scene remind us of an Alfred Hitchcock movie?
Clicking on the right objects rewards you with (oftentimes), creepy pixel animations and interesting tidbits about your current state of affairs. Some may argue that a bunch of monochrome dots and squiggly lines wouldn't have the ability to scare but it's really about what you don't see. Passing through dark corridors, hoping your lamp light doesn't get snuffed out, hearing a terrified cat's piteous cries for help and even just experiencing the foreboding feeling of despair permeating the game's atmosphere --it's all about filling in the blanks. There's also the advantage of having a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack courtesy of music composer, Carlos Viola. The masterful orchestral tunes truly compliments the game's moody visuals, allowing players to immerse themselves, filling in deliberately hidden scene elements with their own gothic horror fantasy.
That being said, there are times when this kind of delivery is a disadvantage, especially when it comes to smaller objects that seemingly disappear into the background. Getting from point A to point B will require a bit of patience and some elbow grease as you go in and out of the rooms searching for the next key item. There are times when the use of these pickups makes sense immediately and some that feel somewhat contrived. For instance, spotting an odd hole and describing it as "dark" makes one want to use the lamp to check around but Devitt deems this action unnecessary and doesn't react to it at all. There are also times wherein you are prevented from using items due to a linear sort of methodology. Flimsy wood planks? Sorry, that cement-bashing hammer won't cut it; you'll need to search the rooms again.
Speaking of pickups, our least favorite would have to be the noisy crow. Other than distracting us from the game's stellar soundtrack, it also doesn't make much sense to just lug it around without any prompting. We do understand the need to keep things flowing a certain way for the sake of pacing but there has to be some way to keep things from feeling staged. But, as we mentioned before, the developers do listen to the community and there's no doubt that these concerns will eventually be nonexistent as the project moves along.
While the pixelated environment, topped off with a gloomy palette may sound like a recipe for disaster, trust us when we say that it is not. The game is pretty lenient when it comes to hover indicators, that is, when the mouse hovers close to an area of interest, it changes its display. We've come across games that made it a pain to look for these hot spots, disappearing as soon as you leave a certain pixel. Thankfully, we did not have that problem with The Last Door. The items do tend to blend in with the environment, but the visual cues successfully prevent things from getting hair-pull frustrating. As compared to the alternative of having things from dumbed down with neon highlights, we prefer this kind of pixelated point and click treatment.
Any good psychological horror game needs a solid storyline, a backbone if you will, in order to evoke the proper, goose bumps inducing, reaction. The Last Door has that working for it and more, as it subtly delivers the chilling tale through scattered letters, first-person dialogue and symbolic visual hints. While there are gruesome pixel graphics, it's never too obvious. Oftentimes this is where games go wrong as the audience is treated like children who need handholding. The Last Door gives just enough to draw you into the mysterious atmosphere, letting you relax and get comfortable in your seat only to startle you with animated events that remind you that it is of the horror genre. As expected, there are a few spelling errors to be found in the script if you look hard enough, but these are easy to miss if you're concentrating more on the overall delivery. We applaud the game's successful balancing act in the story department. It is a difficult feat as it is to come up with a script that is compelling enough for a straightforward title, let alone writing for one using an episodic formula.
In some ways, The Last Door's modern, yet also old-school approach is still reserved for a niche market. Just like root beer floats and bacon, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Being longtime fans of the point and click genre, we thoroughly enjoyed, even welcomed, the nostalgia of the visuals. Locating interactive objects is never too hard nor is it glaringly obvious.
However, there is room for improvement in terms of making item usage flow more smoothly, leaning towards the logical and seeming less staged. The writing is compelling. The subtle, underlying clues that point towards the reason for Anthony Beechworth's deadly loss of sanity is enough to draw you into the unfolding mystery. The orchestral soundtrack is nothing short of breathtaking, capable of immersing players into the game's complex psychological horror with each haunting note.
With a stellar start and a dedicated team to make the next chapters even better, The Last Door deserves to be played. We'll even go as far as to recommend supporting the game if you do enjoy it, as that would help release more episodes of this indie masterpiece.