There seem to be two approaches to horror, whether in movies or video games. The first relies on cheap scares – something popping out to frighten, a short but intense start that goes away as fast as it came. The second is slower, building up tension with spooky atmosphere in such a way that it feels anything could happen at any time. The second type captures the imagination more, and The Last Door is a brilliant example. A Lovecraft-inspired horror taking place in Victorian England, the game uses extremely low-res graphics and wonderful sound direction to create an unsettling atmosphere that is well worth seeing through to the end.
In late December 2012, The Last Door was funded on Kickstarter, and the first episode was released the following March, with three more to follow. The Game Kitchen, the small development team from Spain behind its creation, released each previous episode for free as soon as a newer episode was launched. Each new episode could be unlocked by a donation of any size, creating a successful ongoing financial model that allowed them to complete the series. Now as the team looks ahead to making a second season, the first four episodes have been compiled and released by Phoenix Online as a full commercial set.
Players take the role of Jeremiah Devitt, a gentleman from London in 1891. His childhood friend, Anthony Beechworth, sends him a mysterious letter containing only the motto of the secret group they formed at boarding school when they were children. Devitt initially goes to the Beechworth Manor to investigate, but his questions eventually lead him from Sussex to the coast of Scotland and onto the streets of London. Plenty of people populate the different episodes, some of them recurring characters such as Jeremiah’s therapist, Doctor Wakefield. There is also Father Ernest, who locks himself away and refuses to see anyone, a nun who has lost her faith, and an unnamed gypsy woman who will read your fortune. These characters all fit well into the time period, from their dress to the way they speak, yet none are very memorable. Even the main character doesn’t seem to care much about most of them. What little is revealed about Devitt makes him a sympathetic lead, but his character remains so much a mystery that it is hard to feel particularly attached to him.
The atmosphere is very unsettling, thanks to its blend of story, graphics, and sound effects. The story contains very dark elements, from murder to suicide, neglect, and self-flagellation, setting the tone for the series from the very first scene. There are a few problems with dialogue syntax, but it doesn’t detract from the experience too much. One scenario forces players to make a hard decision, but the outcome is the same either way, which takes away the momentary feeling of influence. I won’t go into too many details about the plot, since uncovering the mystery about what’s going on is a big part of the game, but its suspenseful horror is reminiscent of the charm of Lovecraft stories. Devitt stumbles upon a rash of killings that intertwine with his own backstory, and all paths seem to lead to a supernatural entity just beyond the veil. From a murderer that intends to make Devitt the next victim to crows suddenly appearing and never taking their beady little eyes off you, The Last Door will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat. Episode 4 ends on a cliffhanger, paving the way for the next season.
The graphics are distinctly retro, and the blocky textures and low resolution will probably turn off gamers who demand only the newest graphic technology. However, the pixel art works well for this type of game. As with Lovecraft, this game is all about suggestion, not showing what frightens us but rather letting hints stimulate the imagination. In one of the tensest scenes of the game, the screen fades to black and only sounds are heard, and what our fears conjure up is just as scary as if we were seeing it, if not more so. Even the opening credits are nicely atmospheric, with crows watching from atop rooftops and gravestones. In dark places Devitt must use a lantern, and only being able to see within the lantern’s glow radius makes the shadows that much more disturbing. Most screens are static, besides Devitt and any other characters moving about. The occasional animation is used to great effect, however. The sudden swinging of the grandfather clock pendulum out of the corner of your eye, for example, ratchets up the fear factor.
Even with such old-school graphics, there are a lot of details included, and the visuals are just crisp enough to differentiate between objects. Vines crawl up the side of a house, and the wallpaper is faded where a rosary hung. Fog envelops the London streets, and snow drifts by in the country. Sometimes the perspective peers in through windows at the protagonist, almost like the player is a creature hiding in the shadows, and it makes you wonder what else is looking at Devitt like you are.
The sound really complements the art design, from the stirring music to the authentic effects. The musical score includes a moody violin to accompany the opening credits, and a suspenseful piano piece when exploring an abandoned house. But what really sticks out is the way the game strategically uses silence. When going into the basement, the sudden lack of music is deeply unsettling. The sound of water dripping is eerie in the darkness, and a small scuttling noise makes you wonder if you are truly alone. The sound effects really shine, including the footfall difference between sand, grass, and pavement. Floorboards creak when Devitt moves across a room, and birds chirp in the distance. During scary scenes, you hear a heartbeat begin to race, along with heavy breathing. (If you can hear them over your own.)
In terms of interface, The Last Door is a fairly typical third-person point-and-click adventure. A smart cursor shows hotspots that can be looked at, picked up or interacted with. It also shows exits from the current screen; double-clicking one instantly moves you to the next. The inventory is shown at the bottom of the screen where you can combine items occasionally, and there is a magnifying glass that gives descriptions of each item you’ve acquired. There are lots of doors in the game, as the title suggests, and doors stay open to signify unlocked areas. There is no manual saving as you progress, but the game is automatically saved when you quit. At the beginning of each chapter are postcard snaps summarizing what happened in the last episode.
The puzzles are mostly all inventory-based, with the exception of one clock puzzle. All of the puzzles make intuitive sense, but none are very memorable or difficult. The most challenging part is finding the items you need, since hotspots can be hard to distinguish from their low-res backgrounds. Handily, the smart cursor to pick up items is large and will come up if you’re in even the general vicinity of the object.
If you’re not sure whether you want to buy The Last Door Collector’s Edition, you can always try the original releases for free to see if you like it. Each chapter should last a nice little chunk of time, up to five hours each. This release includes all four episodes of the first season, along with achievements and extra scenes like deleted scenes from movies. For those who like slow-burning horrors and are up for a different kind of experience, give The Last Door a try. It’s a refreshing spin on horror that shines through its retro graphics and sound, along with an interesting supernatural plot to tie it all together, earning this game an oak solid recommendation.
Editor's Note: The review originally indicated that there was no inventory combination possible, and has since been corrected.