"Do you remember when you were a kid, lying in bed, and distorted shadows in the dark became monsters in your thoughts? That is how The Last Door executes its visual horror."
The Last Door began its life as a free browser game
after successful funding on Kickstarter. It was released in four separate chapters, which have now been combined, along with some updates and new features, as Season 1 on Steam. I was sceptical that a pixelated horror game could scare me after playing the likes of Amnesia or Silent Hill. However, while it doesn't have the sheer fright factor of those titles, it carries a continual creepiness that makes it a compelling play.
Over the years, I've been somewhat of a naysayer for minimalist pixel art in indie games. Frankly, I was sick of seeing it in every second release. The Last Door has redeemed the style in my eyes. Do you remember when you were a kid, lying in bed, and distorted shadows in the dark became monsters in your thoughts? That is how The Last Door executes its visual horror. By using the pixels to its advantage, it can hide strange shapes in the shadows and leave the horrific imagining to you. It's just a shame the game doesn't support widescreen.
The visuals are artfully done, and each scene is detailed in its depiction. Characters have no facial features, but it only serves to increase the creep-factor. Whether it's foggy alleyways, aristocratic English houses or morgues, the art creates an unsettling atmosphere where familiar surroundings can become a distorted, nightmarish vision. When combined with the haunting soundtrack, The Last Door constantly keeps you on edge. I can guarantee the sound effects will make you jump at least once as they suddenly burst through the soft music. A moment in Episode 1 where you return to a room filled with murderous crows and hear a sudden chime is momentarily horrifying. The scares tend to only last a second or two, but they will unsettle you throughout the game.
The occult-themed story begins with a confronting scene: you move Anthony around to pick up a rope, a chair, and then you make him hang himself from the ceiling beams. Cheery stuff. Devitt, our hero, comes to investigate Anthony's home after receiving a letter from his friend. Across all four episodes, a disturbing story featuring an abandoned boarding school, the slums of London, and the home of a crazed person creating some sort of hallucinogenic drug are visited. The story becomes more difficult to decipher as it progresses, and ends on a vague and confusing note, presumably setting the scene for Season 2. Considering the entire Season only take 2-3 hours to beat, the episodic format feels unnecessary.
Compared to other point-and-click adventure games, The Last Door is relatively straightforward in its design. Almost all puzzles simply involve finding the right item to use, and you tend to only carry a few at a time. Objects that can be interacted with in the environment are highlighted with a magnifying glass when moused over, and can be examined for more information. Some necessary items are easy to miss though, and I found myself backtracking at least once an episode in order to locate something I just hadn't seen. Devitt walks quickly, but in dark areas illuminated only by his lantern, he slows to a crawl, which becomes a hassle in shadow-filled Episodes 3 and 4.
For the most part, puzzles and exploration were never too difficult. I had to stop and think about what I might need or how to use what I had, but I was rarely stuck for an extended period. There were a couple of illogical puzzles, the worst of which involved coating a light bulb with blood from a deer, but they were the minority. Since each Episode is a small, self-contained area, searching for long enough usually provided results.
The Last Door is one of the best horror games I have played in some time, though its short length and episodic format tends to break the mood. Creepy art, unsettling music and disturbing characters create a memorably scary experience. Puzzles are challenging, but rarely difficult, and the mysterious story will keep you hooked. Try it for free on browser first, then nab that improved collector's edition on Steam if it strikes your fancy.