The Last Door: The Four Witnesses [Review]
October 31, 2013
I am continually amazed by The Game Kitchen’s ability to make me afraid of pixelated places in their The Last Door series. The new chapter, The Four Witnesses, is just as good at scaring me as its predecessors, but it does add a couple more tricks to the series that continue to make the game frighten me in new ways. Continued good use of sound and music squeeze as many “I don’t want to walk in there” moments into the game as possible. Really, I don’t know what else I need to say. The first two episodes are completely free right now, so stop reading this dumb crap if you haven’t tried them yet and go play them. This review isn’t going anywhere. If you like what you’ve played and are willing to toss a little money to the development of the next game, you can play The Four Witnesses right now just like me. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until January to sample this fine horror game. It’ll be free at that point, because The Game Kitchen is staffed by the greatest people on Earth.
The Four Witnesses veers off the main path of its plot to some extent, as it doesn’t really touch on the story of the last two episodes for most of the way through the chapter. That might seem like a complaint, but the subject matter they do touch on is just as disturbing as its always been. I loved the scene in the bedroom with the old woman, as well as the weird acts that followed. There are several different horrific tales all happening at once, making the world feel like it’s filled with lost souls who missed the last turnoff for Silent Hill. There are some freaky people in this town, and you get to interact with them all!
What I found was new in the game were several instances of inevitable scares. I know when playing a horror game that something’s going to try to frighten me, but that is different from knowing that the next step or button press is going to do something that makes you jump. It’s different from expecting an enemy to jump out at you or knowing when the bathtub scene is coming in Eternal Darkness (And shutting my eyes, which I always do now because I am a giant wimp). This is more of a different kind of dread, one where you know that something horrible is going to happen the instant you hit the button one more time, but you have to do it anyway to continue the game. It’s like having someone hold your eyes open during a scene that frightens you, forcing you to face whatever awful thing they’re planning to do to you next.
The beauty of it was that I couldn’t make myself look away. When a certain odd character asks you to play a game, you do it. Part of you knows that this is a horror game and that whatever happens is going to be messed up, but another part of you is too curious to shut your eyes. There is one sequence in the game where I had to press the button a few times to move on, and each time I braced myself for a scare. I felt certain something spooky was coming, but not once did I shut my eyes. I didn’t blink or even look away, as I needed to see what was coming even if I knew I was going to jump when I saw it. It felt like The Game Kitchen had made me complicit in my own fear, and it was great.
This isn’t something that happens just one time, either. The game seems to be filled with moments where you’ll hear some errant noise and the whole game will go silent. You’ll know what you’ll have to do, but you want to do anything but that in that moment. Even at those points, the game still put in a few lulls just to make sure that you weren’t quite sure that something was going to happen. Having nothing happen after I expected one scare made me feel just comfortable enough that I was caught completely off-guard by the follow up, a trick that rarely works on me these days. The fake scare almost always leads into a real scare a few seconds later, but most developers or film makers lack the skill required to really time that follow up so it hits hard. The Four Witnesses does it, and my chest actually hurt from how bad they got me. Good job, guys.
The dark hallways of the first game are back in action, too. It wasn’t far into the chapter before I found myself filling a lantern with oil, dreading the hallways I was going to have to walk while holding it. You can’t see all that much in the limited light of your lantern, and this is made a little worse by the vague pixel art. Like I said in my review of the previous chapters and of Lone Survivor, pixel art is just limited enough that it leaves some things unclear. There were many times when the mass of pixels I was looking at didn’t quite look like anything, as happened the time when I was apparently looking at a horse carcass. I could kind of see the shape, but my brain had to fill in the gaps once I knew what I was looking at.
So, when I looked down a dark hallway and saw some weird shape come just into view of my light, I stopped dead. I had no idea what it was or if it was friendly or dangerous, and that uncertainty locked me in one spot. Given how bad the game had jolted me with scares a few times, I held my ground for a while, having to build myself up to move on. Saying I was embarrassed to find it was just a roll in the wallpaper doesn’t really do it justice. There were other times that I could see far better than in that hallway, though, and even at those times I was nervous to go on. The various odd, unsettling stories of the people in the game were all still fresh in my mind, and I was almost nervous to approach a man who just looked like he was reading in the dark. Why had he just been sitting there in the pitch dark? More importantly, what was he going to do now that I was shining a likely-unwanted light on him?
That’s like being scared of a dark version of Space Quest, isn’t it? It very well might have been if the sound hadn’t been top-notch yet again. The loud footsteps do wonders for creating tension in many of those empty halls, but other things like rising laughter or distant, echoing singing are wonderfully creepy as well. At one point I was trudging through the sewers and a woman’s voice was humming the tune of “Hush, Little Baby”, and I pretty much just wanted to walk away from whatever was doing it. There’s just something about children’s songs being sung by an unknown figure in a pitch-black sewer that doesn’t make me want to stick around, I guess. The laughter wasn’t much better, and it made a tense walk that much harder to make.
Again, making players force themselves deeper and deeper into something that frightens them just builds incredible tension. I already didn’t feel like going down a dark hallway where any object might have been some monster out to kill me. Hearing those sounds made me sure that something down there was going to come after me, and I was given an audio clue as to how much closer I was walking toward whatever it was. I didn’t want to go to the end of those areas, but to finish the game, I had to. To also see what was lurking there and to sate my curiosity about what was lurking in the shadows, I had to.
The rest of the music is just beautiful. The violin tracks in this game are really haunting and sad, and just show such a range of tones for the instrument. If you can appreciate the violin, you really need to be keeping an eye on Carlos Viola, the game’s composer. He’s put together some fantastic stuff that conveys the mood and atmosphere of the game while also being incredible works of audio art. Just some of the deep, menacing tones that came out of that instrument when I was walking down the dark hallways are worth listening to alone. It isn’t the only instrument in the soundtrack and I don’t have quite a good enough ear to notice the subtleties of many of them, but it’s still impressive work.
This chapter’s puzzles felt straightforward and perfect as well. There were only a few moments when I didn’t know what to do, and one in particular that fell into point-and-click logic (By which I mean a complete lack of logic on any level), but overall, it wasn’t that big of a leap from Point A to Point B. It does make the game a little easy, technically, but the story is the main draw of the game to me, so I didn’t want to be held up from it in any way. Also, the puzzles seem more concerned with keeping in with the themes and atmosphere of the game, so you’ll be doing some weird, off-putting work in order to finish the game. The Four Witnesses isn’t trying to bust your brain with puzzles, but rather draw you further into the plot and feeling of the game. In a series with plot and scares that are this strong, I’ll happily take the easy puzzles.
The Last Door: The Four Witnesses feels a little bit like it got off-track with the side stories of other people, but the hints it drops on the main plot and the creepiness of these stories had me loving it. The graphics are still limited and may not impress some people, but they still add a delightful vagueness to things that always leaves me unsure when the next scare is coming. With some fantastic scares that I just couldn’t avoid because of my own curiosity (Stupidity), I had a great time being an accomplice in giving myself nightmares. You can too, with but a small donation to help keep those guys going. Even if you don’t have the money, The Game Kitchen is still giving away its past games for free, and in a few months you’ll be able to try this one for free too. There are very few devs out there who produce this kind of quality and won’t force you to spend a dime, and truly, I feel they deserve my money the most because of that.
Out Of 5
The Last Door: The Four Witnesses
The visuals still do a solid job of conveying things in a vague way. Not much has changed, but I found it was much more obvious which items were clickable and important despite the pixel graphics. It's very easy to know what you should be interacting with, which makes this point-and-click game smooth to play.
I don't know if I just didn't notice how incredible the compositions were before, but the music is fantastic and capable of setting several moods. The sounds of singing and laughing were beyond creepy, and added yet another nice touch to the game's already-powerful atmosphere.
Still solid, and no appreciable difference from the previous chapters.
This is one of the most straightforward point-and-click games I've ever played, save for one particular puzzle. Beyond that, the game uses its puzzles to better immerse its players in the game's weird, creepy world, something that serves it far better than complex item quests ever would.
The world of The Last Door is well-served by its newest entry. It tells just enough about the main plot to move it forward, but helps set up the rest of the strange, surreal world it's set in. Having me willingly scare myself is a great feat, and one I'm afraid they're going to do to me again when I play the next chapter.