Vagueness in horror game art is a handy tool for creeping me out. When I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking at but can only make out a few gross details, it’s far creepier than an intricate monster carved out in full HD. The unknown is something worth fearing, but even so, I thought there would be limits. When I first looked at the graphics for The Last Door series, I thought the simple art style they’d chosen would be too much to overcome. There was too little detail to know there was even something to be afraid of. Somehow, through smart use of this art style along with excellent storytelling and creepy music, the guys at The Game Kitchen have made one of the most unforgettable horror experiences of 2013. For free.
The huge, blocky artwork looks primitive even by Escape from Monkey Island standards. Like I said, I figured it would be too basic to communicate what the objects were, but through knowledge of the artwork’s strengths and limitations, magic was created. There are some rough sequences in the first installment involving animals, and having a more powerful graphical style might have made the devs not show what happened or have the animal off-screen for fear of upsetting people with graphic gore. The limited graphics of the system they chose allowed the horrible occurrences to be on-screen, making it clear what it was without showing me screens filled with cheap gore. It let the devs be gruesome and horrific in many places, going quite far into sickening or terrifying territory, but the limited graphics never convey anything obviously enough to make people feel sickened by them. You know something bad has happened, but you’re not confronted with extreme close-ups of open wounds.
Another aspect was used to great effect: sound. I don’t think there’s a single person whose skin didn’t crawl once they had to pick up a certain wounded creature early in the first act, hearing it screaming and moving the whole time it was in the inventory. People say that Dead Space had some great sound design in it, but I don’t think these guys have seen what amazing things have been done in this game. A crying animal in an empty basement, yowling out in the most pathetic, yet potentially dangerous, way possible? A voice singing in the distance in an abandoned sewer? Your creaking footsteps groaning their way down a long, dark corridor, the sound echoing back at you and telling you that something is coming?
Even if you don’t get much of anything from the pixel art, the music and sound will have your heart beating fast as you make your way through the halls. You’re always treated to the sound of something potentially terrible at the end of the dark, unexplored areas of these games, taking slow, deliberate steps toward it while the sounds grow louder and louder. It’s a great horror experience and left me constantly feeling like I was in trouble, and that I had to walk straight into danger to get to where I needed to go.
The storyline that ties it all together could be the best part. The most recent chapter, The Four Witnesses, didn’t touch on the main story as much as I would have liked, but the first two chapters telling an intriguing tale of secret societies, religion, philosophy, and other sordid acts committed behind closed doors. Not only that, but you have hints of some dark and powerful supernatural stuff going on…assuming it’s all real. The game has been quite careful with its depictions of the supernatural, depicting them so that you rarely see them occurring in front of you or even in reality. With every chapter I’m left questioning if these events are real, even as I see their aftermath. Somehow, the devs have left me feeling like I’m going crazy along with the protagonist.
As much as they might drive me crazy, the jump scares in this game are top notch. The Game Kitchen is very good at forcing me into situations where I know for a fact that something bad is going to happen, and I’m wrong just enough of the time that I always drop my guard just when they’re about to really get me. At others, I am right, knowing right down to the button press that something awful is going to be looking back at me, and even then, I still get startled hard. After playing horror games for as long as I have, you get used to the typical tricks and moments when the game is going to try to scare you. The Last Door comes up with new moments to scare me with and still gets me even when I know It’s coming. It’s not a game content just to have excellent atmosphere through sound, story, and art, but one that’s willing to jump out and scare me to death out of nowhere as well.
It’s hard to look away from the horror that infuses The Last Door. Its simple graphical style should have made it dull and boring, but instead, it gives it a subtlety and elegance that allows the devs to visually demonstrate some sickening things without actually disgusting the player with the imagery. Even then, careful sound design ensures you’ll be afraid of what might or might not be in that empty hall, and knowing some of the reasons why you’re looking around made me even less willing to go out in the dark. Still, I have to go into those shadowy alleys and dangerous places if I want to learn more about the intricate plot. It’s a tight little horror package, one that the devs give away just so people will play it. It’s a quality game with some great work put into it, so anyone looking for one of the best games of last year who doesn’t have any money should be looking in on this game.