Posted on August 12, 2013, Phil Hornshaw The Last Door Starts With Suicide, Then Gets Creepier
HorrorScope is a recurring feature exploring the horror genre in gaming and drawing attention to its elements, its tropes, and its lesser-known but still scary titles.
Adventure game The Last Door begins in what looks like an attic, with only a few things around: a window, a chair, a few paintings covered in sheets — and a nondescript man you control. The visuals are all built of overblown pixels, which almost makes it difficult to pick out what you’re seeing. The only way to tell what you’re to do or what you can interact with in the scene is to run your mouse over everything.
And then, slowly, it starts to make sense. The man finds a rope. He stands the chair up. He ties a noose. He climbs onto the wooden platform.
The Last Door begins with the character you control hanging himself — and then gets creepier.
Adventure games have been doing horror for a while, but playing them always creates a strange sensation for me in terms of being truly connected to the fear the game generates. Unlike other games, there’s really no threat of imminent doom in an adventure title; you’re never going to round a corner and find a monster waiting to maim you in a game in which you navigate by clicking a spot and waiting for your character to walk there. That creates an entirely different challenge for developers in creating a sense of dread and fear. How masterfully The Last Door manages to develop and spread that dread is what makes it remarkable.
The first player character, Beechworth, kills himself inside the first minute; players actually spend their time in The Last Door playing as Jeremiah Devitt, a former school friend of Beechworth who receives a letter from the latter at the start of the first chapter. Devitt is convinced by the letter to head out to Beechworth’s home and check up on him, and the real gameplay starts with his arrival at the empty, seemingly abandoned, manor.
The rest of Chapter 1 of The Last Door is something like solving a mystery, and progress is made through unlocking various doors in the house by solving puzzles. But something is amiss, and The Last Door’s literary influences come pounding away on the door almost immediately. Lovecraft and Poe start to creep into the story early, and there’s an overarching menace that begins to build within the first few minutes. There’s a force at work in The Last Door that can’t be seen, but it’s there, and its seemingly sinister intent is hard to ignore.
From a gameplay standpoint, The Last Door does the standard adventure game puzzle thing, albeit in a way that works well with a subject matter. Most of your time is spent wandering around different rooms, looking for things you can pick up, combine, and use on other objects. In the first chapter, this means making your way through various doors and finding their keys. The puzzles themselves aren’t always the clearest in terms of logical leaps — for example, one has players drawing a cat out of a hiding place by finding a dead raven in the yard outside the manor, then leaving it in the cat’s food dish (That solution in particular is a bit strange, especially if you discover the dead crow before knowing what to do with it) — but they’re still often delightfully macabre.
And The Last Door gets away with making these puzzles work by keeping the scale of each chapter fairly small. The game’s episodic releases mean that each portion takes place in a fairly contained area and in a relatively short amount of time. As you pick up objects, it’s usually not too long until you find a place to use them, either because it seems obvious, or through a trial-and-error approach of just sticking every inventory item in an object and seeing which works. No puzzle is so difficult that it holds things up for long, though, to the game’s credit: you’re here to find out what’s happening, not to be confused by adventure game puzzles.