It is a fact not often acknowledged, but H.P. Lovecraft was a truly terrible writer. Not only did he exhibit a poor stylistic form of writing, with sentences as long as half a page, barely any dialogue and using ten words where one would suffice, but his writing can be viewed today as incredibly racist. The residents of the Massachusetts town of Innsmouth have become inbred monsters because they traveled the seas and interacted with a “foreign cult” that believed in human sacrifice. His story The Horror at Red Hook is almost entirely about Lovecraft’s xenophobic reaction to being forced to live in a racially-diverse district of New York.
Nonetheless, whilst he died penniless and unknown, he has become one of the most renowned writers of the 20th Century. This can be put down to one simple fact: He knew how to scare people. Whilst his writing is clunky and unwieldy, beneath the verbose language are some truly terrifying tales, from The Call of Cthulhu to The Dunwich Horror. The Last Door treads in the footsteps of Lovecraft well, being a well-realized adaptation filled with creeping horror, dark abandoned houses and untold secrets. Whilst the actual adventure game underneath the presentation it is so-so, the atmosphere created through the excellent soundtrack and the minimalistic graphics is commendable.
The Last Door is broken into four acts, as a result of its Kickstarter campaign where each episode was individually financed. Furthermore, the game is free-to-play via the developer’s website should you so wish. Set in late Victorian Britain, it opens in suitably sombre and morbid style, with you controlling the suicide of Anthony Beechworth in his mansion’s attic. For the rest of the game you play as Beechworth’s old school friend Jeremiah Devitt, who receives a letter from Beechworth asking him to come to his family mansion, hinting at some unspecified trouble that has befallen him. From here, Devitt unearths various unearthly horrors including rooms unexplainably full of crows, ghostly apparitions, and sinister characters. The overarching story interweaves between each act, with each segment moving to a different location. Each act takes roughly an hour to get through, which breaks the game into easily digestible chunks. The plot is pretty good, and does a nice job at mostly hinting at the horror rather than overtly showing it. It also goes to some very creepy places later on, and never shows its hand too soon.
Indeed, the art style similarly does a good job of conveying the atmosphere. The graphics are almost Atari 7800 quality, with huge pixels and minimal detail across both environments and characters. Think of a dark and brooding McPixel and you’ll get the drift. Due to the fact that everything is so low detail, you have to use your imagination to fill in some of the blanks of the various happenings on screen. Indeed, occasionally action will happen over a blank screen, with sound effects hinting at what is happening. The graphics themselves are neither here nor there; it is up to your personal taste whether you will enjoy something so purposefully retro-stylized. Whilst I would have preferred a greater realized world for the game to inhabit, I appreciate the artistic choice that was made and which the developers stick to religiously. One downside, however, is that the pixel-hunting element of adventure games is prevalent here, meaning you must scour most environments to make sure you’ve clicked on and picked up everything you need to.
There is no voice-acting, with all dialogue and plotting being conveyed via text parser. The writing is good, merging Victorian sensibilities with Lovecraftian and Poe-influences, but doesn’t go over the top with overtly flowery language. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, composed and orchestrated with aplomb by Carlos Viola. Dramatic in all the right places with plentiful melancholic piano and violins, the music lays the atmosphere on heavy from the outset. Likewise, sound effects and ambient noises are generally handled well, further helping to reinforce the mysterious atmosphere and raising tension.
Alas, the gameplay is somewhat disappointing. Beneath the veneer of the immaculate presentation, this is a standard adventure game where you must gather items, use items with other items, and find certain items to trigger new events. There is nothing particularly wrong with this, but it isn’t inspiring in itself. You will be picking up dead crows, glass jars, and all other manner of items, in the hope that they might come in useful down the line, which they invariably do. The plot, soundtrack and atmosphere will hold your interest, but the act of solving the various puzzles will not. Although the answers are usually quite intuitive, there is only ever one puzzle requiring completion to advance the story and usually only one item that needs to be found in order to solve the puzzle. Again, nothing at all wrong with this, but because it’s the method 95% of adventure games take for their gameplay, there’s nothing special about it.
Made on a shoestring budget, it is admirable that The Game Kitchen managed to create such a cogent, well-plotted and thoroughly sinister adventure game. Whilst the gameplay is passable, it has excellent atmosphere and an involving, creepy story. In terms of horror adventure games, The Last Door can proudly stand alongside Phantasmagoria and I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream in the pantheon of the greats. A real horror game like this doesn’t want shock you; it wants to feed on your soul. As Lovecraft wrote, with rare brevity, “Who knows the end? What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise. Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men.”