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On The Threshold: The Last Door

The pilot chapter of The Last Door will become free on June 21st when the second chapter releases. Originating on Kickstarter, the game is a pixel-powered point and click horror adventure. I decided to spend an hour of my afternoon playing through the first episode, which begins with a player-controlled [redacted]cide and then switches scenes to a charming chap who pops on a top hat and sets out on a lamentable journey. There are mysteries and grisly sights to uncover, both of which benefit from the lo-fi appearance, which paints a detailed image but leaves plenty of boundaries for the imagination to fill in. The score is wonderful, sauntering strings that are alternately melancholy and manic, but the pilot does feel a little like a prologue.

Music aside, the game's most effective aspect is the weird logic that runs through the puzzles and story. In fact, there's hardly any story here - man is summoned to his friend's spooky isolated house and finds it apparently deserted - but the single location has a suitably upsetting logic. Things live, die and alter as the player progresses, mundane actions leading to unhappy and extraordinary consequences.

Greater horrors are suggested in the shadows, but the current atmosphere is more Algernon Blackwood or Wilkie Collins than Lovecraft. Something is out of joint and the larger implications may shatter the strangely sedate pace and Victorian calm.

Setting and story aside, two big questions remain - is The Last Door actually scary and are the puzzles any good?

There's nothing to curdle the blood, which has always seemed, to me, like the painfully fatal result of a horrible disease rather than a side effect of being a bit frightened. While my blood is as fine and fluid as ever, there were moments that left me slightly unsettled. It's the logic again, the disturbing way in which actions in one place send ripples through reality. This specific style of spookiness fits well with the adventure game format, where inexplicable connections and interactions are often par for the course.

Unfortunately, The Last Door's puzzles are unambitious, or perhaps intentionally simple. Mostly, progress is made by finding objects in the house and then finding a place to use them, which either provides a new object or opens a new room. It's simple but some of the odder solutions had me stumped for a few minutes. Most item combinations have a line of text, describing why they don't work or why they shouldn't have been considered in the first place, but there are occasional moments of confusion, when something has clearly been triggered elsewhere, but the trail has gone cold. Thankfully, the mansion is small and easy to navigate, with a fast forward double click available to speed the slow plod across rooms.

The beta version of chapter two is already available to people who have donated/purchased (pay what you want, although at least 15 euros for early access to new chapters) but the beginning and end of the episode won't be included until the 21st. I'm going to wait but I do I want to play more. The world, particularly the audio, has found its way inside my head and I'm hoping that the episodic structure will allow the team to take feedback on board, and continually improve on this solid foundation.

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