Oftentimes the gameplay loop in point-and-click adventures involves uninspired scavenger hunts for trinkets, with no time taken to fully appreciate the history of those objects. The new game Last Call tackles this shortcoming directly, making the backstory of seemingly ordinary items a core part of its gameplay and having players take an active role in exploring the past.
Last Call, billed as “an autobiographical poem-exploration game,” was written, designed, and coded by Nina Freeman, in collaboration with Jake Jefferies who worked on the game’s art. The game is based on the designers’ lived experiences of love and violence in past relationships. Last Call released for free on Itch.io on September 29.
When the game begins, the narrator and her abusive boyfriend have ended their relationship. You explore the apartment the two shared, closing moving boxes packed with belongings. While doing so, you find poems recounting the couple’s tumultuous history.
Right off the bat, the game displays content warnings for text descriptions of domestic violence, emotional and physical abuse, violence against women, suicidal ideation and attempts, and sexual content. Though none of these acts are actually depicted, the intensity of the writing makes the content warnings appreciated.
The first thing that gripped me about Last Call was how interactable and exceptionally immersive an experience it is. When you start, you’re asked what color you see when you close your eyes. Your answer becomes the backdrop for the poems you find. Those poems lead into the most powerful aspect of the game. As you read poems from different stages of the relationship, you absorb the information they convey (as well as their emotional impact) and choose from a variety of phrases that float around the poem, saying your response aloud.
These responses include phrases like “I follow,” “Tell me more,” “I relate,” “I know,” and “I’m listening.” This will stick with me because of how unique this mechanic is, and how it fosters a personal connection between you and the game. (There’s also an option to play the game without utilizing its voice recognition mechanic.)
There were times where I felt a deep sympathy for the narrator because her experiences echoed experiences in my past. Your vocal responses aren’t just akin to “thoughts and prayers,” the kinds of responses that could almost invalidate the narrator’s trauma. Rather, they’re thoughtful and meaningful responses to what she’s gone through. This makes the gravity of her experiences and your understanding of them a viscerally emotional experience.
Having to vocalize how you either relate to the narrator’s experience or wish to console her is powerful. Oftentimes, I could see myself in the narrator’s poems, and in the self-doubt she carried. When her traumatic experiences superseded anything I have experienced in my life, sympathy gave way to empathy, and I could do nothing but say “I hear you” or “I understand.”
Strangely, one game I was reminded of while playing Last Call is Silent Hill 2. The boxes you find have a gouache, pixelated fire erupting out of them, which reminded me of the stunning scene in Silent Hill 2 where Angela Orosco stands on a staircase engulfed in flames. Orosco tells James Sunderland that for her, it is always like this. This reflected for me how the boxes scattered about the apartment in Last Call had the potential to house the narrator’s own personal hell, a hell that I was helping her through processing.
I recommend wearing headphones while playing Last Call, because it uses sound so effectively. It’s mostly a silent experience, aside from ambient music, but sometimes boxes will call out to you as you play. Whispers from the narrator reciting fragments of the poems break the silence, and you have to locate which box the whispers are coming from, addressing the trauma of that memory before doing anything else. The effect, without fail, made my skin crawl as I explored the house. The narrator’s poems are sometimes coupled with images of Freeman herself, capturing her emotional state during both the honeymoon period of her relationship and what followed. Throughout the poems are moments where the narrator is gaslit, and verbally and physically abused.
Despite all of this, Last Call never feels like it’s just wallowing in trauma. The more you pack things up, the lighter the rooms become. Windows begin to open, indicating the healing that the narrator is finding as she puts the past away. At the conclusion of the game, Freeman includes a link to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which offers resources for survivors of such experiences. Last Call is a gem of a game that pulls you in via innovative mechanics and powerful writing, carefully conveying one person’s journey of recovery from an abusive relationship in a way that only a game could.