After a playthrough of The Curse of Monkey Island for my Retro Chronicles series, I got the bug for more point & click adventure goodness. I didn’t expect to find anything interesting, given the genre has been effectively dead since the industry decided nobody liked them anymore seemingly for no apparent reason – however, to my surprise I did spot something released just this past week that on the surface ticked every box for me.
Four Last Things has an interesting concept, to say the least. It doesn’t have graphics as such; rather, it has animated Renaissance-era paintings that have been stitched together into a game world. As a concept it is fascinating enough, but in execution it is absolutely jaw-droppingly wonderful. Every ten seconds I was pausing this screen to grab a screenshot, because this is quite literally a series of paintings come to life.
For an indie title that was kickstarted for a very small amount of money and developed by only one man, this has an incredible amount of polish. I know how the animation was done (by cutting and pasting from paintings and moving/stretching them about), but how it has been done whilst not leaving tell-tale signs of editing behind (such as poor textures to fill the gaps and so on) is deeply impressive.
The game combines the visuals with an equally inspired choice of soundtrack – public domain recordings of classical music. Not only is the music extremely fitting for the overall design, the art itself incorporates the music by having minstrels depicted playing the music as you walk past, whether on a boat or aboard a flying boiled egg.
… yes, about that boiled egg thing. That’s not a typo; the game is… strange. Deliberately so. It has two very clear inspirations – the LucasArts classics in the genre, particularly Monkey Island, as well as British TV comedy classic Monty Python. Indeed, absolutely everything this game has to offer is a 50/50 mash-up between those two things: the gameplay, humour, tone… all a massive homage to those two inspirations.
So, what’s the tale in Four Last Things? You play as an elderly colossal sinner who lives somewhere between the 14th and 17th century who has a sudden realisation (after a vivid dream involving God, Adam, Eve and…monsters?) that he needs to repent his sins before a vengeful god holds him to account in the afterlife. Upon seeking atonement for his sins, two bishops tell him they can’t take his confession for sins committed in another parish, but then they helpfully tell him that if he commits all the sins again in this parish, then he’ll be able to repent and have a blank slate.
Off you go with a checklist of sins to commit, egged on by the local clergy. You do so by visiting the nearby village and solving object-based puzzles to sate your lust, sloth, gluttony, pride and so on. It is a wonderful set-up for an offbeat adventure and is communicated effectively and succinctly within the opening salvo – there isn’t a wall of exposition to sit through.
Everything is standard, slightly simplified LucasArts-esque stuff from here on in. You click an item or person to bring up an action wheel, from where you can either view, eat, talk, pick-up or smack things about. Some items and people are critical, some aren’t. Like any good adventure game, the solutions aren’t so obvious as to completely ruin any semblance of challenge. Things get difficult, but they make sense when the answer clicks into place.
For example, one riddle in the clerk’s office had me absolutely stumped and about to reach for Google, until I realised the game world must have the answer. After that, a bit of exploration et voila, answer found.
It is good that the title has the difficulty mechanics down pat along with the art style, because otherwise this would have been a tech demo rather than a full game. It is on the short side – a few hours of fun here rather than a sprawling adventure – yet the dev had the sense to price it accordingly, with £6.99 spot on for the experience in my view.
As well as aesthetically and mechanically hitting the mark, Four Last Things does a stellar job in another key department – writing. Without sharp wit and distinctive comedy, point-and-click games can fall apart with ease. With the Monty Python inspiration, the writing does not disappoint here.
Where it does fall apart is in terms of character development – there’s surprisingly little, with the focus instead on satire and observational comedy to progress the tale. Fourth wall breaking moments are scattered throughout, as well as self-deprecating humour, but you won’t be remembering a Guybrush Threepwood or Manny Calavera from this title.
Because of this you can sometimes become detached from the game and not fully immersed into the adventure, because you don’t identify with anyone in the adventure. This is due to drawing more narrative inspiration from the irreverent comedy of Monty Python rather than Monkey Island.
For the benefit of the title as an actual game, this was probably the wrong decision but also probably a reflection of the dev not having a team of writers behind him to flesh out a multi-faceted narrative with numerous characters.
The game does have one fairly large technical issue that I encountered too – it did not scale to my monitor resolution of 2560×1440. As such, the game played in a window to the top left of my screen – it remained playable but not ideal. With no options menu at all to speak of, this is something that has to be fixed in coding by the dev or by messing around with configuration files by the user.
Despite this, the game itself is a delight. When coming to a final rating, it’s always difficult to score a small indie title, because if you score high you risk being deemed a ‘hipster’ who is saying the game is better than a AAA title. The truth is I am rating only what the game is trying to achieve in its genre and how successful it is at meeting that aim.
With that in mind, I can find little to fault with Four Last Things. It set out to achieve exactly what it ultimately has achieved and is well worth the asking price. Tremendous credit to Joe Richardson – it’s a rare talent to envisage such a game and execute it so well.
Developer: Joe Richardson
Publisher: Joe Richardson
Platform: PC – Steam
Release Date: 23rd February 2017