Coming home to the horror
Jeremiah Devitt has been through a lot in the short time we’ve known him. He discovered the dead body of his childhood friend, Anthony Beechworth, in Chapter 1 – The Letter. He was buried alive in Chapter 2 – Memories. He was abandoned and stranded in a fog-encased slum in Chapter 3 – The Four Witnesses. While all of these events were the result of his own deliberate search for answers, they happened without his consent or desire. In The Last Door: Chapter 4 – Ancient Shadows, Devitt chooses to inflict what might be the final act of horror upon himself—or it could be the beginning of an entirely new struggle.
The Four Witnesses was an excursion for The Last Door; it deviated from the previous two chapters’ focus on Devitt and the enclosed, claustrophobic spaces related directly to him. In this, Ancient Shadows feels like coming home. Devitt begins this chapter travelling to the house of Alexandre, another friend from the boarding school he and Anthony attended, and a member of their occult group bound by forces we have been slowly uncovering for three episodes.
Alexandre’s home is the focus of Ancient Shadows, but everything about it is eerily reminiscent of Beechworth Manor in The Letter. The house staff have fled, scared off by events alluded to in diary notes left behind. A madness similar to Anthony’s has overtaken Alexandre, who has demanded all statues be turned towards the wall or beheaded to end their relentless staring. Even the house itself has a familiar setup, with a grandfather clock ticking away in the foyer and a cluttered cellar that hides a secret.
But there are plenty of differences, as well. Although the house is devoid of staff, Alexandre remains in his upstairs bedroom, unresponsive to Devitt but alive and “well.” Having been called to the manor by Alexandre but unable to learn anything from him directly, Devitt is forced to search the house for some clue as to why Alexandre beckoned and what is happening to him. Alexandre’s presence is used to solve some puzzles but also as an unsettling constant, providing further incentive for Devitt to unravel the mystery before they are both lost to madness.
The gameplay of Ancient Shadows is a culmination of everything previous chapters have led up to: dialogue is used in short bursts to propel the exposition, both between Devitt and Alexandre as well as tangential scenes with the two doctors trailing our protagonist. A few puzzles are broken out as separate screen mini-games, requiring players to not only use items properly but also recount info they’ve discovered in pages scattered about the manor. For instance, a clock must be wound to a specific time and a series of constellations plotted, both based on external references discovered during your exploration. The majority of puzzles, though, still fall to classically using the correct items on interactive objects.
However, the number of puzzles is notably small, as Ancient Shadows is the shortest episode yet. There is less area to explore, fewer scare events throughout, and a more condensed plot. And yet Chapter 4 manages a number of impressive feats within its short timeframe that keep it on scale with its slightly longer predecessors. Its atmosphere is subtly unnerving from start to finish, maintaining tension without any immediately tangible reasons to be afraid. It successfully returns to what made The Letter so unsettling and immersive: the creaky floors, the closed doors with silent terrors waiting just behind their un-oiled hinges, and the perfectly punctuated Baroque music that could just as easily be from a distant record or strumming along in Devitt’s mind alone.
Ancient Shadows also retroactively brings The Four Witnesses into the plot and canon more completely, following up on what felt like standalone issues and addressing them in relation to Devitt’s story. The Simurg, the fog, and the breathtaking final scene from Chapter 3 all flow seamlessly into Chapter 4 and create a cohesive conclusion to The Last Door‘s first “season.”
Although the end of this season marks a longer sabbatical until Chapter Five, Ancient Shadows has left plenty to ponder until season two, and provided a few bones to tide us over. An outstanding question all the way from The Letter is addressed, as well as more specific details about what happened in Memories. Of course, not everything is answered, and Devitt’s final experiences in Ancient Shadows are as confusing and disconcerting as any previous chapter. This is welcome, as nothing is ever neat and tidy in The Last Door; can we even believe anything we’ve seen thus far? “Videte ne quis sciat.”