If you can remember the turning of events from 1999 to the year 2000, you will remember that it was a time that was fraught with worry and possible dangers. We had the positive vibes of Prince who told us we were ‘going to party like it was 1999’, but we also had the threat of Y2K, taking over the machines, the apocalypse cult groups warning of the end of days. Thankfully none of this happened, but in Last Days of Lazarus we find a story in which things have gone a bit pearshaped, all at the turn of the millennium. It’s worse than Y2K as well, as it involves nightmares, war, and horror.
Last Day of Lazarus is a first-person horror adventure set in turn-of-the-century Romania. The game is a letter of love to the country in terms of the real locations which are used and of course religious practices and beliefs. It examines a country that is still coming to terms with its communist regime’s past. You play the titular role of Lazarus, a man who comes home to his old life after the death of his mother. He hopes to find his beloved sister Lyudmila in the flat of his home, but soon discovers something terrible has happened. Then, as monsters appear in the bathroom and the world outside starts to rain fire, he soon finds himself on an adventure that tackles the supernatural and the search for this estranged father…
The story has some highs and some medium lows. I loved the ambition of the story and the mad fantasy adventure it takes you on, mixing religious iconography, demons, robots, and monsters. It’s a high-concept narrative that I think is bonkers enough to allow the development teams at Darkania Works and GrimTalin to get away with it. Sometimes the writing – dialogue-wise – can feel a bit corny, but I think that might have more to do with the translation.
Gameplay-wise and Last Days of Lazarus is very much focused on the exploration puzzle-solving side than survival horror. Nothing can kill you in this game and there isn’t any fighting to partake in except for a few cutscenes of violence. You are basically exploring the locations of Lazarus’s journey, examining clues, picking up items, and solving some complex yet entertaining puzzles.
I do have a quick gripe that I need to get out of the way and that is in regards the cursor that you use to aim at things in order to pick stuff up. It just doesn’t feel clear enough, especially as you see objects that need interaction. I passed many an object by mistake, left to then head back to search the area again; occasionally looking for a solution online. It’s the visual display of it and just isn’t as intuitive as a mouse could be.
The inventory system is the standard fare of collecting objects that can be used here and there to progress the story. Sometimes there is a feeling of being lost about what to do next and that can get a little frustrating, yet the puzzles in Last Days of Lazarus are quite delightful; intricate with a brilliant mix of science and magic that is very enjoyable.
There is also a quirky mix of brilliant detail when it comes to the interior settings. The flat – the family home of Lazarus – looks like a real place that has been lived in. It’s not ordered or too neat, but a hodgepodge of detritus and personal memories. The same goes for some of the religious settings which are incredibly detailed in terms of the spiritual icons and how the puzzles look. The exteriors aren’t as good, and at times can look a bit grey and last gen. However, the characters are fine, if quite wooden and a bit plastic at times. But the ambition of the game is at work here and that should always be heavily applauded.
The soundtrack does a good job of keeping the drama and high fantasy of Last Days of Lazarus on point. It has a good score with great use of an end song when the credits roll. The voice-over work can feel quite cheesy , yet at other times quite melodramatic, but I think that is the nature of the beast for this genre of game.
You’ll find some enjoyment in Last Days of Lazarus, but at times will feel hampered by the mechanics of the game, especially in terms of the cursor and interaction with items. The puzzles are great, as is the Romanian setting which feels refreshing and fascinating. The story is bombastic and I like how crazy it gets but on the flipside there are times when the translation doesn’t come across well. In all though, Last Days of Lazarus is a decent little adventure which will take you to places you’ve never before seen in gaming.
Last Days of Lazarus is on the Xbox Store