As much as we like to play video games for fun and escapism, we’re seeing more and more games turning the tables on the player, toying with our emotions and pulling on our heartstrings. While some developers excel in piecing together breathtaking worlds and immersive systems, others strive to wow us with great writing and the way that script evolves into an interactive experience.
Last Day of June is a prime example of this. It’s the second game from Italian studio Ovosonico, the team behind Murasaki Baby, a little known platformer for PlayStation Vita. It has that same quirkiness in its art direction, characters managing to convey human emotion despite their oversized, eyeless heads and Simlish-eseque babbling. Just as evoactive is the setting, merging warm oranges and dusk purples – the colours and very essence of summer evenings.
As the sun sets on one particular evening we find ourselves following two lovers as they look out onto a vast lake. June gives her husband, Carl, a present but just as he’s about to unwrap it, the weather changes. Taking shelter, the two of them make a beeline for the car as the rain comes pouring down. Homeward bound, a sense of dread sets in and suddenly a boy appears in front of the couple, forcing them to veer off the road.
The game doesn’t show exactly what happens next. Instead, we see Carl sleeping in his armchair. Just moments after the warmth of the opening, the tone has completely changed. There’s a dark coldness to the place, he’s alone, and as the wheelchairs next to him denotes, the car accident has claimed more than just the one he loves.
Without uttering a single word, his feelings are transparent. It’s a combination of anger, desperation and denial conveyed through pained sighs and galvanised by the physical struggle of simply moving room to room. However, as he reluctantly enters his wife’s art studio, something magical occurs and the paintings comes to life.
Each depicts one of the four other townsfolk and what they were doing on that fateful day. You start off with the young boy whose ball finds itself in the middle of the road. By changing his actions and preoccupying him with another distraction, you can effectively go back in time and change what happens. However, as you discover, there are complications. Other hazards on that exact same stretch of road appear, forcing you to hop between characters and alter events in different ways in order to save June.
In truth, there’s not much depth to this story-driven 3D puzzler, at least not in terms of gameplay. You simply move around the environment, occasionally picking up or interacting with objects before finalising your choices and watching the rest of the day play out. The real puzzle solving manifests in how you align the actions of various characters. For example, if you distract the boy with a kite instead of the ball, he happens to be using a length of rope that another character might need. Much like the story, gameplay is caught in a familiar time loop. It’s far from perplexing but there’s a cleverness to it all the same.
How the game looks and sounds is perhaps its biggest draw. There’s a haunting yet whimsical look to the characters, while Steven Wilson’s soundtrack delivers for each story beat. In fact, those familiar with Wilson’s work will find parallels between his music video for “Drive Home” and Ovosonico’s prior work. Although Last Day of June could arguably have been a similar animated short, and a great one at that, having direct control and trying to change the past yourself has a bigger impact.
The true test for any game of this kind is whether it can keep player hungry enough to see it through to the end. Although I wasn’t completely enthralled (the repetitive puzzles and a couple of bugs broke my immersion) it still managed to lodge its hooks in me and I’d be lying if I said those final moments didn’t make me feel anything. Last Day of June is a emotive, sometimes enchanting story of love and loss that, while it doesn’t break new ground, will resonate with plenty of gamers out there.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 Pro