Having finished The Final Station I was left unsure of how to feel… however as the end of a game is a dubious place to start a review, I’ll start at the beginning:
The Final Station is a 2D game with side scrolling, shooting, puzzle elements, resource managing, and is very difficult to assign a genre to. The real main focus of the game is the story it boasts and the atmosphere that it creates.
You play the part of a mostly silent protagonist train driver who has been re-routed to carry out deliveries for the earth’s defences in the time of a zombie-like outbreak (seemingly the second outbreak based on the story being hinted at). You keep the train’s power at a sufficient level by tinkering with machinery in order to ensure that there’s no surplus battery usage which would cause the train’s life support to fail; each train journey will have one of the pieces of equipment requiring occasional maintenance, each achieved through a different simple task. The train isn’t the only thing which will require maintenance however; as you travel through each infested stopping point, you can stumble across survivors which you can take with you to the next safe point, these people will require food and possibly medical attention as your journey rolls on. If you manage to keep survivors alive they will give you various rewards at their journey’s end in case altruism isn’t your thing and you want a reason to not let them die.
When you aren’t on the considerable safety of your train the more action based section of the game begins; you need to wander through infected areas looking for the key code which will open the blockers which prevent you from rolling on past the station, all of these codes are inconveniently (or conveniently in terms of gameplay) located deeper in the stations than the first office you come across meaning you need to punch, shoot, and throw your way through monstrosities which want to kill and/or eat you in order to progress through the stop. There is no jumping so any movement between levels requires the presence of ramps or ladders, which is how your path is controlled. Due to this path restriction, the presence of throwable objects and the exact spawning of enemies; the combat has a puzzle-like feel to it in that there is always an optimal way to handle each room, and you can approach it as a trial and error game as respawn locations are never too far back. This left the action part of the gameplay feeling rather odd and I was never sure how to feel about what was happening. As well as a gun (which is later swapped for a rifle), a shotgun, and throwing objects you can also melee by right clicking and this can be charged up for a more powerful hit, one-hitting most enemies but this is on a small cooldown.
Once I learned that the shotgun (and rifle) only take 3 normal hits to take out most enemies, and the convenience of the power hit also paired with the questionable fact that you can kill multiple enemies with a single hit, I no longer felt threatened by ordinary enemies and only some situations would provide me with an issue, as a result by the end of the game I had a lot of spare ammo and med-packs. However death can come swiftly if you’re crowded or make stupid decisions. Enemies (as is often the case) come in multiple flavours; there’s the average shambling one who is only a minor inconvenience, little ones that run fast and have slightly more health that cause more of an issue, ones that explode and can easily catch you out, ones in armour which need hit off before they can be killed, quite down the line is a small one which clings onto you and needs to be smacked off, and also larger ones which I honestly didn’t see the difference from the normal bog standard ones. When backpedalling you move slower which was a nice piece of attention payed to the minimal character controls, another nice touch on the side of action is that various parts of the levels can be interacted with such as breakable windows to gain vision to another room, killing random rats, or a shelf which can have the contents knocked off. In combat summary; the enemies are usually easily handled and there are no bosses, so if you’re a lover of fast action this game will disappoint on that side.
As the game isn’t carrying itself based on the lack-lustre action sections the story would have to be amazing; if asked is the story good I would do that thing where I turn my hand sideways, rock it back and forth and say “Ehhhh… it’s alright.” Story is delivered through interaction with NPCs in more peaceful sections, earlier I said the character was a “mostly silent protagonist” and I feel I should explain this choice of words; when you reply to NPCs in normal conversation your half of the duologue is represented as “…” which is normally fine, except they often reply with lines like “Very well spotted!” or “Clever man!” meaning whatever was said HAD to be important in some way and it’s often not clear what it was and I was often left feeling short changed in this exchanges of words (and dots…). There are times when you can tell exactly what is said from your end; this is when you reply to messages from the train’s on board messenger which occasionally puts you in contact with some other train worker it seems. These are usually very short and bleak, but give a good background feeling to the dire situation going on. As well as the resources rewards at the end of their journey, survivors offer more story and flavour as they chat amongst themselves on the train however they continue to talk if you’re out of earshot which although is realistic and essentially a nice touch to the immersion it is incredibly easy to miss a section of dialogue meaning that you’re playing “Fill The Blanks” again. Finally there is more story to be gleaned from newspapers, books, and any other written communique which you stumble across whilst not being eaten.
I enjoyed the graphics of the game, it had very nice use of pixel art which I am a fan of; everything was clear and well done however vertical ladders have no climbing animation which looks a little ridiculous, but the other more annoying end of the spectrum is ladders which do change your animation; the ones on the side of walls, you can easily accidentally interact with these which will interrupt charging a power hit and you can be attacked and swarmed easily at these times. The sound effects worked well with the game, and it had clever use of atmospheric sound and music adding to a well-established growing sense of dread.
The game is a fairly solid piece which pushes the higher end of an average game, but feels lacking somewhat. It isn’t that anything is bad exactly, it just fell short of the mark. Beyond the stupid auto ladder climb, my biggest gripe is that the keypad can be dialled using the keyboard’s numpad but the numbers are in a different order and it ruined my immersion; which that being one of my bad memories is a good sign for the rest of the game’s quality, but a bad sign that it still stuck in my mind to the end as nothing else hit me hard enough to shake that insignificant niggle. As the end of the game comes you’re given loads of extra resources you can never use, including $100,000 which is enough to buy everything you’ve come across so far multiple times over, this all adds to the building sense of dread and futility; the thing that the game proved itself best at, I am still not sure how I feel about the entire experience. If you’re into story/theory games then you may well enjoy this as there isn’t a massive amount of action to put up with, if you’re looking for a heart pounding zombie survival then give this a miss.
This is the way the World ends, not with a bang but a fizzle, and saying “Okay then…” under your breath. You can learn more about The Final Station on the website. Also be sure to check out their twitter page for the latest news.