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Review: The Final Station

27 Dec 2016

Post-Apocalyptic Express

Zombie-centric games are a dime a dozen in this day and age. Some are obvious cash-ins on the supposed craze, and others are well-crafted and rather enjoyable (Looking at you, The Last of Us). Sometimes, there are entries into the already overcrowded genre that raise an eyebrow, and the game we’re looking at today definitely falls into that category.

Indie developer Do My Best and publisher tinyBuild give us their take on the zombie apocalypse and add trains with this side-scrolling action game. The Final Station initially released on PC via Steam on August 30th, 2016. It was also released on macOS, Linux, PS4, and Xbox One, with all releases available at a $15.99 price point. The PC version was played for this review.

Stand Tall

Upon starting, you assume the role of a nameless train conductor in the aftermath of an implied zombie outbreak. Controlling one of the few remaining locomotives in the game’s setting, you’ll find yourself assisting the survivors of the outbreak and (naturally) dealing with the zombie horde as you progress through the game.

There are two primary elements that you’ll notice as you play. Outside of the train, a bit of survival instinct and skill will be your best friend. Exploration is rewarded with much-needed supplies, food, and “blocking codes.” These codes are used to move from destination to destination, and are usually the reward for completing an area. Survivors taking refuge at each location will accompany you in your travels.

Before long, a linear routine will begin to set in for the combat portion of the game. Enter an area, search for supplies, use (in limited capacity due to scarce ammo) a handful of guns (there’s only three total) and a melee attack (which can be charged for more damage) to defeat the infected horde, grab the blocking code and move to the next area. This is where the train comes into play.

Acting as an interstitial, the conductor will have to maintain the train as it moves between destinations via simple mini games. If you do have passengers aboard, it’s best to keep them alive if you can by keeping them healthy and fed via the medkits and food obtained in the combat areas. If you’re able to keep your passengers alive by the end of each act, a reward of money and supplies await you. Fail, and you will only be able to scavenge the supplies on them.

There will be points where the train is used as a simultaneous cargo and passenger train, and managing all of them keeps things engaging between combat sections. Good train/passenger management is important, but it’s not uncommon to have to let a passenger go in order to reach the next destination. Passengers will also make conversation here, which helps flesh out the plot.

One thing to note here is that while the gameplay is linear and routine, the design here is very tight and will force you to problem-solve pretty frequently with your weapons/fists/environmental combat items. It’s not uncommon to be fighting the infected within tight corridors and forcing yourself to use ammo that you’d rather use on something a little more substantial. However, the melee attack is a very useful last resort. You’ll be able to let loose a flurry of punches, but charged attacks will help lay many foes down with one hit. While it may be ineffective in a horde-type situation, it’s extremely helpful in conserving precious ammo. There are times when charging a melee attack can be problematic, but it’s not egregious enough to be game-breaking.

Try Not To Die

If Do My Best was going for a creepy atmosphere, I’d say that they did a pretty good job of that. The art style used here is complex in points, but it doesn’t go out of its way to be over the top. It lets the environment do the talking, and is rather confident in its own skin. This is usually seen in the train segments, since there are plenty of opportunities to show a swath of different environments between destinations.

Colors aren’t loud, music is used to accentuate the environment instead of overshadowing it, and the sound design does what it needs to do. Some may complain that there isn’t enough music here to be engaging, but I disagree. It’s pretty clear that Do My Best was shooting for an environment and experience driven through a lonely aesthetic, and walking outside of that would not do it justice.

The Final Station has a lot going for it, honestly. It knows what it wants to be, and it does a fantastic job at accomplishing what it sets out to do. It executes gameplay, atmosphere, and design in a very controlled manner. The story may be somewhat weak, but don’t let that deter you from picking this one up. Even though the game is short (my playthrough was about 4 hours), this is definitely something worth looking at. If you still find yourself on the fence about the playtime, the price will help soften the blow. Sometimes it’s better to be quick and succinct as opposed to cramming a serious amount of content over the span of a 50+ hour game.

~ Final Score: 8/10 ~

Review copy provided by tinyBuild for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.