The Final Station is built on the foundation of an awesome idea, but it never really delivers its full potential.
Game – The Final Station
Platform – Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows
Developer/Publisher – tinyBuild Games / Do My Best Games
Release date – September 1st, 2016
Price – $14.99
Enter a post-apocalyptic world where the undead roam the wasteland between the cities and the living travel semi-safely by rail car. It’s 106 years since “The First Visitation”. You’re a conductor having a regular day when you get onto your train, the Belus-07, and the government forces you to haul an unknown package through zombie infested cities. Everything points to a shady conspiracy, especially when a mysterious weapon called The Guardian appears to be the central point of the government’s strategy to protect its people (at all costs). It’s up to you to push through each city, find the safety override codes, and carry onto the next area.
The Final Station’s story is much more complex than its presentation, but it’s simply beautiful. The pixel artwork is meticulous and detailed, and it’s nothing short of magnetic. The layering of background and foreground adds depth to the levels. Rooms are cleverly shadowed in black until you open the door or break a window. Use a bullet or valuable environmental weapons to crash a window or open the door and risk being faced with a stressful impromptu scan of the room. No matter your choice, The Final Station makes excellent use of the action in the camera by distracting you while zombies pop out in unpredictable ways. Or worse, the camera guides your eyes towards an inevitable trap or ambush. Finally, there are details in the game that alter your entire understanding of what’s really going on with the story. It’s all simple and hugely effective. The gameplay is simple as well, and this is where The Final Station starts to break down. Most of the zombies can be eliminated by melee or thrown weapons like chairs and boxes. Some zombies are faster and armored, and these usually eat up your ammunition. It’s a constant balance between running, scavenging, and hoarding resources whenever possible. There is a decent ‘reward’ for playing better, too. There is a train-ride sequence between all playable levels, and this is where you have to maintenance the train while tending to any survivors you’ve found during your travels. Survivors require food or health packs, and these are consumables found in each level. If you play smart, and play well, you can transport the survivors to the next town and earn cash for upgrades. It’s entertaining when it fires on all cylinders, but there are frustrating and glaring issues sprinkled throughout the title. The Final Station is a zombie shooter side-scroller at its core. Its standout allure is the train the conductor has to operate. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most redundant, menial pieces of the game. Your main objective outside of surviving levels is to keep your passengers alive. This requires feeding them, bandaging them, and performing maintenance on different sections of the train. The maintenance requires real-time button mashing or occasionally boring mini-games. It’s arbitrary and it detracts from the game’s optional plot line. An added benefit to scouring each level and finding hidden survivors is to here dialogue about the world’s current events. I caught maybe a sentence or two in passing because I was too busy button mashing and feeding needy survivors. It’s a big downer for anyone looking to enjoy the game for its admittedly neat premise. It’s also terribly difficult to see what onscreen button you’re trying to select when crafting items on the train. Segue transits on the train are the only times you can craft health packs or bullets. When 6 needy passengers are starving or bleeding out, and you just button mashed a piston in place, the last thing you want to do is fumble around on a menu screen trying to make a med-kit.
Some of the flaws are buried deeper in the game’s mechanics. The shooting system is sometimes unreliable. The levels quickly become far too procedural. Never is there a fight on the train or a rush to enter the codes into the train lock system, and it makes for disappointingly low stakes.
The Final Station really has no viable destination. I didn’t learn anything from completing the game except that I wish I could have had more time to read the dialogue on the trains that could be missed. The story and the setting have a bizarre greatness in its lack of cohesion and for reasons I cannot explain without spoiling the game. Everything is right in front of you the whole time, and it demands a second play through for further explanation alone. It’s a well-polished oddball that stands on its own, stumbles, and takes you in an unexpected direction. The Final Station isn’t a must-have for Xbox One gamers, but it’s unique enough to be classified as a successful experiment.