All Aboard the Death Train!
In a video game market where the zombie genre has been completely overcooked, most gamers tend to roll their eyes when the latest one hits the shelves. The tired old formula of killing countless waves of the undead has become an easy way for developers to inject some much needed “safe violence” into their game, since killing zombies is nothing like killing actual people. For today’s zombie-weary gamer it’s going to take a compelling story to ensure players remain invested and intrigued past the introduction. It’s safe to say that the typical “shoot everything to survive” romp has become a boring staple in this genre. The Final Station wants to let you know from the get-go that this story is unlike any you’ve experienced in a zombie game before.
To hold the players’ attention, developer Do My Best Games makes sure that the world they’ve created here is interesting and mysterious. The main story is a deep one that has a several twists and turns in just the right places. The world had been decimated approximately 106 years ago by what is referred to “The First Visitation”. You awake in your bed to a world that has semi-rebuilt itself but is living in a constant fear of a pending Second Visitation. Fliers are strewn throughout the town to alert the citizens that the annual drill is about to commence where training is to be given on what to do in the event of the Second Visitation. Another flier that seems to be in as much abundance as the first is a help wanted poster asking mechanics and builders to help construct a Guardian, a mechanized weapon to help protect us from the Second Visitation. Without any type of introduction the mysterious story unfolds just enough for you find out your role is that of a train operator, and not a very good one, as made apparent by an email visible on an unattended laptop. Once you finish your early morning routine and grab your operator uniform it’s time to hop aboard your steel steed. After making your first few daily stops another layer of the story starts to show and you quickly realize something just seems off. Rumors are going around the train station that contact has been lost from certain parts of the city and the government is trying to hide something from all of its citizens. After a few more daily stops it becomes apparent that it’s not The Second Visitation citizens should be worried about because a zombie outbreak is in full effect.
Not before long you come to the realization that the government is somehow involved in all of this and it gets pretty confusing to say the least. Citizens sometimes talk in cryptic ways and it starts to seem like the game is toying with you by not telling you what is really happening. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, but at points I was left scratching my head wondering if I missed something earlier in the game or maybe something was lost in translation. Piecing the story together throughout my playthrough became a game in itself. You will eventually run into some very persuading government officials who give you the task of delivering “precious secret cargo” to different train stations throughout the country. The Final Station tries to explain itself and it kind of does all come together in the end though. I’m not going to spoil the ending, but I’m sure forums are going to be full of discussions and theories about the games finale.
In addition to the game’s main story, The Final Station has plenty of sub-stories to sink your teeth into. Letters, emails, and other forms of communication are found throughout each train station and its surroundings to let you in on what life was like before the zombie outbreak hit. I’ve read about bad apartment conditions, neighbors stealing other neighbor’s silverware, and even voyeuristic happenings in the game’s world. These little side stories were a nice appetizer and ultimately helped make the world feel like it was close to being back to normal again, but still in fear of the Second Visitation.
Early on in the game you will be told that every station you visit has something called a blocker installed. These blockers were put in for security reasons to make sure the train that’s visiting the station can’t leave until a 4 digit security code given by the station’s manager is input into the blocker’s keypad. The blockers make every train stop at every station so you’re unable to just drive by a station without stopping to see the manager. Herein lies the problem, as just about every train station from this point on is crawling with zombies, and it’s up to you to locate the security code to make it to the next station.
Starting the game armed with only your fists and standard pistol with limited ammo, you will quickly figure out that punching zombies to kill them is a good option. A few good strong punches to the chest of a zombie will put him down for good and the ability to charge a punch by holding the button down will make sure basic zombies go down with one blow. Unfortunately, not all zombies are easy to dispatch, as certain ones have armor and others will sprint at you very quickly. These special zombies will need to be taken out with some good ol’ firepower and quick wit. To make things interesting, a fire zombie is also lurking behind some doors and will explode when shot, ultimately taking out everything around him, including yourself. The different zombie types turn the game into a puzzle game of sorts as you’ll have to think about which zombie to take out first before getting to the easier foes.
Every door in The Final Station will have you on edge, since you never know what’s waiting for you on the other side. You have to be ready for anything, and each door I flung opened was followed by me taking a few steps back in preparation for a barrage of blood-thirsty zombies. I did run into a few problems when climbing up a rope to gain access to a new area. Like doors, climbing ropes will make new areas visible once at the top, so a slow steady climb is a safe bet. Upon accessing a new area and seeing what zombies you’ll have to dispatch, instinct will kick in causing you to step back for a bit of room. Stepping back will force you to climb down the rope back to the area below instead of giving you room to fight. This had me waiting below until the zombies would forget about me and then I’d make another attempt to only be forced to climb down the rope again. I also had a few instances of zombies freezing and getting stuck in a few areas, but these instances happened few and far between and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the game.
Besides the several train stations you visit, the secondary gameplay mechanic of The Final Station takes place on the train as you travel between stations. Any passengers that you managed to save or pick up will join you in your journey and will reward you upon their safe arrival at certain destinations. The rewards can range from cash (used to purchase items from vendors at stations that haven’t been affected by the outbreak) to ammo and food. It’s your responsibility to keep these passengers in good health though, as each passenger has two status bars that need to be closely managed. Health and hunger bars can be refilled by first aid kits and food that are located in the front car of the train. If any of these bars manage to deplete, you’ll end up with a dead passenger and no reward. It’s pretty manageable to keep your regular passengers alive, but sick passengers tend to have their bars deplete very quickly. If you do end up running out of med kits you can always just craft them at the crafting area located in the main rail car, that is as long as you have the supplies to do so. The crafting station is pretty simple to use but I didn’t even know about it until I was a few hours into the game. It was odd that it didn’t get an introduction at all, but keeping with the retro game style of figuring things out for yourself I’m kinda happy that it didn’t.
In addition to keeping your travelers happy, you also need to keep the train happy, too. Certain sections of the train need attention, and if they happen to use too much voltage from the main engine and it’s up to you to make sure everything is in working order. Small mini-games must be played that are in either the button mashing or simple skill variety. These games are all simplistic in nature but The Final Station does not instruct the player on what do do. I ended up having my train stop dead in its tracks a few times due to not understanding what the game wanted. Having the train stop is usually not a big deal, but when your passengers are all hungry or sick every second counts. A problem I ran into when preforming tasks during the mini-game was when passengers were talking and their text bubbles would get in the way. The only option was to wait a few seconds for the text to fade but it was pretty annoying to say the least. These mini-games are all pretty easy to figure out and I think most players will have no problems getting the train running again.
Upon first look at The Final Station’s retro-inspired style I immediately thought of the game Fez. Unlike other games of this style, Fez had a certain charm to the way the whole world animated. From the cute way Fez ran throughout the game’s 3D landscapes to the way the cats in the game would playfully bat at the butterflies fluttering around their heads, everything just seemed polished. Those happy Fez feelings would soon be whisked away though as in the first few minutes of The Final Station I crawled down a rope only to have my pixelated flesh turn from a nice shade of peach to a very deep shade of red as zombies tore me apart. That’s not to say that environments in The Final Station are all dark and depressing. The landscapes in the background in the train sequences can be breathtaking. Snow covered mountains and city skylines look to be taken from actual photographs but with a pixelated filter on top of them to keep with the games art style. For a world in a state of decay, it still looks beautiful.
I wanted to touch on the games sound as I think it’s a really strong point and an integral part of The Final Station’s experience. Gunshots sound powerful and very realistic. Every shot seems to be important and it was very rewarding to just blow the head off of a zombie. It’s weird but reloading my weapons somehow felt extremely satisfying and I looked forward to emptying my gun. Reloading the guns sounded and looked awesome. Seeing the shells being placed in each barrel of the shotgun never got old and hearing the click of the magazine being inserted into my pistol just felt good. The sound design here is nothing short of stellar.
I really enjoyed the 5 hours it took me to complete The Final Station. It has a few small issues but overall it’s a fun experience. I’m really interested in seeing what others think of the ending as I’m sure anyone who experiences it will be thinking about it for a while.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) PlayStation 4, Xbox One ; Publisher: TinyBuild Games ; Developer: Do My Best; Players: 1 ; Released: August 30, 2016; Genre: Action ; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review was written based on review code supplied by the game’s publisher.