By: Brian Gunn
The Final Station is a side-scrolling hybrid of action, survival, and management set in a desolate world. You’re one of the few train operators left in the world, but can the developers make sure the experience is compelling enough to get players to complete their route?
The Final Station’s gameplay is mostly as a side-scrolling shooter. It is fairly simple mechanically, focusing on your aim more than anything else. Despite 2D games typically handling best on a controller, I ended up switching to keyboard and mouse fairly early on as the aiming is cursor and location-based, which means some very precise shooting is required. There’s also looting, crafting and caring for passengers to do, and they’re all handled rather simply.
Indie side-scrollers with pixel art are a dime a dozen, but The Final Station still manages to impress. While the character art didn’t win me over, some of the environmental work is great, particularly an early moment when the nature of the world is teased for those paying attention.
Despite being somewhat dialogue heavy at times, it’s often the visual storytelling that stands out. And while it is hard for a 2D game to scare people, it has more than a few effective creepy moments.
Sound wise the game goes for what many seem to these days, lots of empty silences so the few dramatic bursts of music or gunshots piercing the air can stand out. This generally works well, and the game’s industrial settings lets the developers use lots of creepy machinery humming and churning to establish an unsettling atmosphere.
There’s no voice acting, which I don’t mind in general, but during the train sections there’s lots of dialogue that’s easily missed as you try to maintain the locomotive.
In the world of The Final Station, civilization has essentially ended. Many years ago something mysterious visited and left behind odd canisters that turned people into what are essentially zombies. But while this catastrophic event has mostly ruined the world, there are still survivors, and someone has to make sure the trains run on time.
That’s where you come in; a hapless engineer stuck ferrying people and cargo, often at the beck and call of the government. And there are rumors a second visitation might not be far off.
The Final Station is a game split into two distinct parts. The first tends to play almost like an adventure game where you’re just exploring towns and talking to people, possibly recruiting them to ride your train. Once on, you have to manage their health and hunger via meager supplies, as well as keep the train running.
There will always be at least one part on the fritz to worry about, and passengers can go hungry or succumb to old wounds if you don’t give them food or medkits, respectively. It’s a simple but often tense system as you hope that drunk in the back can make it to the next stop with no food where you’ll scrounge up some more.
The other half is a sort of survival horror game. Bullets are in short supply, and the same items that heal you are also the ones that passengers might need, so you constantly have to conserve everything.
There’s numerous ways to do this, such as a melee attack that’s more that suitable for solo encounters. Or you can chuck a toilet onto an enemy’s head, which instantly kills most of them, including the more powerful ones. These upgraded enemies will have things like SWAT armor on where you might need to shoot their uncovered legs to kill them, or figure out a way to remove their helmet.
Both halves are on the simple sides, and usually when games try their hands at working aspects that play so differently, it barely works. Somehow, though, they’ve found the right blend. I found myself enjoying the breaks switching between sections gave me, and it turned into a “one more turn” style of addiction that’s rare outside of strategy games.
There’s craft in how simple they’ve made it. Games with survival elements of late have gotten bloated, and with The Final Station they’ve been distilled down to their appealing core.
Still, it’s not without its issues. The protagonist is a set character that doesn’t speak but gets in some lengthy dialogues with others, some of whom respond to things you’re supposed to have said, but the game leaves up to you to infer. That’s a little too opaque for me.
I was also surprised at how linear the game was. Every exploration level wants you to go find an access code that’ll require you to go to the end of the level and return back via an alternate route. There are often very few alternative rooms to explore for goodies, to the point where you’d have to seemingly go out of your way to not find everything in a level.
The Final Station is an atmospheric and interesting genre blend. Give it a chance and you’re likely to be all aboard what it has to offer you.