Review: The Final Station

The Final Station is a game that I had really wanted to like, but it never really clicked the way that I wanted it to. To be fair, I went into it with a few misperceptions about it: I was expecting a game more akin to FTL, where you have to make choices about what the best course of action might be and then live with the consequences. Instead, it’s a game that railroads you about as much as the train that you’re on, and there’s very little to choice to anything that you do. Furthermore, the actual game mechanics are surprisingly uninteresting, which undermines the interesting world and ambience the designers clearly tried to create.

The basic premise of the game is a simple one. The world is dying after being attacked by pods from the sky that release a toxic gas that transforms just about everybody into bloodthirsty monsters. You’re on a train, carrying survivors and cargo that might help take everything back to normal. Along the way, you loot various train stations and deal with the monsters inside.

The writing for this game is good, but there are a few caveats I want to attach to that. A lot of the dialogue reads as though it’s been translated from another language, with some odd word usage and verb conjugations. It also tends to be rather vague, which can be atmospheric by adding to the mystery of this dystopic world, but is also really, really confusing when it comes to shedding light about what exactly is going on (especially combined with the typos). The protagonist is a silent one, so it’s not exactly easy to form an attachment to him, and his motivations don’t seem to be spelled out until the very end of the game.

The Final StationMore seriously, the way that the story is told is just bothersome. The passengers that you pick up along the way talk as you travel between stations, but that happens at the same time that you’re doing the maintenance tasks necessary to keep the train running. The train is big enough that it would be possible to miss the dialogue bubbles entirely, and given the obliqueness of the writing, catching half of what is said still leaves you entirely in the dark. Similarly, you can read synopses of where you’re going on a console, but you have to do so at the same time as those maintenance tasks AND the dialogue.

The fact that the writing is so hit-or-miss is a pity because the actual worldbuilding here seems very interesting. The background dialogue of characters you meet in the safe zones can be humorous; characters comment on you just barging into their homes or the fact that they live in a hallway. The background animations are simply gorgeous to look at, and extremely varied in what they are. Everything seems just familiar enough (lighthouses, homes, plains, deserts) that it seems like home, except that you also pass through ruined cities and futuristic towers that would be at home in manga. The background hints about the world’s government are interesting, so much so I wish I could have had time to read them. And the music is appropriately atmospheric and retro-futuristic, which lends to the Akira-esque world (there’s probably a more apt anime comparison out there, but I’ll leave it to somebody better versed in the genre).

So, how’s the actual gameplay? Unfortunately, it’s kind of dull. The promo materials suggest that you’ll have to make tough decisions about who to keep and who to let die, but that’s never actually a thing. There’s simply no circumstance under which it’s better to let somebody die (though the rewards for both are largely irrelevant to gameplay); it can be the difference between getting $3 off their corpse and $250 if you bring them to safety.

The two resources you manage for your passengers are food and medkits, but you don’t even really manage them so much as “pick them up.” Food is only used on the passengers, so as long as you search everything, you should be fine. Medkits, in theory, are a challenge, because you use them to heal yourself. However, making them is not hard, and combined with the ones you can buy, just make sure you have a lot and you’ll be golden. There’s also a loophole in the game that can be easily exploited: you’re healed every time you travel between stations, so you don’t need to worry nearly as much about healing up. Near-death but at the end of the station? No problem! Honestly, figuring that out was the most challenging part of the game, because I kept healing myself before getting on the train. Once I figured that out, keeping passengers alive was cake.

screen_2The train maintenance is also a serious disappointment. Again, I thought I would have to make decisions about what I repair and what I allow to decay, or that I might have to manage supplies to keep everything running. Nope. One, and only ever one component is failing per travel section, but repairing it just consists of selecting it and doing some mini-game (most of which involve just clicking LMB a few times) to fix it temporarily. There’s no real management; even if you’ve got a couple of wounded passengers who need medkits, you can easily run back and forth and time repairs such that you should never lose a passenger. Crafting is useful to a certain extent for medkits, but I stopped bothering with ammunition early on and never ran out. There are no other craftable items, so that’s that.

As for combat, again, the developers make the case that you need to be careful and pick your fights because your ammunition is limited. In theory, yes. In practice, melee combat is so effective that if you’re beating most of the enemies to death (and you should be), you’ll have plenty of bullets when you need to actually use a gun. All it takes is mashing RMB, or in a few instances, charging an attack to hit a fast-moving baddie. There are also weird exploits you can take advantage of. Some of the bad guys explode, and in tight rooms that can be dangerous. However, you can go partway up a ladder, smack them, and get down before they explode. This is actually a good tactic if there are other zombies in the room because they just get killed in the blast.

Perhaps the chief difficulty in the game is that shooting is kind of awkward: your character needs to be standing still for a couple of seconds, so people who are used to run-and-gun gameplay might be thrown off. That also incentivizes you to use your fists, which you can use while moving, and which are effective against just about everything. There are bigger-than-normal zombies you encounter, but they take maybe one more hit than normal to kill. There’s nothing intimidating about them, and it’s just too effective to punch everything.

With better gameplay (and less opaque writing), this could have been a real classic. As it stands, the game is too easy to beat, which undercuts the dark atmosphere it builds, and it’s too difficult to enjoy the story because of the way the gameplay is structured. I actually hope the developers put out a new game because there were clearly good ideas here. They just weren’t fully realized.

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The Final Station Developers: Alex Nichiporchik, Oleg Sergeev, Andrew Rumak Studio: tinyBuild Price: $14.99 Format: PC, available through Steam