The final word on The Final Station…

The Final Station is an indie shooter/survival game by Do My Best Games, and it set out to change the paradigm of zombie survival games, which have as of late, been plagued by asset flips, and lacklustre game titles such as The Dead Town Of Walking Zombies.  Rather than a third-person sandbox, The Final Station presents a two-dimensional, linear story of an unnamed protagonist, attempting to discover and subsequently survive a zombie apocalypse.  Built in Unity 3, The Final Station‘s aesthetic is simple and clear.  The protagonist contrasts well with the environment, ensuring that the player is never so lost in chaotic moments that they aren’t sure where their character is standing.  Enemies are silhouettes, apart from their bright white eyes, which makes distinguishing them from the background, and from each other, an effortless task. These two features massively contribute in preventing the game from becoming a frustrating mess.  These features as it turns out, are essential. This game is brutal.

After the introduction where the player is taught the basic combat mechanics, they are greeted by a peaceful, somewhat tepid walk to work.  There are certainly interesting incidents surrounding the protagonist, such as the co-workers speaking of the upcoming outbreak by way of rumours, and snippets of trivia that point to what might be occurring.  The game masterfully dances around the issue, rather than stating outright “There are zombies”, but after the combat tutorial, it feels like someone has engaged the breaks on the train just as it was gaining momentum.

Just as this seems to reach an unbearable point, however, the game thankfully picks up again.  The standard play of the game exists as a sequence of train rides between various points in the world, interrupted by stops at each train station along the way.  Rather than being a decision on the part of the player, these stops are mandated by a series of techno-stop signs which force the player to leave the train, hunt down the passcode to remove the block, and then proceed.  To do this, the player must shoot, punch, and scrape their way through the train station and surrounding environment, often resorting to throwing chairs and boxes when resources run low.

The instinctual go-to method of combat is the firearm that the player is assigned near the start, but with a little experimentation, the combat against basic zombies devolves into one of two tactics: When there is only one, or the enemies are spread out, “strafing” them by dancing back and forth, DOOM style, while punching repeatedly then darting away, seems to be an effective tactic.  In tight quarters, or against closely packed zombies, the charged punch, a tool first introduced as a way to break weak walls and windows, proves incredibly potent.  A charged punch can be held, seemingly indefinitely, allowing it to be used to predict zombie jump-scares or while entering tight spots. The charged punch has a cool-down meter which is clearly displayed below the character, but the cool-down is only for charged punches, not regular melee attacks.

With that being said, guns and melee are pale shadows when compared to the efficacy of using your environment against the undead.  In The Final Station, the undead cannot climb ladders.  In the later stages there is a class of zombie with the ability to dash forward and leap, but moving just a few rungs up the ladder you’re out of their reach, and you are able to fire down on them freely.  When the game introduces zombies clad in riot gear, who must be hit with a melee attack to expose their head and then subsequently shot, an alternative quickly presents itself. If such a zombie stands underneath you on the ladder, it is possible to strike them with a melee attack and knock the helmet off without ever leaving the safety of those iron stairs.  Once exposed, it’s simply a matter of moving away, causing the mob to wander around a bit, then climbing back onto the ladder and lining up the shot. However, the ladders aren’t always in useful positions, which is where boxes can be utilised.

Yes, boxes.  Office chairs, boxes, and other miscellaneous terrain features serve as last-ditch defences against the undead.  Find yourself low on ammo? Hurl a box at the oncoming zombie, and it’ll crumple just as surely as if you’d shot it in the head.  These tools aren’t always available, but they can be carried from room to room, and are destroyed on use. Movement is slowed while carrying them, but not so much so that gaining distance from the undead is impossible.  With a bit of luck, it’s possible to sprint past enemies to grab an object, and hurl it at the zombies before they devour you – and it’s an adrenaline rush every time.

Unfortunately, this experience is marred by the iteration cycles the checkpoint system of the game enforces.  When the player dies, they respawn at the furthest checkpoint they reached, which is generally a safe location near the point where they died.  However, if the death was due to a lack of resources, rather than poor play, the player can be caught in a situation where they have to improvise their way past the obstacle, only to die before reaching the next checkpoint.  This forces the player to repeat the content they’ve already experienced and breaks up the feeling of desperate, inch-by-inch accomplishments.

During the sojourns into the train stations, opportunities arise to collect both survivors and supplies that are automatically returned to the train.  Often, these opportunities are hidden behind extra groups of enemies, though the game’s linear nature holds together well in spite of the branching paths.  In many instances, the way back or forward is clear, on account of the side-scrolling nature of the game, but that trap-door in the floor is just begging to be explored.

The second component of the game is the train management.  The train itself is managed by operating a series of clickable features, such as pulling a lever or adjusting a dial.  By comparison to the tense pace of station raids, this comes across as busy work, with the only consequence of neglecting it being power shorting out on sections of the train.  It’s possible that with enough failures something more catastrophic could happen, but with the notifications that pop up over each failing component, there’s little risk.

The passengers, on the other hand, are an engaging aspect of the train maintenance.  They are presented with two universal needs and a collection of individual problems.  Found a guy who smokes? He’s going to be hacking his lungs out. The two primary resources, however, are food and medkits.  Food is a resource used only by the passengers, can be found and purchased, but must be rationed carefully as there’s never quite enough to go around.  Medkits are used to restore their health, but must be balanced against your need for medkits, as they are the only way to restore your health mid-level.

The benefit of obtaining passengers is the reward that they offer for safe arrival at one of the handful of safe checkpoints which denote the end of an act.  Provide for a passenger’s needs along the way and see to it that they survive the voyage, and they will give you unique rewards like extra ammo, or money that can be used to buy supplies and augment your gear.  Laser sights and extended magazines, just to name two, are upgrades which can be purchased, but are too expensive to obtain unless one has managed their passengers well.

The Final Station is a methodical, resource intensive side-scrolling shooter with a careful touch of story.  It rewards clever use of your surroundings, but can be tedious and feels cheesy at times. The gun-play is basic, but solid, with a variety of weapons which feel distinct.  The train management is busy work but provides a backdrop for the conversations between survivors and their struggles. There are no dialogue trees or other elements of player agency in interactions between the player and the passengers or other characters, but the dialogue which is present gives us glimpses into their lives.  The backgrounds are simple, but not plain, setting the mood for each level. The audio is passable. There is no voice acting, but what sounds are present are simple and clear. The game understands the tropes which enhance its genre, making use of them without becoming a predictable narrative. There are many places the game could have gone wrong.  Little touches, like displaying the passcodes on screen rather than forcing the player to remember or write them down, is an example of how the developers carefully sidestepped these potential flaws.

7.4 / 10