STAFF REVIEW of Final Station, The (Xbox One)

Monday, September 26, 2016.
by Adam Dileva

Final Station, The Box art I had no idea what to expect when The Final Station arrived to review, as I initially assumed it was some sort of pseudo train-sim game given the few screenshots I saw. What I got though was something totally unexpected, unique, and contained impressive pixel artwork, though it does also have some flaws that seem more like oversights rather than massive design mistakes. So let’s get to it and see if it’s worth your time to reach the final station.

Setting place in a dystopian world, some cataclysmic event has happened, causing supplies to be scarce and society to break down. Sure, it’s a trope that we’ve seen a hundred times before, but it’s framed in an interesting way that places you as a train conductor, travelling from town to city, rescuing any survivors you can find while battling an unknown enemy.

There is a bit more to the story, but given that The Final Station only takes a handful of hours to complete, I really don’t want to give much else away in fear of spoiling its best parts. What I will say is that the narrative is only revealed if you take the time to explore and listen to peoples conversations and find papers laying about, but if you decide to not pay attention, you won’t have any context to why the world is the way it is and what has happened to everyone. Even though the storytelling is weak as a whole since the bulk of it is not mandatory, the ending was pretty powerful and iha still stuck with me, days later after completion.

Played as a 2D side scroller, you simply want to fulfill your job as a train engineer. Your character seems good hearted, as it’s as if he simply wants to do the right thing by helping anyone he can that he comes across during his travels. There are two main gameplay elements that you’ll participate in; exploration and travel. You need to explore seemingly deserted towns and areas to find supplies to help you continue your journey, then travel from station to station on your train, hopefully with other survivors that will reward you if you help them reach their destination. The general gameplay flow is train, explore, train, explore, and repeat until credits roll. It’s basic but the tension eventually builds, and once you get into the later stages and start piecing together what’s going on, it does become quite interesting.

You are forced to stop at each train station along the tracks due to special blockers being installed at each locale, ensuring you’re unable to leave until you find a special unlock code to undock your locomotive and continue on your journey. Sure it seems a little forced, but that’s how you’re guided to explore each town you stop at, unable to progress until you find said code. You’re going to want to explore as much as possible though anyways, looking for items to sell, resources like food and water, and of course, any other survivors.

The first few locations you stop at don’t seem too bad off, but soon you start to notice a military presence and a disturbing lack of other people. Taking the time to explore, reading computers and notes posted around, will start to give you a glimpse into what happened to everyone suddenly. Eventually you’ll come to towns that are seemingly completely deserted, but you’re still forced to search for the blocker unlock code to progress.

You’ll need to check every desk, closet, locker, and abandoned car to find food, health kits, ammunition, and more. Every item you find is useful, as it either has a monetary value which is used to purchase upgrades, ammo, and other items when you reach a major city, or the item can be used in crafting health packs or ammo for your travels. You’ll want to explore every area you can, as there are some hidden tunnels that will usually house survivors or an ammo cache, which will come in quite handy later on. Luckily there’s no escorting needed when you find a survivor, as they miraculously know how to get back to the train to wait for you to be done.

The other half of the main gameplay is when you’re travelling on your train from area to area. This isn’t a free ride, and you’ll need to work to keep your train on pace, repaired, and keeping an eye on injured survivors. If you manage to have a handful of survivors at a time, they’ll chat to one another, allowing you to get a further glimpse into the back story. Don’t stand around listening for too long though, as if you don’t keep up on repairs, your train will come to a halt until it’s fixed, which has disastrous consequences since you're constantly low on supplies.

Your train has three main areas for you to interact with, the first being the front of the train where you can craft items, check your map, and also communicate with other engineers. This is where you’ll use the items you've scavenged to craft more first aid kits and ammunition. You’re only able to craft on your train, so make sure you do as much as you can before you reach your destination.

The second area is where you’ll interact with numerous parts of the train that seem to be malfunctioning during every trip. There’s a handful of different devices that will malfunction or overheat, but you’ll only have to deal with one of them per train ride, seemingly randomized as far as I could tell. If you don’t take care of the overheating, the train comes to a stop, which puts the passenger’s health at risk, and will take you longer to reach your next destination. These minigames aren’t explained in any way, so you’ll need to be clever and figure them out quickly, but you’ll know you’ve done the right thing when levels start to cool and there’s a small checkmark, giving you a few moments to rest before having to do it again.

While dealing with the train issues, you also need to keep an eye on your passengers in the caboose. Standing beside them will show their continuously draining hunger and health meters, their profession, and how much money you’ll earn if they survive to their destination (usually a handful of stops). You have a dispensary of health and food, but it comes in very little supply, which is why exploring during the town levels is so crucial. In the beginning you’ll have enough food and medical supplies for a passenger or two, but what do you do when you have 5 or so at once and not enough to last to get to the next stop for everyone? Factor in you need to constantly be taking care of the train as well during these sections, and you can start to see the franticness that ensues each time.

So why do you need ammo and weapons if seemingly everyone is gone? Well, you’ll start to encounter black zombie-like creatures that will attack you on sight, so you need to either shoot or melee them until they go down. There’s only a handful of enemy types throughout the game, ranging from normal, small but quick, explosive, and armored types. Each have a slight variation of how to best defeat them, but once you’ve killed one and learn the best strategy, combat doesn’t become much challenge from that point onward.

At first you’ll have very little ammo, constantly barely scraping by with what you have, but eventually you’ll never run out, especially once you learn that melee attacks are the best way to conserving ammo. You’re able to be ‘cheap’ and attack from ladders and angles in which they can’t reach you, and once you learn these tricks, combat mostly becomes trivial and more of a nuisance.

While the enemies aren’t difficult on their own, you’re sometimes put against a pack of up to ten at once, which is where you’ll find yourself in trouble real quick if you aren’t smart on your strategy. Learning to headshot will save ammo, and shooting an explosive enemy saves you many more bullets as well. Some items can be picked up and thrown and should be used whenever available, as it’s an instant kill if used properly. Should you fall in battle, there’s a checkpoint system in place that’s very generous, usually only having you backtrack 5 to 10 seconds rather than repeating the whole level over again.

I wasn’t sure what to make of The Final Station in the first half, as the narrative isn’t told very well unless you take the time to read everything you come across. So some people may not ever truly figure out what’s going on or why. The bigger problem though is that the text font that was used is so incredibly small, that it’s very difficult to read easily, especially from afar on the couch. I’m sure the font was chosen to fit with the pixel art style, but it made reading every word a chore and sometimes guesswork. Another issue you’ll notice from the opening title screen is the odd decision to make the menu selections near impossible to distinguish what option you have selected or not. The menu is white, and your selection is an off-white, so it’s complete guesswork of what you’re choosing. A handful of times I almost lost my save file because I chose new game instead of continue, panicked, and reset the game to be sure. The issue continues while on the train as well, unable to determine your selection very easily, even more so during the crafting menu where is literally is a guess where the cursor is.

Lastly, the train sections themselves simply aren’t fun. While it only takes a few minutes to reach destinations, your time is spent running supplies to passengers, maintaining your train, and micromanaging everything. It really isn’t done well, or fun. Having to choose who to give your last med kit or food ration to seems like complete guesswork of whom to pick. Maintaining your train is trial and error since no instructions are ever explained. You can’t even stand beside the passengers for too long to read their dialogue since you need to bounce between train maintenance and supply rations which are off screen, not allowing you to see the dialogue boxes. The artwork is absolutely beautiful, and so is the music when there is some, but there’s very few instances where background music actually plays, leaving you with a mostly silent experience. I assume this is done on purpose to convey the atmosphere and mood, but it’s as if something is missing with no background music at all to piece it all together.

The Final Station is a unique and creative experience. While simple at its core and a mystery that unveils itself slowly, its gameplay mechanics are repetitive and dull. While not a bad game by any means, it simply starts to wear out its welcome when you have to deal with yet another train ride and a town to explore, all to find a piece of paper so you repeat the same experience again. I truly enjoyed the ending, which was a saving grace in my eyes, I just hope others will make it to the final station to experience it for themselves.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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