The apocalyptic genre is bloated today—tropes, cliches, and overused storylines. However, The Final Station feels surprisingly fresh in spite of all that. It takes the simple concept of a 2D shooter/platformer and makes a bold statement about humanity.
The Final Station has no bells or whistles in the gameplay department. It is a simple game with a commitment to storytelling that makes it engaging, complex, and enjoyable. Developed by Do My Best Games and published by tinyBuild (who I’m a fan of for SpeedRunners), The Final Station is plainly not just another zombie game. Part train simulator, part shooter, and part adventure, the player travels the railways from stop to stop saving survivors and exploring the abandoned world around them. The Final Station gets good marks in nearly everything – the atmosphere is creative, the sound design is ominous, and the story is compelling.
This game’s storytelling receives the highest marks. The Final Station is a great example of mechanics as storytelling, how the character moves through his life in a path that’s already built for him. It sounds cheesy, but playing the game can actually feel like a deep experience. Players are thrust into the role of a conductor doing their job for what is essentially the government. Your train is the only one operating and is traveling south on a preplanned route. The bosses tell you that it’s your duty to find survivors and carry materials for them. Every part of this game helps tell the story, and every survivor gives new snippets of fresh information about the game world.
At each stop, the player is forced to explore the area. Each town is incredibly different, even though they essentially operate off of the same level design – get to one end and then back to where you started. Each place has traces of life in it, in the forms of notes, books, messages, visuals, and survivors. The player gets to explore those little bits of life before the world ended as well as many, many infested secret underground tunnels. The Final Station is probably the least selfish ‘zombie’ game I’ve ever played. When interacting with other characters, you never speak, but see what others are saying to you. Your time is spent listening. There are, of course, limited supplies, so one must choose which survivor gets to keep, well, surviving. It’s built in such a way that if the player needs to use a medkit on themselves, it can feel selfish. Your duty is to the train and to the people, not yourself. What is also interesting about this game is that you get to see how other NPCs feel about your character. Often in The Final Station, NPCs either hate you, fear you, or think you’re dumb.
The game gets a few low marks. It can sometimes feel really repetitive since every level essentially has the same format. Stop into town, explore, shoot the infected, and leave. It never gets boring to the point of not wanting to play it, but it can get a bit dull and tedious. It could be the point The Final Station is trying to make—one functions as this conductor and this is just his life, and the player is merely stepping into his shoes—or it could be that the game should contain more variety than it has. Commendable, though, is the difficulty curve. The difficulty gradually escalates in such a way that it’s hard to notice, and what was once something that would have been a tense encounter becomes routine, and fills the play with a newfound sense of power. It feels good to be good at this game. There are a few more problems in that the enemies encountered are of the same variety (a little bit more distinction between foes would have been nice), and the train mechanics can be a bit vague and underwhelming, never increasing in difficulty enough to become truly engaging. Lastly, the whole experience takes about six hours to complete and has little replay value.
All in all, The Final Station is definitely worth a play. The game’s incredibly detailed atmosphere and overall storytelling is something to marvel at if you’re into story-based adventure games. One won’t be shooting up zombies at every turn, nor will they be digging too deep into every town, but The Final Station and its simple gameplay are built to tell a different version of the same stories told far too often.