If you read the article we just put up about the recently announced Hello, Neighbor! (and you should if you haven’t), you’d know that tinyBuild is becoming one of my favorite publishers. The games they gravitate towards aren’t necessarily mainstream, but with the ideas behind them, it’s hard not to get excited for them. At least for me. Some outside the box thinking can take you a long way, especially if the idea is executed well. Not everything can be a hit (see this review as an example), but when they are, sometimes they can rival AAA companies. While The Final Station doesn’t hit those highs, it hits enough to be worthy of a look.
Zombies are my thing. I don’t hide it and I never will. I love them. The fiction, the lore, the fear. Everything grabs me (no pun intended). The older I get, the more into the genre I seem to get. So when you mix 2 great things together like zombies and tinyBuild, of course, I want – need? – to be aboard that train (again, no pun intended). I first saw and heard about this game from Many A True Nerd‘s YouTube video, and from there, the wait was on.
The story of The Final Station is this: it’s 106 years after the event that changed and “ended” the world. At least as we know it. Humanity has survived, but there are things going on behind the scenes that you find yourself entangled in – with the people you are charged with transporting, the government, and even your own personal life.
Potentially the first thing you’ll notice about The Final Station is the artwork. I’m admittedly a sucker for pixel art, though I know plenty of people on the internet that cry foul every time a new game releases with it as its style. Many indie developers use this, and I guess they feel it’s tired. But, they’ve been saying the same thing about zombie games for years and they haven’t gone anywhere. It works well here and adds to the feel of the game well. If this were a larger game, a bigger developer, sure, I’d be on board with a more realistic art style. For what the game is, you won’t find me complaining. The way everything on screen works with each other, compliments everything around it, I think it’s the right choice. It gives birth to a great atmosphere, incorporating both the foreground and background into the story. If you pay attention, you get plenty of clues and overall info into what has gone on, what is going on, what will be going on, and how this world has changed, before the game started, and during the game’s time. It’s maybe a little subtle at first, but the more you notice, the more you realize they do a lot with a little.
With that atmosphere luckily comes some nice music and ambient noise. There are times when the music cuts out and you’re left with just what’s going on around you. In some games, this can be distracting, but in this one, it helps. You can feel tension. You feel the desperation as you’re searching the areas for ammo or food, or anything you can to help you make it to your next stop. While on the train the sounds of you rumbling down the tracks has more weight to it, the telltale blaring of the horn to signify you’ve made it to your next destination and not knowing if it’ll be your last one (for you or the passengers). A great deal has been done with a little, and sometimes these are the best choices you can make as a developer. Or maybe I’m just nuts and read too much into things or what have you. But if you allow yourself to do it, and not just view this as the next game you’re going to cross off your list, you may just feel the same way, too.
There are essentially 3 phases of the game you’ll be diving into. One is exploration, another is combat, and the final one is train simulation/management. That last one is the toughest of them all, and can give you the most amount of trouble if the other 2 phases don’t go well for you. Not only do you have to tend to the train itself to make sure it doesn’t malfunction, but you also have to make sure all your passengers are fed and healthy. All while listening to them speculate, bicker, or freak out over what’s going on in the world. You’re the main man, and it’s your job to get them to their stop. There are limited food items and health kits available to you on your travels, so you have to hoard as best you can and use them on the right people at the right times to keep everyone alive until the end of their line.
The train maintenance also needs to go off without a hitch so you don’t break down and strand yourselves until you starve (or worse). Various spots on the train start to shut down and you need to perform specific quick minigames to bring them back to working order. Balancing this while trying to speak to friends and co-workers on your computer to get any sort of info, as well as the rapidly declining status of your passengers, can be a struggle. Add in that it may help you to listen to their conversations and you’ve got a lot on your plate while in the relative safety of a speeding locomotive.
The exploration and combat work in tandem. While the gun combat probably fairs better on PC with the free form movement of a mouse, the right stick aiming isn’t a big problem on console. Where it can be a nuisance is when you aren’t actively aiming at an enemy. If you don’t correct the direction of your character, you could accidentally fire your weapon “behind” you. See, you can wander around backward if you wanted because you face whatever way you’re pointing your gun. This is mostly a non-issue until you open a door or run into a hidden enemy and pop off a round expecting it to connect. I assume this wouldn’t be an issue on PC. The exploration of the levels finds you not only wandering the 2D plane looking for a code to remove blockers so you can get the train moving to the next station but also to find survivors to fill your train. Getting them to their stops safely earns you money, which allows you to buy health and other items in town. The dozens of levels are designed in such a way that allows you to search above and underground and can be a lot more involved than you may initially think. Along the way to your goal, you’ll come across salvage that adds to your stores for usage in town as well as notes and other messages that add to the backstory of The First Visitation and the daily lives of those living through the aftermath. The labyrinthian design can feel confusing at first, but once you get used to it, you’ll see its merit, not only in level design but also as a means to an end in this world.
Not every stop is safe, though. You’ll have to contend with locked doors, light puzzles, and of course, zombies. A variety of different kinds of zombies – generic, to small and fast, to hulking, just to name a few. After you get used to the combat, both melee and gun, you quickly learn that most situations aren’t that dangerous. This isn’t a plus. Anything short of a major crowd may as well not exist. The encounters feel fine from the story perspective, but from a gameplay one, most aren’t anything to worry about before you even get halfway through the game. It’s a shame, but, it could have been worse.
I made it a point to shy away from saying too much about the story because I feel that it’s one that plays out in a way I never saw coming (well, to a point – the ending was always my expectation). The way the apocalypse started to where that takes this world was not anything I had in mind. I enjoyed the science fiction slant the story took, and though it’s probably not where I would have gone, instead I’d play it safe and by the numbers, I’m actually glad this is what the devs did. It felt fresh. Confusing at times for sure, but still, fresh. So with all that in mind, I’ll just run through some of the remaining cons I found.
There’s a healthy amount of notes/files, messages, and conversations to read through in the game, however, not only are same of them written a bit oddly, including grammar and spelling issues, but the size of the text is not a fit for TV. It’s all too small. It’s fine if you’re playing on PC and are inches away from the monitor, but when you’re 10 feet away from the television screen, well, you might need to get closer. My eyesight is good, so this isn’t just me wanting to complain. Better optimization for this could have been made (and hopefully it will down the line). The controls are too loose in most spots. What I mean by that is when you’re going side to side, it’s not that bad, but once you need to go up or down a ladder, you better hope the game cooperates with you. Too many times I went up or down when I had no intention to do so, resulting in damage taken that never should have happened. This could have probably been avoided had we the use of the d-pad, but sadly, only the sticks are usable in the game. This happens from time to time with indie games (mostly in menus, which to me is inexcusable), and I don’t like it. If you create a 2D game, allow me to use the original 2D control method. It’s only logical. The same can be said for when you’re moving around the train. I felt the controls there could have been explained better at the start. In fact, I had no idea you could even craft items until I had already beaten the game, which is another shame. I never found anything that pointed this feature out to me and it would have made things much simpler and more fun if I had. Finally, the game’s just too short. You can complete it in around 5 hours, and that includes puzzles and deaths, though I do appreciate the mostly generous checkpoint system. Perhaps contributing to the shorter length, but, appreciated nonetheless.
Another disappointing area of the whole experience would be the Achievements/Trophies. There are only 10 (which I assume is the minimum required by Microsoft), and for PS4 players, no Platinum to shoot for. You’ll probably need at least 2 playthroughs to complete the list if only because most of them require you to keep everyone alive until they reach their destination, which, as I mentioned just a short time ago, might be an issue, because you might not know the best way to do it at first. In fact, you could completely beat the game without earning any A/T. You don’t even get one for completing the game, they’re that specific. A sad reality for this game, unfortunately. I’m not saying every game needs to have the greatest set every put into a game, but a worthy one would absolutely garner more sales for hunters. In my most humble of opinions, of course. Plus, I know people who do just that. So, yeah…
So, we’ve reached our final stop (pun intended – finally!!). It’s time to sum up my feelings on The Final Station as a whole. Well, to be honest, I very much enjoyed this game, though I think I could have enjoyed it more than I did by the end. The story kept me engaged, but if the issues I drudged up weren’t as big as I felt they were, I would have graded it higher. That said, I would still recommend this game to everyone, especially fans of the genre (any of them on display). There’s enough here to warrant at least one run through, and you could definitely make the argument of 100% completion to go through it again to keep everyone alive and mop up anything else you may have missed. I didn’t look into this at all, but if anyone knows of an alternate ending, I’d love to know about it, because it would certainly get me to bite all over again. Yeah, the game has flaws, but these are the kind I’m willing to overlook for the story, and developer Do My Best Games probably did do their best, and I appreciate it.