You'd be forgiven for thinking The Final Station wouldn't be the bleakest of post-apocalypses given its cute pixel style and adorable little characters, but the atmosphere is nothing short of haunting. Its darkness is pervasive, the world around the player is truly dying, and the game never lets you forget that survival is on a knife edge at all times. Gamereactor were lucky enough to play the beta build of The Final Station and we got a glimpse into what surviving in the game was really like.
One very annoying aspect of the game is that you are thrown into it without any introduction at all. Although the world is meant to be harsh, this isn't Dark Souls and not being told the controls or how to do key tasks like distribute medkits is obstinate to say the least. It doesn't take ages to get to grips with, but we for instance lost one of our survivors because we couldn't figure out how to stop him from starving. Presumably better instructions is something that will be included in later builds of the game (or at least we hope so).
Survival is really the name of the game here. You are an unnamed train operator and as you progress you find survivors who join your train as passengers, however, each survivor has hunger and health levels and it depends on you to distribute resources according to people's needs. You get bonuses for keeping people alive when you get to key locations and can wash your hands of them, so keeping them alive is encouraged, although we wouldn't blame you if you hogged all of the med kits for your time in combat.
And combat there is a lot of. The train stops at blockers regularly and the player is tasked with navigating these two dimensional levels and facing the monsters within to find the four number code for the blocker in order to keep the train moving. These monsters vary in types, getting harder as the game progresses, starting off as dark zombie-esque creatures and moving into explosive and armoured creatures later on. Combat revolves around guns, but ammo is scarce and sometimes melee may be the only option. It is by no means easy and the fact that every shot counts in this world of few resources does give the game an intensity we weren't expecting.
Shooting handles really well in the game, too. The directional buttons control the player and the mouse aims, although it isn't a full 360 degrees which we think the game would benefit from having. After all, with ammunition as scarce as it is in The Final Station, full ability to aim would be very useful. Certain objects can be thrown as well, although these can only be thrown horizontally. The game really does encourage you to go for headshots as well as tactically approaching combat - separating enemies, for instance, helps a lot, as does taking multiple down with one shot.
The gameplay in the points the train stops is very good, with regular checkpoints meaning that players won't be tearing their hair out every time they die. The gameplay on the train, though, isn't very captivating at all. Maybe because it is an early build, but food and med kits have to be distributed as the train moves in short sections no longer than a few minutes, but this could easily be done at each stop. The little things you do to keep the train moving like cool down the two systems on board aren't rewarding or fun enough to justify having a section on the train either. In short, it seems like the train parts could simply be a cutscene.
Atmosphere is really what stunned us though. The music behind the game really drives the feeling of despair home, a sombre piano tinkling in the background while monsters tear apart the world, people lay dead around you and humans fight for their life. There is a quiet poignancy about this game which is quite surprising considering the pixelated art style is usually used on silly or comic games. The fact that the protagonist himself is silent makes the player feel isolated as well, especially considering you have to wander off alone into the world to forage for supplies while people come in and out of your life at will.
Level design reflects the hopelessness of the game world perfectly, with greys and blacks being the ruling colours in a world driven to destruction. Dead bodies litter the ruined buildings and unopened rooms are hidden from view until the door is opened and what may be lurking inside can spring out. Exploration is certainly encouraged, not only for resources but for information on the story and the apocalypse as well, notes being left around for the player to find. Obviously the more you search the more enemies you find as well, so you always have to weigh up whether a room full of monsters is worth what may be at the end of it.
The Final Station does look very promising thus far, with very enjoyable gameplay and a lot of exploration for players to sink their teeth into, however, some polishing may be needed before final release. The train is integral to the story, but the approach seems a little bit unnecessary considering the menial tasks assigned to the player on the train, and more instructions and information to the player may be needed as well to make sure they get the most out of what is a very rich and rewarding experience already.
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