Release Date: 30 Aug 2016
Developer: Do My Best Games
When coming into The Final Station the most immediate comparison to be drawn is to something like The Oregon Trail but with zombies. This is something that has been attempted before and immediately it conjures up the idea of a slow and atmospheric resource management game, most likely featuring random encounters and ultimately becoming either repetitive or feeling dated. That is not, however, what The Final Station is, or what it is attempting to be. The resource management is, mostly, very simple, and the destination of the train is not as immediately obvious as in The Oregon Trail, where it is in the title. Above all though, The Final Station is a much shorter, more tightly designed game than such a comparison might imply. Even for an indie game of its type it is short, certainly less than five hours long. What it does very well is truncating the expectations of its players. The Final Station lets its player experience being a small player in something greater, and works well at redirecting expectations.
The game itself is split into two main halves: those on the train, where the player must maintain it and it’s passengers, and off the train, where the player searches for passengers and explores zombie infested towns. The on train resource management sections don’t quite offer the difficulty or depth that might be desired; on each leg of the journey there will be a mini-game to manage so that the train doesn’t break down, at the same time the player must periodically leave the mini-game to distribute food and medicine to their passengers to keep them alive. There are a few clever choices, such as making the on train med-kits the same ones as the player must use when off the train; forcing the player to play the levels very conservatively in order to avoid killing their passengers. While the level design is in general very good, the lack of permadeath once off the train and mid-level respawns make death painless and undermine the tension somewhat; it becomes very easy to avoid ever having to use a med-kit.
Graphically, the game goes for the kind of stylised pixel graphics often favoured by smaller development teams for their low cost. Regardless of the practical reasons for their use here, they are very effective, both in creating a satisfying aesthetic and in facilitating intuitive gameplay.
The actual narrative is received largely in snippets while maintaining the train. Only part of each conversation can be heard while you run back and forth through the train between the food, passengers and faulty components. This is a pretty clever (if possibly accidental) conceit, not only because it forces an extra pressure onto the gameplay, but also because it allows an organic trickle of information to the player, something which facilitates the game’s atmosphere. However, the mechanic becomes very annoying when someone talking directly to the player, but cannot be heard due to maintaining the train; there is nothing in the game to make them stop talking when the player is out of reach.
If you’re looking for a modernised arcade shooter or resource management game to draw hours of gameplay out of, this is the wrong place to look. It does, however, offer a very well constructed and atmospherically designed experience.