When I got my review copy of this game, I was overjoyed that I would finally be able to dive deeper into the mystery left as a cliff hanger in the beta build. And after everything was said and done, The Final Station taught me a few things during my play through. First and foremost, developer Do My Best Games knows how to make a damn engrossing story. Secondly, in life, and the game, make sure you enjoy the ride. Take in the sights and sounds while you can because getting out and walking makes things a hell of a lot more difficult. And finally, you probably shouldn’t take a job as a train conductor in the apocalypse unless you have a death wish.
Seriously, the future is shrouded in mystery… and zombies
For story sake, I will keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. So The Final Station may look like a simplistic 2D pixel shooter, but it really does go far beyond that. Tiny Build are masters of taking the simple and making it feel extraordinary and publishing games in the same vein. The look and feel of the game go beyond the 16-bit art to paint a dark and grim vision of humanity in the future. The world has fallen apart and humanity now survives within scattered cities with limited communication and resources, thanks to “The Infected”. Very little is known about these zombie-like creatures except that they are extremely deadly and government officials seem to stay pretty tight-lipped about what they know. You play as “The Conductor”, who has control of a very special train. With this train, you spend your time as a form of errand boy for governments needing to transport vital supplies for something that everyone refers to as “The Guardian”. Now obviously I won’t tell you what the Guardian is, but I will commend Do My Best Games of letting your imagination be very playful in this game. They do a lot with little hints and world-building documents like chat logs and newspapers. Even wandering around some of the cities and conversing with people, you start to learn not only stuff about your mission but about what it’s actually like to exist in that world. Unfortunately, some of these key story elements can get lost in the heat of the action during train rides, but we’ll discuss that a bit later. If the game’s story wasn’t immersive enough already, the level design is the icing on the cake.
A colorfully gray dystopia
I absolutely loved the look and feel of the level design in this game. The use of neutrals vs color in the design really helps to build an immersive setting for the game. Most of the levels tend to be faded colored backgrounds with every building being stark black and gray. I found the dark neutral colors actually set me up to feel a bit of tension when entering an unopened room. Even when you are running outside between rooms and buildings, the game can almost feel claustrophobic and make you yearn for the freedom of the pastel-colored skies in the background. Of course, it’s not always so beautiful outside, and this is where the design team really nailed it. The game would definitely get a bit boring and repetitive if you just went through train station after train station for the whole experience, but the levels are varied in both theme and length. For example, one stop will be a train station with some first aid kits and maybe a survivor or two. Whereas the next may be an underground research facility where you can only see as far as your flashlight will cast and is devoid of all supplies.
Even though exploring is the name of the game here, Do My Best Games has done an excellent job in not only telling a story through its NPC interaction but also through its level design and game flow. As you progress through the game, you will begin to run into reoccurring elements and themes and start to wonder things like “what is that thing and why is it here” or “maybe I should stop charging headfirst into rooms I’ve just opened”. Probably the best thing the design does overall is that it makes the levels feel like a complete world. The buildings, homes, and facilities have a “lived in” quality to them and a lot of the time, you can find evidence of the people who used to occupy it and, even sometimes, why they left. Scraps of notes, family photos, and chat logs all help to paint a picture of the people living and trying to survive in this dystopian future.
Now, I usually don’t find myself questioning whether I should kill zombies in games because it’s usually kill or be killed. But when I’ve read a note in the next room that points to this “infected” being a man who lost his wife and child, it actually gave me pause to question how many of these things had hopes and dreams before becoming infected. Questionable murder aside, the physical level design itself is very well built, albeit a bit linear at times. All of the levels in the game are laid out in classic left to right navigation but with a lot of ups and downs thanks to staircases and ladders. To keep the tension high, every room is covered in darkness until you enter via door or ladder. As I was saying, even though most levels have a few branching paths, all the levels in the game stay fairly linear. It’s minor problem and it definitely helps to keep the player on track and focused on the game rather than wandering off to go explore every nook and cranny of the level. It does help to be alert, as you can miss hidden breakable walls and traps doors to travel through, which can lead to supplies or even survivors for your train.
Now with all that being said, one of the few issues I had in the design department of the game was the sound design. I found the sound to be lacking in quality or any kind of ingenuity. When players are on the train, the only thing you can hear is a generic loop of a train on track. Even though there are survivors chattering, and you are running back and forth performing maintenance checks, there are very few sound queues to go off of if something is going wrong. And when your train pulls into its destination blocker, it just lightly clunks into it. And when your train departs, you hear a rush of steam and then silence as it pulls away. It was a bit disappointing to see this awesomely designed train that looks like a futuristic diesel truck, only to have it be some kind of a ninja when it comes to the sound design. Understandably, the game reserves musical queues for certain scenes or times throughout the game to add feeling and that’s fine. But the rest of the time you are kept in almost absolute silence because there is little other sound to be had. Some basic footsteps, shooting a gun, climbing a ladder, or opening a door sound like they should, but the infected were a bit of a letdown. Visually their appearance is creepy, but for the most part, they are silent. It may have been a design choice to make them very quiet to make them scarier, but I found it actually had the opposite effect. Overall, even though the sound falls flat, the rest of the design helps to make up for it. So it looks great and sounds okay, but how does it handle?
As good as he should be
When it comes to actually playing the game, it feels like Do My Best Games played it pretty safe. The conductor handles almost exactly like a video game character should. You can walk left and right, climb ladders, interact with objects, and of course, shoot a gun. Character movement feels firm and satisfying, but I almost wish he had a few more moves to handle with the tight controls. You cannot jump, duck, roll, or do anything else outside of walking and climbing. I can’t knock it for that because it was definitely a design choice to aid in level and puzzle design.
One of the major parts of the game is, of course, the train sequences. This is the time to travel, craft supplies, and if you’re really good at paying attention, learn some more about the story and your passengers. All the functionalities of the train work fine. Crafting is super easy, the maintenance mini games are fun and add a bit of challenge between maps and keeping your passengers alive is fairly simplistic. The issue I had was doing all of these things at the same time became quite messy a lot of the time. I don’t mind running around like a maniac trying to fix machines and people, but when it’s at the expense of the story, I think things should have been balanced differently. Unfortunately, while the chaos of maintenance is going on, this is the same time that your passengers decide to spill their guts about what’s happening with them and the world around them. I really wish that these stories were presented in a different way so I could maybe read them easier while I am maintaining things, or possibly in a chat log of sorts after so I could read it at my own convenience. For a game with such an interesting story, I feel like this chatter should have been front and center instead of hidden behind mini game windows, distractions, and passing scenery.
Another small gripe with the game is the shooting mechanic. Even though the movement controls are super tight, the shooting seems a bit inaccurate, to say the least. It may be a design choice because this guy is just supposed to be a conductor, but it would appear in the story that these conductors are trained to use weapons and carry them at all times. Normally in a game with zombie-like creatures, a head shot is a sure thing. But in this game, even with a laser sight upgrade, a head shot might as well be a butt shot. With the varied infected types, head shots and body shots seemed to make little to no difference except for one specific type that you can only shoot in the head as it is wearing body armor. Poor accuracy aside, it wouldn’t matter too much if ammo was more plentiful, but sometimes ammo is very limited and not having your gun available is a death sentence. There are a few situations that you can get into where you may just have to restart the level. If you die, you will usually respawn just before the last door you opened or event you triggered. Now if this situation leaves you with almost no health or little to no ammo, you will probably be screwed because head shots don’t really count and running past the infected is basically suicide. But with those issues aside, you shouldn’t have too hard of a time beating this game. It certainly has its intense moments, but overall it’s supposed to be more of an interesting experience rather than a soul-crushing challenge.
It’s worth the trip
The Final Station is a short but fun and ultimately satisfying ride. The immersive world design and a finely-crafted story will have you wanting to know more throughout the entire game. Even though the sound design is lacking, it feels great to explore and take in the story through the scraps of memories found and by helping the survivors you saved from various locations. The controls are simple and shooting is a bit loose, but as a whole, it works and allows the player to feel a bit of helplessness and realism instead of feeling overpowered and bored. If you’re a fan of Tiny Builds’ brand of awesome, you definitely need to check out Do My Best Games’ inaugural title.
PLAY THIS GAME IF YOU:
- Like 2D platform action/puzzle games
- Are a fan of survival horror
- Love intriguing and intense dystopian settings
The Final Station is available now on PC, PS4, and XB1
Dandr0id is a content writer for AYBOnline.com, a producer for Level 1 Scrubs podcast and an avid fan of pizza. He may also be a robot and is probably a ninja. His opinions are his own.