Race The Dark
HIGH Seeing the might shotgun in action for the first time.
LOW Missing out on huge sections of story as I tried to keep people alive.
WTF How are we going to stop this zombpocalypse? A giant robot, perhaps?
Fundamentally, The Final Station is a game about attempting to fight the inevitable.
Set in a dystopian future on an alien world, the story follows an engineer as he ferries vital cargo and desperate survivors from station to station, trying to stay one step ahead of a blight that’s swallowing the planet whole. It’s tough, bleak, and in its closing moments it has something to say about why someone would keep getting back up and fighting against a fate that can’t be avoided.
As a 2D shooter with light resource management, The Final Station asks players to explore run-down stops along a rail line – both to find a code that will allow them to move on to the next stop, and to track down the things they’ll need to keep themselves and their passengers alive. These tasks are complicated by the fact that each station is absolutely teeming with zombies, and in this world, bullets are at a premium.
The combat is a high point. The zombies are wonderfully rendered as shambling mounds of pure blackness with glowing eyes, and they come in a wide enough variety that I spent the whole game learning new tactics for dealing with them. For a title with such simple graphics and basic controls, the developers have found ways to include a surprising amount of depth in the combat. All of the completely linear levels are designed to maximize the shock and challenge of zombie attacks, and no matter how large my arsenal swelled by the end, I never felt completely safe when my train rolled to a stop.
The resource management aspects are also fairly well-implemented. During the engineer’s journeys, he’ll come across survivors barricaded in the depths of each station. They’re automatically teleported into the passenger car of the train (no escort sequences, thankfully) and then become relevant when the player resumes traveling.
During these rides, the survivors’ health and hunger levels have to be monitored, but there are only ever enough food packs and medikits to barely make the next stop. Players will be riding the razor’s edge, letting survivors get close to death before healing and feeding them, lest any resources go to waste. While this is going on, the player also has to keep a close eye on their train’s systems and cargo. Each one has a ‘needy’ module — it boils down to being a simple minigame that must be periodically played to keep the train’s power system from shorting out and causing delay or harm. Amazingly, in a game chock full of intense gunfights and hordes of infected, these interstitial train rides are what had my nerves fraying.
The story in The Final Station – while more oblique than it could have been – does a great job of selling the player on its world. As the mute engineer walks around, he gets a few lines out of the characters he’s saved and also reads tons of scattered notes. Between these two sources, the picture of a crumbling world takes shape. There are interpersonal squabbles, both petty and dire, and tantalizing hints about the exact nature of the doom chasing them. The developers also do a great job with environmental storytelling – there’s a huge amount of variety, and each one does a great job telling the story of the people who were living there.
As for criticisms… well, there isn’t much wrong with The Final Station. If I had to pick something, I’d say that using a controller wasn’t precise enough to reliably headshot targets, so mouse and keyboard is the way to go.
The game also is oddly tight-lipped about how many stops are left before survivors can be dropped off. This is a problem because knowing how much longer it will be before everyone gets to safety would inform a variety of resource management decisions, and since this is information that the characters have, keeping it from the player seems capricious.
The only other problem is a minor frustration during travel sequences. While waiting, various characters talk to each other, offering interesting insights into the world that the player will largely miss because word bubbles disappear once the engineer has to procure supplies or work on a module. I know this frustration is by design – players choose between being a monster who listens until they starve to death, or a helpful functionary who misses out on the lives of the people they’re saving, but from time to time it was a little too successful at annoying me.
The Final Station is a perfect example of a game capturing a theme and riding it for all it’s worth. Everything about it reinforces the central thesis, from the haunted halls of the stations, to the desperate last notes scrawled on random pieces of paper, to the melancholy journeys across bleak landscapes. Death is coming, and trying to deny it or fight against it is misguided hubris. It’s a dark experience from beginning to end, but one that’s absolutely worth playing, especially when it offers some insight into what makes people compelled to fight for the future, no matter how futile the battle may be.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Do My Best, and published by TinyBuild. It is currently available on PC and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game was not reviewed by the ESRB at the time of review, but it contains violence and blood. A truly bleak experience from beginning to end, the experience is steeped in hopelessness and fatalism. It’s definitely M-rated material, even while it’s not that graphic or salacious in any particular details. Characters discuss morally disturbing things, but all of it is kept off-screen.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game has no audio cues, and all story is presented through text.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.