Everyone wants to be an action hero. But that is not who you play in The Final Station – a pixel-graphics, side-scrolling, narrative game from Do My Best Studios. Instead of the zombie-bagging, girl-saving action hero, you play as a paunchy train conductor short on bullets whose wife has probably left him. And the game is all the better for it.
An Ordinary Day
You begin your journey with the sound of an alarm clock. Our unlikely hero brushes his teeth, crosses town to the train station, puts on his uniform, and gets the code for the train blockers – the machines that ensure only authorized trains continue on at every stop. Fellow employees greet you which begins to flesh out your story, and soon enough you’re on your way.
On the train, a co-worker explains a bit of the background, and you learn that in order for the train to continue running, you must occasionally adjust the mechanics and electronics. If you don’t adjust things properly, people suffocate. And, it turns out, passengers get hungry. You should feed them.
At the next stop, you have to hunt down the station manager on his lunch break and pick up the key to get the blocker code to leave town again. Seems legit. Again, you interact with bystanders, a television, and some computers to learn more about your world. You grab your code, and you’re on your way.
The next station is bustling, but there’s a problem. The military are everywhere, and people are stuck. You offer to take a few on your train, and you wander the city. Not everyone here is convinced the military’s presence is good. You find your code and head back to your train.
Back onboard, there are reports of downed communications, and you see flashes in the distant dark. The next stop forces your passengers to disembark – orders of the military. Sick people are everywhere. Authorities inform you your destination is no more, so you are rerouted and the military gives you new cargo. Now your mission is to save as many people as you can, carry your cargo, and move on. Then, on the way back to the train, you are attacked by some… One?
Your heavily armed military escort arrives, and you board your trusty metal steed. Your escorts do not make it to the next stop.
The rest of The Final Station involves working your way through a series of zombie-infested stations, searching for blocker codes, supplies, and survivors. In between, you spend time on your train, tending to your passengers, maintaining your systems, and crafting supplies. The more passengers make it to certain checkpoint stations, the bigger your reward.
Your passengers also discuss the goings-on, filling out the story, but it’s often difficult to catch all of this given everything that’s expected of you on the train. You are not spoon-fed the story, instead receiving clues from people, notes, books, and various other hints left around in humanity’s last gasps. There is something of a twist ending which is why I’m being so vague on so many points.
The stations themselves are challenging, if not always memorable. The monsters you face vary in type – shambling creatures you can usually sprint past, quick attackers that will ruin your day, armored former riot police that can’t be downed with bullets, and even exploding varieties that can kill you from a distance if handled poorly – or help you clear a room if you know what you’re doing. Combat requires use of finite resources such as bullets and thrown items like chairs and TVs. It can be fiddly, at times, edging into frustrating.
For instance, there’s a particular issue I ran into several times that sucked the fun out of the game: the button that picks up an item is the same button that throws it. If you find yourself holding an item and hoping to throw it but standing next to another item, you will continuously drop and pick up items instead of throwing them as the horrors bear down on you. Nearly an assured Game Over.
Luckily, this is no roguelike, and I found it often made more sense to just quickly make my way to a checkpoint and die, without using a medpack to maintain health. This ensured that I progressed through a station while conserving medpacks – which you need in order to maintain your passengers.
The story itself is interesting enough. Again, you never get the whole picture, and you’re never completely sure what characters represent which organizations. It keeps you on-edge for most of the game, and I suspect that’s the intent. An unfortunate side effect was that it left me mostly just wandering through my surroundings without trying too hard to figure out what it is I was actually supposed to be doing within the world.
The Final Station is a journey through a nearly-alien world during a desperate time. At turns exhilarating and frustrating, it took me roughly seven hours to traverse the game – though I have heard many take as few as five hours. There’s minimal replay value – the story will be the same every time, and it’s not that hard to simply restart a stage your first time through if you want to accomplish some personal feat or get every achievement. The art style was somehow both bleak and satisfying, which helped the story along nicely. Though I couldn’t help but feel, in the end, that the game was not entirely complete.
TL;DR: The Final Station is a short, narrative-driven pixel adventure, and a solid first entry by the Do My Best crew. Play alternates between train stations – which are usually infested with zombies – and your train, where you feed and tend passengers, repair your mechanical systems, and craft supplies. Station combat requires precision, patience, and luck, and it can be unforgiving. Edgy art and storytelling-by-snippet help carry an occasionally irksome game and create a distinct experience. This game is old laptop approved.
You might like this game if:
- You like piecing your narrative together from the discarded scraps of a dying civilization
- Pixels and zombies are your thing
- You enjoy improvisational combat with whatever is at hand
- You like games that don’t require a beefy system
You might NOT like this game if:
- You like to have your stories plainly explained
- High-end graphics are your thing
- You’re a big fan of replay value
- Crisp, predictable combat is absolutely necessary
Ben played for 10+ hours on a 2.53 GHz Intel Core i5 with 4GB ddr3 RAM using OS X. The copy was provided to eXplorminate at no cost for review purposes.