The Final Station Review – Train to the Apocalypse (PS4)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The end of humanity is upon us…what’s that? Stop there? Okay, so The Final Station doesn’t have the most unique premise in gaming, following the story of an active apocalypse — actually the second one — an event known as the “Visitation,” seemingly alluding to something alien in origin that infects humans. It’s like the best bits of an alien apocalypse and zombie apocalypse all rolled into one, told through obscure methods by finding notes and little pieces of humanity scattered among mangled corpses and the now lifeless husks of buildings.
Some bits are personal stories, and others paint a bigger picture of the Visitation, but it all helps create a deep sense of atmosphere within the simplistic graphics. The nebulous nature of the narrative bleeds into the gameplay however, trying to harness the ambiguous structure to create a faux sense of difficulty in something that is rather simplistic and repetitive. The Final Station revolves around two alternating survival horror mechanics for its duration — a train simulator segment and a side-scrolling zombie shooter segment.
Practice Meets Concept
Conceptually, the idea seems sound. A train conductor that must deliver passengers and goods from one station to the next. On the train, the well being of the passengers and keeping the old bucket of bolts running are key, and at the stations, rudimentary shooting mechanics against enemies that look like rejects from Limbo come into play. In practice however, neither seem to quite reach their full potential. Keeping passengers alive and fed on the train is dependent on finding supplies throughout each station’s town area, but the risk and reward gameplay found in most survival horror games isn’t present here. Linearity drags the mechanics through the mud, and after I had the enemies figured out, I didn’t even need to waste bullets to kill them, simply punching them again and again while avoiding their attacks until they went down. This also meant that all my medkits were saved for use on train passengers.
The first few forays into the infected train stops are quite terrifying though, not knowing what you are getting into, and similarly, taking care of passengers and the train is a little overwhelming at first glance when the game isn’t actually telling you what you need to do. When you get the game figured out though, the tension and terror goes away, which is a sad way to say that The Final Station’s gameplay atmosphere is entirely reliant on players’ lack of knowledge, and not necessarily anything the game itself is doing.
Despite this simplicity, I did have passengers die along the route. Two to be exact. But each time, I never felt that it was due to choices I had made in the game, or mismanagement of supplies and inventory. If it was my fault, The Final Station doesn’t make it obvious that their fates were due to poor choices on my part. Instead it felt like I was being given the bare minimum along with a lack of instruction on how to play, which inevitably led to food shortages and people riding my train to their own personal final station. What would I do differently next time to keep them alive? I’m not sure that I can properly answer that, and it’s a mark of poor game design when failures don’t teach the player how to do better in the future.
These mechanics then continue, swapping back and forth with very little variation in the grand scheme of things. From the train, to an infected stop to find a code to disable the train blocker to hop back on the train and move forward yet again. Having figured everything out long before, the last half of these levels begins to feel very repetitive, and instead of pushing me forward, I began to wonder when the game was finally going to end. And finally it does.
At the End of the Tracks
The last level of the game is incredibly different from everything else. Changing up the train mechanics with an unexpected twist. Creating more narrative along the linear path while taking out the weird alien zombie creations. Different terrain. Interesting twists to my journey, going from apparently delivering stuff for the government and military to something a little more personal. I was finally engaged more than I had been since the game first started. This was the game I had been wanting to play all along, but The Final Station holds all of its cards until the end for a blowout of intriguing gameplay that furthers the narrative instead of feeling like a stopgap until you get to the next inevitable train barrier.
The disparity between the repetitive majority and the engaging finale did cause me to like The Final Station after it was said and done, but it’s not enough to overlook the significant flaws along the journey. Ambiguity is supposed to provide a level of intrigue, making players want to look further and explore dark corners, being rewarded for the risks they take to discover more. Instead, The Final Station hands out breadcrumbs without promise of a full loaf until the very end. Repetition and simplicity hold back what could otherwise be a fascinating survival horror indie,and a personal tale of interest about the train conductor. It’s worth taking a ride on this train once if not to see the promise the narrative holds, but don’t expect to want to hop on board with the mechanics again when you reach the final station.
Review code for The Final Station provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.