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The Final Station Review

Remember FTL?

Let’s grab that game and take away the spaceships and replace them with something a little more ...grounded in reality. Snowpiercer was a great movie, right? How about trains? Perfect. Now, since we’re no longer in space, we’ll need to fight aliens on the ground. But we don’t want to fight aliens ...let’s just make them humans that have been infected by alien goo. How does that sound? Wonder how that plays? Wonder no more!

The Final Station is a great little indie title from developer Do My Best and publisher TinyBuild that takes some familiar concepts and makes them engaging with its simplistic design and intriguing backstory.

While my introduction was a bit farfetched in its delivery, The Final Station does take some cues from FTL but not necessarily in a bad way. What exactly do they share in common? While not a roguelike in the same vein as FTL, the two share some similarities in its “hub” and simplistic design choices.

In both games, the player must maintain their mode of transportation in order to survive the elements and make it to the end unscathed. This takes the form of meter managing in The Final Station where you must keep an eye out for sparks emitting from the various gears and gadgets on your train that keep it mobile. A lot of times this just means clicking a few buttons or pulling a few levers in order to maintain a stable level of power so the gadget doesn’t give and explode. There’s also a bit of NPC management as you will find survivors that need to be rescued and taken care of with food and medical supplies before they expire.

Train management isn’t the only thing you deal with in The Final Station. You’re only in your train between stations and once you’ve docked, you’re free to explore the surrounding buildings, homes or shacks. In these interiors, you’ll find ammo, medkits, food, money, and the aforementioned survivors. Throughout these moments, you’ll find yourself faced with a few different types of enemies that have different attributes. You’re armed with only a few weapon types, a melee option and very minimal amounts of ammunition. While there’s always enough if you play smart, keeping full awareness of how much you have left is detrimental to your survival.

The game is not incredibly hard. You will find yourself dying a few times, but it’s mostly by your mistake and rarely the fault of the game’s mechanics. Luckily for you, the checkpoints are fairly accommodating and allow you to come back to the action that much quicker.

Why not just “Snowpiercer” your way through the world?

Why dock at all? Each time you dock at a station, you’re only given one task: to find a code for the station to leave and go to the next station. Which, through a large majority of the game, that’s pretty much all that you do and that is one of the game’s weakest parts. Aside from the change of pace at the end, the dock-search-code-leave-rinse-wash-repeat aspect of the game leaves you wanting something more to do.

Since this breaks up long stretches of gameplay and allows them to work in the Train mechanics, it makes sense for them to segment the game into levels like this. I understand why this was a choice they made, but it just felt like there could’ve been something else to glue those stations together; some other objective other than finding a piece of paper with a 4-digit code written on it. That isn’t to say that it breaks from the formula a few times here and there, but it largely adheres to the same objective consistently.

It’s especially disappointing since I really got into the story. It does a wonderful job in setting up a tone of mystery that wants you to know more and more. Handwritten notes are scattered about in the rooms you stumble upon, there are newspapers for sale, and conversations of those both on and off your train. The story’s theme provides a truly interesting backdrop for the NPC conversations you will run into.

I obviously won’t spoil much of the story here, but there’s a looming “second visit” of an alien race who previously dropped “capsules” and other technologies long ago. The creators of the game could have just made The Final Station into a zombie/post-apocalyptic game just like every other game out there, but they added some very interesting concepts that had me wanting more. While they give you the story in a smart way throughout the campaign, they also do a great job of filling it out with NPC dialogue that you can listen to on your train rides from station to station or even talking amongst themselves in the comfort of their own panic rooms.

Full disclosure: After getting a few hours into the game I was enamored by the little guy. I just have a soft spot for simplistic games, with simplistic mechanics and intriguing stories. Knowing how much I liked it, and since it was brand new, I wanted to see how it was faring with its Steam reviews. “Very Positive.” Awesome! So then I scroll down and find myself shocked to see a large chunk of the reviews were actually negative. A majority of which claim that the game is “too short” and has “a terrible ending”. So, naturally, I was compelled to finish it.

It is true that the game has a brief length of 4-5 hours and has a price point of $15. I’m not here, to get into a debate about why people need to calm down about spending $15 for 4-5 hours of content that only a few people spent clearly a long time making from their hearts. That’s not what bugs me about those comments.

Again, I want to refrain from spoiling anything, especially about the ending, but I think people need to first think about what they just saw, contemplate its meaning, and interpret what they saw BEFORE posting about “how much it sucks” on the internet.

There’s a moment toward the end that immediately reminded me of the film ‘No Country for Old Men’. (Rest easy, internet, I’m not talking about No Country’s ending...yet anyway.) There’s a distinct homage (in my opinion) to that film where the character Josh Brolin’s character Llewelyn Moss finds a large sum of money. Once I seen a similar situation in The Final Station, I had the slightest inkling of where this story might be headed and just why the reviews were picking it apart.

Lo and behold, once the game wrapped up, I did start to draw comparisons to that film once again. Both end with a smash cut and both leave you sitting there, stewing in your own thought. I could go on for hours about two things: Games and Film. Whenever I find two things that merge the two mediums together in such an elegant way, I get happy. Games and Film belong in the same mind space, especially when you have a tight narrative with interesting concepts to keep you drawn in.

I was completely satisfied by the way that The Final Station ended. I found myself asking questions about what I just witnessed, while also thirsty for more backstory on the whole “Second Visit”/”Capsule” ordeal, but then again, I don’t need any more than what they told me. While I’ll be receptive and completely on board (train pun intended) with a sequel, I think they married their concepts and overarching story in a perfect way that results in more thought than outright showing their hand.

I won’t continue to chat your ear off regarding the ending, and I certainly don’t want to oversell it. I enjoyed it. You might not. That’s the beauty of interpretation and opinion. Just know that if you do end up witnessing it for yourself, don’t take it at face value until you’ve looked hard at that face long enough and you know what it actually looks like.

8

The Verdict

All that aside, how does The Final Station fare as a complete package?

The Final Station is short and sweet with some very interesting concepts in storytelling with an eerie atmosphere. The gameplay is very simplistic to match its simplistic design, the game feels intuitive and is rewarding once you get past a room full of infected individuals. While the monotony of finding codes can be a bummer to the overall pacing of the game, it doesn’t take too much away from the story and still makes you want to see what’s next. Its ending will have some furious but some appreciative - it’s just a matter of how long you allow yourself to contemplate it.

The Final Station has a creepy-cool aesthetic and really interesting sci-fi/horror concepts that they manage to pull off incredibly well. All aboard!

James McKeever
Written by
September 10, 2016
Published in Adventure

When not playing video games, James is usually found playing video games. When he simply does not have time for video games, he goes to a thing called "Job" where he makes money to feed himself and his wife and to buy more video games. Since he was too scared to use the controller himself at the young age of 3, James started his gaming career as a "navigator" of sorts instructing his father when to jump in Super Mario Brothers. Since then, the fear of controllers has subsided and James can now jump freely, circumventing the middleman.

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