In The Final Station you are thrown into the action from the very beginning. The first thing you see is a nameless character clutching a gun in a small hallway. In front of you is a locker with ammo. You’re alone, it's dark and you need a weapon, but what for? As you climb down a ladder you are immediately swarmed by a hoard of zombies and the game fades to black. Welcome to The Final Station.
The game continues as you wake up as another nameless character with the phrase "106th year since the first visitation" in the middle of the TV screen. This immediately begs the questions ‘What visitation?’ and ‘What was it for?’. This lack of information works to the story’s benefit as you are clued in on very little throughout the game and it encourages you to look deeper and find out exactly what is happening in this dystopian world.
The Final Station is presented as a 2D, side-scrolling 8-bit world in which you undertake the role of a train driver, a pretty good role to have in an apocalyptic scenario where you can quickly travel to small, broken-down towns and villages, get off your train with weapons at the ready and search for supplies and survivors of this, as yet unknown, horror. The game itself is divided into two key parts: travelling by train and exploring stations and towns. What sets this game apart is the unique aspect of travelling to different locations via a train journey in which you are carrying passengers and supplies you have picked up along the way as well as maintaining the condition of the train.
The train has medikits and food to keep your passengers alive. This is in your best interest as each passenger has a reward attached to them which you claim if you get them to the next train station safely. Here is where the game tests you as, usually, the passengers with the biggest reward demand the most attention. For example if they are wounded and need more medikits than usual, but as a reward you get more money and a handful of ammunition, you have a decision to make. If you aid them, there may not be enough supplies for the rest of the passengers. What do you do? The train also has maintenance systems in place so you have to make sure it is running smoothly at all times; these aren't difficult tasks to accomplish, but having to micromanage them continuously is what creates the challenge. These involve keeping the vent systems running, checking the status of the cargo and maintaining the deprecation system.
The game starts off at a slow pace, introducing you to the mechanics and showing you that every stage has lots to explore and secrets to be found. Each stage has a fantastic maze-like level design, there are underground pathways, locked rooms, ladders to climb and so on. It's beautifully put together, it isn't very difficult to decipher, but you never know what will be through the next door. The main aim of each level is to find a 4 digit code that will release a blocker at the station and allow you to progress to the next town, this seems simple enough but the difficulty in acquiring this little piece of paper varies drastically.
As the game progresses and you have explored a few stations, you start to get the idea that something isn't right as you get messages through from other train drivers that trains are starting to stop running, shots have been fired and also crazy people in the sewers are saying to you "don't trust the government" and "I've heard they're back, but the government is silent". You also encounter numerous notes left by previous residents. These short passages give us a glimpse into their lives and show how they lived before this outbreak: some are very normal but others show the horror that they had to endure to survive (or not in some cases), and others are just plain weird. You can also raid fridges, cupboards and lockers at every station and town where you will find food, clothing and many other items that will give you money to purchase ammo, health packs and food for both yourself and occupants of your train whom you are trying to save. This is vital to your survival because ammo and medikits are scarce, and we mean really scarce.
After departing from the train you will come across numerous types of zombie-like creatures that each pose different threats. Usually they can be shot, but ammo is in limited supply so this is where tactics need to be put into play. This is where the side-scrolling shooter puts you to the test. Some can be killed with melee attacks, others require knocking off a helmet with melee before shooting them in the head. Others are fast ‘zombies’ that explode and must be killed at a distance. You will find yourself dying numerous times as you learn how they move and what kills them, but as the game progresses they grow in numbers and difficulty, always keeping you on your toes. This is made ever more nerve-racking as you cannot see what is beyond a closed doorway. Will it be ammo? Health? Or the epicenter of the ‘zombie’ hoard?
The Final Station has beautiful 8-bit aesthetics and is accompanied by a gorgeous, calm score whilst you are exploring. This really gives the game some emotion as you start to sympathise with the character and it only heightens his isolation in this world. This is enhanced by the ever-changing layout of the game as each station varies quite dramatically, showing how widespread this epidemic has become, which is also reflected in the backdrops. Some of these landscapes are beautiful, others however are extremely pixelated. We understand that it has the whole 8-bit style of aesthetics, but when the background tries to emulate a real image, a mountain for example, it just looks like they have zoomed into a photo taken by a crappy camera. This does take away some of the immersion of the game, but nothing too drastic.
Do My Best Games have created an incredibly immersive, varied and compelling game, it is tense and always leaves you wondering what is beyond the next door. Its simple gameplay is enhanced by the compelling story and leaves you always wanting to find out more from its inhabitants. There is a decent amount of play time (around 5-6 hours) but there is so much detail to find in the darkest of spaces though hidden notes and secret messages that it will make you come back and search for ever piece of the missing puzzle long after you depart The Final Station.