10/03/2018

☆ Review: The Final Station - "A one-way ticket to a shadowy nightmare" ☆ #IndieGames

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Developer: Do My Best
Platform Reviewed: Nintendo Switch

Rating: Ice Cool

When I received The Final Station (TFS) for review, all the key words were there, ‘Russian’, ‘two man team’, ‘post-apocalyptic’, ‘scavenge’ all the words that really get my blood pumping whenever they are mentioned in relation to a video game. After being completely absorbed in the world of TFS and smashing through the game in two late-night sessions, I’m happy to report that it’s a thoroughly enjoyable and addictive experience.

The setup of TFS is that you are a train conductor hauling a suspicious cargo across a Soviet-inspired Russia, stopping only at regular ‘blockers’ that require codes in order to pass. As you make your journey, it becomes clear that the world is in the midst of a second ‘visitation’ (the first occurred 106 years previously) whereby strange, shadowy humanoid creatures are prowling the streets and buildings, emptying entire cities in their wake as the survivors head to safe zones to save themselves. Naturally, you are heading to the very heart of the nightmare.

The game is split into two sections, the first is set on the train itself as it travels between stations and the second part is the main area of gameplay which is exploring the locations that you stop in to search for supplies and battle your way past the mysterious ‘visitors’. I found the train-based parts of the game to be the weaker aspect but as they tend to be brief, it wasn’t too much of an issue when compared to how enjoyable the combat sections were.



The in-game graphics are pixel-tastic and work well with the smooth animation. A highpoint for me was the epic backgrounds that you see rolling past in the distance as you trundle through the battered country (there’s a really clever trick used in the foreground as you move along that gives a sense of movement and scale) and the empty towns that you scavenge your way through are suitably quiet and ominous. The music is used sparingly in the game but it’s absolutely to the benefit of game play as the stillness accentuates tension as you open a sewer grate or door to find out what lurks behind it. TFS also features surprisingly satisfying gunshots and incidental sounds as you work your way through the stations towards your ultimate goal.

The sections on the train consist of the conductor keeping up the health (and feeding) of the injured on the train (up to six at any one time) that he has picked up on his travels. As you run around doing this with craftable health packs and food scrounged on the way, there are ‘micro-games’ on the train that need to be completed in order to keep it running. Simple actions like keeping gauges at the correct level or pulling a switch here, a lever there etc. but I found these to be a cumbersome distraction as a lot of the time during this, the passengers are talking amongst themselves and adding a human touch to the over-arching story but quite often you’ll be too busy pottering around to read them properly and so each character sort of  loses their individuality, instead feeling like more gauges that you need to keep topped up. 

When you reach a main safe zone that the passengers disembark at, you get cash and upgrades for each one that survived the trip but as I was never lacking for cash anyway, it felt like a bolt-on as opposed to a vital aspect of the game.



The slightly awkward translation from Russian is also occasionally apparent in the (numerous) notes scattered around the game and the stilted conversations between characters, however this added to the story for me as it gives the narrative an angular feel with a strange rhythm which enhances the oppressive atmosphere.

The main bulk of the game is spent walking around the stations as you find the four-digit code to remove the train blockers allowing you to proceed on your journey. It’s during these parts that you collect cash, health, craftable parts and even passengers to assist you. Naturally, as you wander through ghost towns, farm silos and laboratories you are assailed by the visitors. These black, white-eyed attackers come in various forms, whether shambling, aflame, armoured or small but swift, all will head straight for you as soon as they clap their peepers on your cap and whistle.

The combat feels ‘right’ with the left-stick controlling your character and the right-stick aims your gun. You can also do a melee attack with limited range and so it quickly becomes apparent that you need to conserve ammo wherever possible and make use of the throwable items and explosive barrels scattered around the areas. These levels are laid-out really cleverly so as to minimalise back-tracking and you’ll often find yourself popping out of a manhole cover near the train to type in that much-needed blocker code after fighting your way through a section.

I did have a couple of problems with the game on a technical level, but nothing game-breaking. On one occasion, my character fell into the ground and got stuck and towards the very end of the game I fell completely through the screen, causing it to crash.

There’s also some odd loading times that can happen on the train, causing the game to freeze for a second or two but I can imagine that these will be ironed out in patches and even if they aren’t, the game auto-saves so regularly that you never lose any progress upon a re-start.



Summary
TFS is around four hours long and I enjoyed the time that I spent with the game although the train sections did feel tiresome towards the end, I do feel they could have been tightened to feel more enjoyable but as they only last for a minute or so, it wasn’t too much of a drag. The use of weapons is satisfying and the light puzzle and strategic elements during combat sections are well-judged. 

I found the difficulty to be well-balanced and moved through the game at a solid pace, saving most people without too much trouble. It could be too easy for those looking for a serious challenge but the games brisk pace and addictive factor worked for me. I assumed I would dip in and out but ended up getting hips deep and finishing it completely in two sessions, good!

The game comes with The Only Traitor DLC which extends the game by telling the story of an entirely separate character’s journey as he travels by car through the landscape. It’s a nice addition and alters the game slightly by having you need to pick up gas, water and food at each stop with no mini-games during the travel sections (which I preferred) instead being able to pay attention to the conversations between you and your passenger (of which there are several to choose from, admittedly with minimal differences between them) and spend the time crafting health and ammo. 

The DLC I found more of a challenge than the main game and the slight twist on gameplay is definitely enough to warrant a play through.

Right, I’m off to find out if Welsh train conductors will feed and clothe me as readily as our jolly protagonist.


❄️ RATING: ICE COOL ❄️
Ratings Explained
ICE COOL (Great Game Recommended)
MELTING (Recommended with reservations, one to consider if you are a fan of the genre)
MELTED (Not A Recommended Purchase)


 
Review By Britt