The last place you would find me during armageddon is sat on a train. It follows a fixed track with a limited number of routes, and if the place you’re heading to is worse than the place you left behind, well, tough. That’s exactly the set up in The Final Station, and although it provides a much more linear experience than I expected, it manages to craft a series of events which are fun, desperate, and surprisingly tragic. You’ll not be thinking that for the first half hour or so, though. It’s far more likely you’ll be completely baffled by the goings on, and thinking you must have missed a tutorial somewhere. Allow me to fill in the blanks, without spoiling the plot.
A century ago, a cataclysmic event took place which decimated the human race. Towns and cities were destroyed wholesale, and over time became remote areas where survivors began to rely on protection of their militia, and deliveries of supplies and trade by rail. The Conductors are the people who run these trains, and you are one of them. One on an important mission: Take a piece of classified machinery to the location where the military are building The Guardian, a device designed to stop an impending second cataclysm. Of course, things are never that simple, and on your journey much stands in your way; yet you also have a chance to do some good whilst making your way from checkpoint to checkpoint.
The Final Station is presented as a 16 bit side scrolling action game, with two distinct phases. The main bulk of the gameplay takes place in the games various towns and and stations, which sees you searching houses, offices, stores and all manner of places for loot, ammo and the all important blocker code. These codes lift a security gate at each station, and you’ll have to find it and return it to the gate to continue your journey on to the next stop, and ultimately to deliver your piece of The Guardian.
During these levels, you’ll find yourself armed with a pistol, and later a shotgun and other weapons. Usually you’ll find some sort of civilisation during your stops, but inevitably you’ll venture beyond that and into the abandoned areas, overrun with mysterious shadow beings. These zombie-like hostiles are connected to the events of the cataclysm, and there are several variations, from the simple shambling type to exploding creatures which you are advised to take out from a distance. Of course, if short on ammo – and you will be – there’s always the option to run. You can also pick up chairs and boxes from the scenery and launch these at them too, often resulting in a one hit kill. Many encounters are specifically designed to have an optimum way of overcoming them, but you have to think on your feet, as every building and room you visit is blacked out until you enter. The reveal of a new room may also reveal hordes of the shadow creatures, and the tension as you work your way through enormous structures is superbly realised.
Once you have your code and have made your way back to the train, you punch it into the blocker’s keypad and you can ride on to the next stop. Any survivors you may have found on your travels can be taken with you, and if you help them get to their preferred destination in one piece (usually several stations away), they’ll reward you with supplies such as health kits and ammunition. This is where the second phase of gameplay comes in, the intermissions between levels whilst you ride your train.
As the scenery whizzes past in the background, unique depending on which station you’ve just left, you’ll have to go back and forth from your supply of health kits and provisions to the survivors, now also your passengers, keeping them healed and fed as they need it. As you run back and forth from the storage to the passenger carriage to hand out the supplies, taking into consideration that any health kits you give them won’t be there to save your life out on your next scavenge, you’ll catch snippets of conversation between your passengers. These provide some exposition and help to build a picture of what’s happening out in different areas of the game world, and as you do your best to keep them alive and well, they really help to draw you into the experience. While not feeding and medicating your current motley crew of survivors, you’ll also have to keep your train running by avoiding breakdowns. Every so often something will overheat or short circuit, and you’ll have to be on hand to run across to the malfunctioning item in question and engage in a bit of button tapping to keep the situation under control. Then, reach your next station and begin hunting for the next blocker code all over again.
The levels are fairly compact, and the parts on the train are merely filler between them, but The Final Station is an enjoyable experience on the whole. Unusually for a game based on survival, the levels are all hand built, meaning there is nothing in the way of randomised content. This puts a huge dent in replayability; once you’ve finished the game you’ll only go back to mop up a few remaining achievements before uninstalling it for good. Despite the disposable nature of the experience though, the atmosphere and stories told, combined with tense exploratory game play will keep you glued until the end of the line.
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