Review: The Final Station

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You ever play a game that just has the perfect look and feel for you? Sometimes it’s something you never even realized you liked, but it captures your imagination in ways bigger or grander games can’t quite manage. I’ll tell you up front, The Final Station has done that for me. The oddly placid apocalypse and your dutiful journey through it feels like such an imaginative setting for horror, and the copious hints at world-building only draw me in further. While the action and management elements might not be as fully-realized as the setting, they serve it well enough to place this one among my indie horror favorites.

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Years ago, a strange event called the Visitation inflicted a zombie-like plague on the world. Those who survived reformed society into a heavily-regulated network of cities and stations connected by armored locomotives. As a conductor of one of these trains, your job is normally to ferry passengers and goods around on schedule. However, on this particular day, your route is going to be a little different. With whispers of a Second Visitation and conflict along the norther borders, you have been tasked with transporting some very special cargo to some very special stations. Do this, and humanity might still stand a chance. But what will you have to sacrifice to accomplish this mission?

Originally I had thought The Last Station to be a sort of FTL management thing where the emphasis was on maintaining your train and passengers, with action being a secondary concern. Turns out it’s not that at all, but a series of side-scrolling levels to explore and survive, broken up by short train trips during which you do some basic management of your train. Between stops you can supply your passengers with food or medicine to keep them alive, tinker with the machinery on your train to keep it running smoothly, and chat with survivors or other conductors if time allows. Most of the management is dependent on what resources and survivors you find at each station, though there is some limited crafting to fill in the gaps for medicine and ammo.

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You get some tantalizing looks at the world as your train speeds along, beautiful vistas of bright fields and impossible skyscrapers, or frozen wastes dotted with unknown husks. Your passengers will mention developments in the world as well, hinting at the spread of infections or the fall of cities, and you’ll get to see that firsthand at each stop. You need an access code to pass each station on the network, and for any station that’s been overrun that means disembarking and scrambling around in the ruins looking for those four precious digits. These levels are just as beautiful and evocative as the landscapes, with houses to rummage through, notes to read, and secret facilities squirreled away in the strangest places. Deeper into your journey you will reach some absolutely nightmarish locales, as well as bunkers and cities where some of your biggest questions will be answered.

Stops are also where you’ll have to contend with the monsters that are consuming the world, and this is probably the weakest part of The Final Station. You’ll face a half-dozen or so creatures in your journey but they’re all pretty much permutations of humans covered in black ooze that shamble towards you. Some are quicker, some are armored, some explode, and while they’re placed in levels with great care, there’s only so much you can do with a selection like that. Your guns are the safest way to dispatch them but ammo is limited, relegating you to carefully punching your way past foes or avoiding big groups entirely. Objects in the environment like chairs and barrels can be chucked around to deal with some, but you’ll need to be diligent in your searching and crafting, as well as thrifty with your bullets, to reach all the secrets tucked away in the levels. There are no encounters you can’t escape without damage but your limited options mean you may have to puzzle out some awkward solutions if you’re low on ammo.

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Gameplay is a big part of any experience, and while it’s far from bad here the combat is liable to grate on some as you reach the end of this 3 to 4 hour journey. It’s my only hesitation in recommending this game, because for me personally, the setting and story are good enough to make it an instant classic in my book. The dialog has some rough translations at times but if anything it adds to the grim atmosphere and fever-dream moments that make The Final Station so engrossing. From the moment I started I wanted to know everything about where this adventure would lead, and at no point was I disappointed with what I found. For fans of deep mysteries and unique worlds, you owe it to yourself to give this one a try.

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