This side-scrolling, 8-bit-looking (but modern) survival shooter is one of those games that may not look like much on the surface, but is actually beautifully made, extremely well-written, and a lot of fun to play when it comes down to it. In The Final Station you assume the role of a train driver whose job it is to travel from station to station, picking up survivors, and blowing away these shadow-like, infected zombie-type creatures as you explore your surroundings. The controls are simple enough: WASD to move, combined with mouse for aiming/firing (obviously joypad controls trump this if you’re playing it on a console), and a couple of other keys (or buttons) for pick up/throw/open, use medikit and so on. You cannot jump, which means that you are often committed to an area once you’ve dropped down into it.
The main part of the game is in-between train rides, in which you are tasked with exploring various abandoned stations, filled with these monsters, and within each is hidden the four digit passcode to the next station. The challenge is mostly in ‘how to do this with so little ammo’, and also in dealing with the various different types of ‘zombies’ – some of them run and are fast, some wear protective armour, some explode when shot (hurting you, if they are too close), and so on. Your average monster is slow-moving and relatively easy to deal with in small numbers, but – as you progress – you begin to realise that they rarely appear in small numbers. Economy is the key to success, and after wasting ammo in earlier levels, you soon adjust to the fact that you need to kill as many of these blackened assailants with punches or thrown items as much as possible. Which can be tricky at times. And bloody difficult on occasion. Head shots count too, so good aiming is also an essential requirement.
In between stations you ride the train, along with any survivors you managed to pick up, and must fanny around (keeping the train running, crafting ammo and medikits, and feeding and healing the survivors), trying to keep your passengers alive until you reach your next destination. Each survivor rescued awards you bonuses in money and ammo, and also this is where many of the game’s achievements can be unlocked. Which – in some ways – is a bit of a pain, because it can be a distraction from the meat of the game, which is in exploring the stations themselves.
In spite of the choo choo train rides being a bit of a faff, The Final Station is an absorbing exploration killfest with an interesting storyline that unfurls itself slowly as you progress. Graphically, the game is quite lovely, and it features super smooth parallax scrolling (that’s layered, depth-induced scrolling to you) – especially the cars and floating newspapers that zoom past in the foreground, and trees and stuff that zip past when the train is moving. Animation is basic but very effective, and the backgrounds are detailed and well drawn, and which often feature items that can be interacted with. Sound is sparse, restricted to spot effects with next to no music in the game at all (although that’s not necessarily a bad thing).
As a lover of retro-looking modern games (Fez, Limbo, Retro City Rampage DX etc.) I have to say that The Last Station is up there with the best of them in terms of gameplay and looks. The side-scrolling pixel graphics really do look great to my eyes, and the simplistic nature of the gameplay is a boon rather than a hindrance. Playing The Last Station reminded me of an Amiga game in some respects, or an arcade classic from the 1980s, although that is a compliment rather than a criticism. And it’s a relatively short game too, but it does have decent replay value. You’re not guaranteed to see everything on your first playthrough, nor would you want to, because some doors (you will discover) are best left unopened if you want to save ammo.
Overall, The Final Station is a worthwhile purchase. It’s tense, challenging and – most importantly – fun to play, although I would maybe have liked a bit more ammo to play around with. That lack of ammunition is what creates the challenge I suppose. I wouldn’t really call the game ‘scary’ – more ‘fraught’ than anything, and the waypoint system is generous enough not to force you to backtrack too far if you’re killed. Which you will be. Often.