An intriguing beginning, superb ending, but highly repetitive and simplistic middle makes The Final Station a swing and a near miss as a survival horror gem. There’s some great ideas here, with its pixel art and colour palette proving some wonderful atmosphere, but its flaws outweigh a lot of the good in end.
You are a lone train conductor transporting equipment for the military, as well as survivors you find along the way, after an apocalyptic event begins. This is the second occurrence of this event, all told, with it originally occurring over a century ago. They call is the Visitation, suggesting some kind of alien menace; it results in possessed, zombie like humans lurking in buildings and on streets that mean to do the uninfected harm.
The experience is split between two sets of mechanics. On the train it’s your job to keep the bucket of bolts running, maintaining both the train itself and the equipment you’re carrying as well as keeping your passengers healthy and fed, otherwise they’ll die during the journey. When you arrive at each stop you must venture out into the world in order to find provisions to re-stock your health packs and food for the passengers, scavenge for materials to craft more bullets for your weapons, find any survivors and send them to the train, and primarily find a security code to allow you to carry on to the next station.
As you’re exploring these stops you’ll find NPCs with titbits of information to share about the world, as well as notes that paint a larger picture of the Visitation as well as shine a light on some of your personal concerns. But these stops are also full of the infected, coloured entirely in black, apart from their eyes, making them look like extras from Limbo. These foes come in a variety of predictable classes: the ordinary shambling sort, the faster scuttling sort, stronger and finally armoured. You can try to avoid them, shoot them with a small collection of weapons – although ammo is scarce – or punch them, either with your fists of the butt of your gun.
However, what seems like a threat to begin with is soon revealed to be a mere nuisance. The lack of information The Final Station gives you at the beginning builds a false sense of difficulty that lessens significant with a few trial and error mishaps. The enemies can largely be dealt with through melee attacks, with a couple merely needing finishing off with carefully aimed bullets to the head. Meanwhile, the locations are so linear it makes exploration routine; you’re unlikely to miss anything.
The med packs you collect can be used to heal yourself as well as your passengers, potentially providing an interesting shared resource to manage. However, once you’ve sussed out the combat you’ll find you won’t need very many at all for yourself. Food is purely for the passengers but it’s rare enough to put your patrons at risk of starvation, so managing it to keep everyone barely alive is a bit tricky and the most likely cause of any passenger deaths.
It’s an unfortunate discovery that the challenge is predicated entirely on the lack of a tutorial, however, the setting and story are still intriguing mysteries to be explored. Underground tunnels and structures have been built that give The Final Station a War of the Worlds feel. Meanwhile, the reveal of how the equipment you’re transporting will be used is exciting and cool. However, repetition does hurt the pacing a great deal. Stations begin to mostly look the same and you’ll find yourself willing each train journey to be the end of the current act in the story. It becomes dull and predictable; any fear the infected stirred originally is completely lost in the mid-game and exploring each station becomes a chore.
Then things spring to life in the final act. Mysteries thicken, twists and turns trigger your fascination, questions are answered and the ending itself is brilliant. It makes the whole journey worth it.
The Final Station is an interesting survival horror that starts strong with an intriguing, mysterious and frightening force to overcome, and some clever survival mechanics during the train journeys. The middle threatens to ruin the whole adventure, stripping the fear from the enemies, revealing exploration to be linear and overstaying its welcome to make it feel repetitious. But that ending is a return to form, capitalising on the narrative superbly. It’s worth the ticket price, but only barely.
Thanks to Xbox, tinyBuild and Iron Galaxy for supporting TiX