Trains and the end of the world seem to go together (think Metro, Snowpiercer or The Last Train) For a while this baffled me, but if you spend any length of time attempting to use the UK train network, it’s easy to see why so many people associate trains with the end of civilisation as we know it.
In The Final Station’s particular brand of catastrophe, something referred to as “The First Visitation” wreaked havoc on the globe around 100 years ago, and there are rumours that it might be happening again… Enter our hero, the eponymous mild mannered train driver. The last hope of humanity appears to be The Guardian, a hulking great robot that is currently under construction. You, as the driver, are tasked with delivering the final components across the seemingly doomed nation and to save the world from further devastation.
Gameplay is split into two distinct elements; onboard the train and exploring each of the destination cities on foot. On the train itself you need to keep the malfunctioning old machine working via a series of decidedly simplistic mini games. Whilst these are easy once you know what you are doing, there is no explanation offered, so you may find yourself wasting time mashing your controller trying to work out what this particular component’s gameplay mechanic is. This is a problem, because leaving things too long makes it very easy to kill your passengers – other survivors you find during the levels or military or scientific staff.
As well as keeping the train running during these segments, you also need to keep them alive by administering food or health kits as needed. However, supply of these is limited to what you find during the city levels themselves, or can craft using the crafting menu whilst on the train. The passengers talk amongst themselves while you are busying yourself with train maintenance, and this is how the majority of the plot is fleshed out. What’s frustrating about this is that the train is longer than one screen, meaning that you frequently miss dialogue in the process of keeping the passengers alive. When specific passengers arrive at their destination (often several stops away) you are rewarded with various items, and the level of reward can vary, which may mean that you have to make a choice between prioritising the health of those high value characters over the others.
The other portion of the game comprises of side-scrolling exploration of each of the towns on your route. The train network has a series of “blocker codes” at each transport node; you are unable to advance your train until you find the individual code for the blocker at the station you have just arrived at. This necessitates you exploring the town at which you’ve just arrived, but as the story progresses, it is clear that most of the towns have very few humans left alive. There are plenty of zombie-eque shadow beasts ready to leap out and kill you though.
As you advance through each level, and more variety in monster types is introduced, you will need to be quite tactical in your use of ammo (which is relatively scarce) and how you approach each room; some creatures can be meleed to death; others require hot lead, and some require a combination of the two. The aiming mechanic is incredibly irritating, as it is really imprecise and resulted in me wasting a ton of desperately needed ammo. The checkpoint system is fairly forgiving though, so you won’t have to back track hugely far if the worst should happen. During these exploration missions you also pick up medikits, food, ammo and, periodically, more survivors for the train. Once you reach the end of the level and find the blockers code, you then backtrack to the train, but there is normally an alternative route that you must take, filled with even more inky creatures.
I really enjoyed the two elements of the game; I’m a big fan of resource management type gameplay, but the train elements felt too shallow and repetitive (and caused me to miss a lot of the dialogue) and the on foot elements also got a tad samey in the latter portions of the game. However, the overall experience was enjoyably dystopian, with a suitable narrative ending to fit the theme.
The game takes around 5-6 hours to complete, though completionists, keen to save all of the survivors and nab all the trophies are bound to wring a few more out of it. The stark pixelated art style works really well, with a rich world being built rapidly as the train thunders along the track. While the game’s silent protagonist keeps the narrative mysterious. The music is stark and atmospheric adding to The Final Station’s bleak tone.
The Final Station has its issues, life on the rails can feel like a grind at times, thanks to repetitive gameplay and an awkward aiming system that makes defending yourself from the hordes of shadowy figures a pain. Despite this I would still recommend checking out The Final Station for its oppressive dystopian setting and intriguing narrative.