You know what’s terrifying? Evolution.
While human beings don’t have the best life expectancy or the best resistance against diseases at this current point in time, that means there’s always time to think about the future of mankind, before we destroy ourselves due to some form of negligence. But that comes with the price of the unknown. While our bodies change in many ways that cannot be seen by the naked eye, there’s always the visual and physical repercussions. Developer Do My Best has thought about this as well, which is why he made The Final Station.
Today’s locomotive leisure comes to us from Do My Best Games, a Russian two man team as far as I’m aware, as knowledge of him is scarce and unknown. tinyBuild Games didn’t care one bit, and decided to publish the game, which was met with incredibly positive reception. With news that the DLC expansion, The Only Traitor, will be coming to consoles soon, what would be a better time than now to talk about it?
You are Locomo-Joe, a name I totally didn’t make up, a man with one goal in life, and that’s looking after trains. Upon your journey, you discover that the world you’re in is slightly off-kilter, with talk of a “Visitation” that happened a century ago which changed everything, from evolution, to production. Since then, humanity hasn’t quite been the same, and now there’s talk of a 2nd Visitation right around the corner. With that in mind, you’ve been tasked with sending an unknown package on a train, and this happens right as the world is about to end.
This is as well as I can explain it, as in reality, the story of The Final Station is denser than a collapsed star. For a two-man effort, there is an incredible amount of work put into the framing device and history of the world. But it never comes off as dense, since everything is explained to you over time in a quick, concise and non-overbearing fashion. It’s refreshing to see, and enjoyable to watch, albeit with one eye covered because the results are never that good.
Gameplay is in typical side-scrolling fashion, but with a more weighted feel to it. It’s clear from the get-go you can’t run in guns-blazing, likely due to the fact that you’re more likely to find a good episode of The Big Bang Theory than ammo, but because you are a man. A simple man, who is thrust into the wrong place at the wrong time, but we’ll get to that.
The main enemy of this game are black masses, or the Taken, as I like to call them. More threatening than their Destiny likeness, they can overwhelm you quickly if you make the wrong move, and are varied enough in the right ways so that you can retain the same playstyle. Your aiming with the right stick works wonderfully and the guns have a sound that hits harder than even most FPS titles can claim to boast.
The horror element to the gameplay coincides perfectly with it, as the soundtrack (a beautiful part of the game that I will explain in detail soon) takes a backseat, and you explore the desolated and ravaged towns in pure silence. The only sound being your footsteps and Locomo-Joe’s bated breath as he trawls through the cities, being chased by the Taken in this is horrific as you attempt to escape. Whether or not you get it however, depends on how quick on your heels you can be.
There’s always a hint of Silent Hill around the whole adventure, even before things get a tad freaky. The use of horror motifs and tropes seen before and done to death here, are muted in an approach that makes it seem effortless. Even when you’re on the train to the next destination, you start to wonder what’s coming up next. Will it be help? Salvation? Or, the most likely prospect, hordes of the next form of life?
Over time, the gameplay becomes less about side-scrolling, and more about your management skills. The goal remains the same, it’ll play a bigger part, as instead of just looking after yourself, there’s a train, survivors and supplies to think about. It’s merely a button press however, which is annoying since the game doesn’t have much to go on beside it, but it’s clear that Do My Best want to focus on much bigger things. Do I agree with that? Personally, no, as they’ve crafted everything else to a well done T, yet left the management in the dust.
Around half way through the story, it inexplicably turns into more of a walking simulator. Taken become more of a threat but there’s more options into how you can approach your objective, with environmental kills, stealth or simple kiting. Admittedly, the walking sim element was always there, as fluff text and conversations manage to build the world up with a consistent tone, with you and Locomo-Joe merely being spectators in other peoples lives.
[SPOILER ALERT: The next few paragraphs contain minor spoilers for The Final Station. If you do plan on purchasing this game in the future and would prefer for the experience to be un-tainted, please refrain from reading further.]
These are the best parts of The Final Station: where the gunfights stop and you take that time to relax before the next life-threatening situation. You realize you’re on the same wavelength as everyone else you meet. You’re not special, you don’t hold the cure, you’re just some guy. But as G-Man once said, “The right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world”.
Later on, you realize you weren’t as immune to this monstrosity as you once thought. Crawling through disaster zones where the Taken originated and festered, you are subject to the same symptoms shown by all previous victims. Clearly not a good sign, but Locomo-Joe still has a goal to go for which, whilst unknown to the player, you still have a sense of urgency to watch him attempt to complete it, no matter what.
As time goes on, the sequences are backed by a beautifully apocalyptic score, composed by Geoff Hart-Jones. Used only sparingly in the first half of the game, making an ethereal presence in streets filled with life, it slowly becomes more of a drone, white noise that creeps onto you without your permission or acceptance. It fits the game perfectly and definitely shows that Do My Best know what they’re doing.
Near the end, everything for Locomo-Joe falls apart, all the while the score becomes more haunting, more noise and nightmare-inducing. And as everything falls into place, it all ends in a cacophony of noise that abruptly stops, which is fitting. It’s clear that you were never the lead. You weren’t even a co-star. You were an extra, doing what everyone else was born to do. Survive and fail miserably.
In layman’s terms, The Final Station does a stellar job of executing the role of everyman surviving something much bigger than him, all the while making as few missteps as possible. Is it perfect? Of course not, the management mechanics are just annoying fluff, but then nothing in life is perfect. That’s the human element for you. Broken. Unfulfilled. Adapting. Waiting.
This review of The Final Station is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
A well-made début from a two-man team, with questionable design choices kept to a minimum scale.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.