by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
The Riding Dead
If you have watched a season of The Walking Dead, you will probably have experienced the kind of smoldering, just under the skin sensation of eeriness that you will also find in The Final Station. That is big praise for a small zombie game created and published by two dapper little companies called Do My Best Games and tinyBuild. And it deserves it, even if it is raising my blood pressure to dizzying heights from its hair-pulling difficulty.
Before I get into that, let me start with a less forgivable frustration: the game doesn’t explain itself very well. You are unceremoniously dropped into a level that your character is destined not to survive, which you do not know at the time. Just as you wonder what happened, you’re looking at a completely different level, without any warning or guidance whatsoever. The first time you pause the game by pressing escape is more helpful than anything you’ve done till then - the pause screen shows you the key bindings.
Fortunately most of the controls are fairly simple but any waste of the scarce resources in this game is an absolute crime. I wasted 2 chairs before I figured out that these make very efficient weapons, and I emptied a full six rounds into empty space to learn that you can’t actually shoot directly downwards. You’d not be wrong saying that I should have paid more attention, but then you’ve probably not played The Final Station yourself yet. Things go from tense to frantic in a heartbeat and I found myself suffering from near continuous twitchy fingers.
Yet that scarceness also means that learning to curb that gut instinct - shoot at whatever moves in your direction - is the first order of business. Every bullet, every shell, every box and every chair needs to hit its intended target. When you are out of projectiles, hand to hand is an option but usually a path to certain death unless you are fighting a lone walker. The question of “fight or flight” is a regular conundrum. Unassuming as it looks, this game is as tough as they come. Throughout it all, the story of the ‘visitation’ - an apocalyptic event that heralded the infection that turned people into zombies - is begging to be explained. I don’t want to give away too much, but you are seemingly mankind’s last and best hope of avoiding obliteration. Had you expected anything else?
It’s a bit much to ask from a simple train driver, but why not. You drive from station to station in an experimental train that has more than its fair share of flaws. It will absolutely not continue to run unless you fiddle with the electronics, balancing one thingamabob or another. Saying that, I realize it sounds nicely dynamic but it’s probably one of the game’s least thoughtful gameplay elements - there are several thingamabobs, but your job is pretty much the same no matter which one you’re tinkering with, all the while distracting you from what your passengers have to say or the conversations that pop up on the train’s radio.
Those passengers you pick passing through the game’s numerous stations. Well, pass through - each has a blocker which stops the train from progressing beyond. The blocker is operated using a four digit code which is hidden somewhere in the station. And, you guessed, finding it is no small feat. Moving through the level, you’ll be taking down scores of undead. Often you will feel like you are in way too deep but there is always a way out. If you die, you get sent back a few doors so you can try again. If you had ammo when you passed that door but fired in the meantime, you’ll get that back too so you can find a way to make it last that little bit longer.
If you got startled by a zombie that came crashing out of a closet the first time around, you may well find yourself hating him the 6th, 7th,... 15th time you’re passing by. Did I mention this game was tough? I’ve yet to reach that illustrious final station, but boy do I want to. It’s not for lack of trying, or even time. It’s just that I’m stuck at a point that I have yet to figure out how to get through. I would not be surprised if I actually hit a dead end, but I’m not giving up just yet. The Final Station is that kind of game.
If you don’t mind aging a couple of years from playing a game, then be sure to check this one out. You’ll fall in love, and then develop that love-hate kind of relationship with a game that has you talking about it for years to come.