The Final Station caught my eye at tinyBuild’s PAX West booth. Maybe it was the train, maybe it was the dark and moody artwork, or perhaps it was the super-creepy not-zombies chasing down the conductor, but it definitely called out to me. Despite that, I was soon bedazzled by the array of games at PAX, and I realized I’d probably never get around to playing it.
And yet, my thoughts kept returning to The Final Station. In defiance of the call of Overwatch, Battlefield 1, and even Civilization VI, I found myself loading it up. Once I started, I wasn’t able to put it down. It’s a rare game that I play to completion these days, and yes, The Final Station is not a long game, but it was worth every minute of my time.
The core gameplay of The Final Station is divided into two parts: managing your train as it travels between stations, and exploring around stations to find the departure code. Set in a side-scrolling view, controls on the PC are a WASD affair: use the keyboard to move and your mouse to punch, aim, and fire. While on the train, you’re essentially playing a number of minigames, trying to keep your train running and your passengers alive. Station exploration is a mix of twitch and tactical combat; you have the option to try to shoot everything that moves, but you can also use the environment, in the form of objects you can throw or detonate, to take out the infected.
There’s more to it, and the gameplay loop is very engaging, but it’s not the best part. The Final Station is rich with atmosphere. This is a game that has presence, that instills a sense of foreboding, mystery, and helplessness if you let it. Telling the story of an impending apocalypse, the details are filled in as you interact with the world. Passengers talking on your train share their confusion and fear. Messages left behind for loved ones convey their panic as they flee to the shelters. And some citizens will fill you in on the history that led the world to this point. While the apocalypse looms, the individual-scale tragedies are brought home in those notes and stories. This is all made starkly clear when, as the conductor, you have to make decisions on who lives and dies on your train.
My only complaint with the game is that I would have liked more clarity to the story. If you’re driven crazy by ambiguity in narrative, you may be frustrated by The Final Station. This wasn’t helped by the way the train mini-games are handled; while I wanted to pay attention to the evocative landscape as the train traveled, and to listen to the passengers, it proved difficult to do. Instead of watching the action, I was usually busy running from car to car, maintaining the various systems to keep the train running and the passengers alive. I quickly let those concerns go and pieced together what I could, enjoying the sense of the confusion surrounding the end of days.
As of this writing, Steam users have rated the game as “Very Positive”, but some people have been unhappy with the game’s duration. I personally think that hours of playtime is a poor measure for a game, but if your primary criteria for a game is to maximize time units per dollar, be advised that I completed The Final Station in five hours. While I did receive a review copy of the game, I would have been happy to have paid for it; it’s a game that resonated with me and has lingered in my mind for days after I completed it. In fact, I think it’s the perfect length to give a great experience without dragging on past the point of being engaging.
The Final Station packs rich atmosphere, engaging story, and rewarding gameplay into a tight package. You can pick it up on Steam for $15.