It’s a little hard to imagine what would actually come after a zombie apocalypse. Games and other forms of fiction very rarely approach the subject mainly because their aim is to show more of the terrible side of humanity that comes out during tense and positively hopeless situations. Max Brook’s World War Z touched upon how the world would be after said events via a series of short stories taking place in various points throughout the chaos, as humans eventually fought off and contained the threat, returning to somewhat ordinary living after a while.
Developer Do My Best Games’ The Final Station is the videogame answer to how society would try to build itself up after such events. In this case, men have somehow made it through what was called Visitation without knowing much about what happened. Safe to say that zombies were involved and that things got out of hand for a while. As society struggles to rebuild itself, you take the role of a train conductor during the imminent threat of another cataclysmic event, travelling from town to town picking up survivors all the while carrying a secret payload brought onto your train by the military.
The Final Station is played as a side-scrolling action adventure game. At each stop you make, you’re forced to step out of the train and search for a code that will allow you to continue on with your journey, as well as having to find supplies to keep going, such as food and health kits, not to mention ammo for your weapons. And you’ll be needing as many of these weapons as you can get your pixel art hands on, because the places you’ll be visiting aren’t safe and you don’t take a lot of damage before going down.
Zombies come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and require a little more strategy to take out than simply pointing a gun at them, mostly because bullets are extremely hard to come by, forcing you to be a little more creative when it comes to defending yourself. You’ll often run into items scattered throughout the levels that can help you defeat these monsters when they’re used at the right time, such as boxes and even red exploding barrels. This makes the combat more than simply pointing a gun and mowing down rows of monsters. Then again, it’s very easy to screw everything up and die, but thankfully this is a really quick game to just up and restart a level or pop back to a checkpoint.
But killing isn’t the only thing you’ll be doing along the way. You can also save any hiding survivors that you manage to find, as long as you have room on your train to carry them. The more of them you carry around, the harder it is to maintain them, but the more points and money you’ll accrue when you reach a safe point. Not all survivors are worth as much, though, so the further you get in the game, it can get more difficult to decide who you’ll give food or med kits to, in case you don’t stock up on them properly. Most of the times, though, if you have been thoroughly exploring levels, there’ll be barely enough to get by. And you’ll want to keep these people alive because they’re pretty big parts of The Final Station‘s way of delivering interesting bits of its plot.
The story itself is delivered via notes you’ll run across in levels, as well as through small dialog bits among your passengers and with fellow conductors via text messages. There’s also a lot of visual storytelling that goes on during the stretches of the game you’ll spend travelling between stops, as the train cruises through the tracks and pass through other stations, with some crazy shit going on in the background.
For a pixel art game, The Final Station‘s visuals do a better job in conveying a sense of decay and hopelessness than many AAA polygonal games. It’s incredibly difficult to tell if anything you’re doing will actually pay off by the end of The Final Station. It’s a constant sense of dread that had me wanting at the same time to commend and wring the writers’ and artists’ necks for.
There’s plenty of variety in terms of level design at every stop. Regardless of the location, you’ll always be after the code to unlock the train tracks, which is usually hidden somewhere, or gets delivered to you in case you’re at a safe zone. On action levels, enemies could pop up anywhere, and since there’s no indication of their presence when the level starts, every single door you open might be the conductor’s last. Then again, the monster locations are fixed, so once you figure out their locations, it’s a matter of avoiding or taking them out.
The Final Station also dabbles as a very limited management sim of sorts in the way it has you keeping tabs on your passengers. It’s quite simple, but effective in the way you’re encouraged to see if they’re healthy or hungry, all the while maintaining your train’s numerous gauges, such as air quality, lighting and such, which can wreck havoc of folks if they’re not taken care of right away. It’s easy to grow a little too paranoid at times, but I’ve found it way easier to keep a careful eye on and fiddling with these meters at the slightest change instead of letting them go off on their own.
It’s quite rewarding to make it through a particularly hairy set of stops with a full group of passengers, and in that regard The Final Station can be quite thrilling. Survivors are especially fickle and tend to die really easily, so it’s pretty satisfying to get to a safe zone, kick out as many of them possible before heading back out for more. Yeah, that’s a heartless way of conducting yourself, but time is money during the apocalypse and you have to keep rolling. The final station might just be around the corner.