The Final Station, a side-scrolling shooter set during a zombie apocalypse, bears plenty of similarities to other games that focus on the undead. The are, of course, hordes of undead waiting to pounce, darkened, abandoned areas to explore, and a distinct lack of weapons and ammo to make everything just a little challenging. The premise is familiar, save for your occupation: You’re an ordinary train conductor caught in the middle of a zombie outbreak. You coast around the remains of civilization, exploring infested locales in search of supplies and a means to progress down the tracks, all while zombies nip at your heels.
The Final Station primarily distinguishes itself from other zombie-killing games during combat, where action-focused scenes are almost puzzle-like in how you have to find the right strategy to overcome seemingly overwhelming odds with the limited tools you have at your disposal. The zombies you fight aren't pushovers; it only takes them three quick hits to put you down, and they love to attack in pairs. Enemies exhibit specific strengths and weaknesses: for example, you can easily tackle a slow, mid-sized zombie with melee attacks, but smaller, faster monsters require bullets to the head. Because of this, combat remains challenging throughout. You can find and purchase a few weapon upgrades, such as laser scopes, that make your dangerous trek a little more manageable. But to be an efficient and effective combatant, you have to think on your feet when a variety of creeps come your way.
During one of the earlier levels, with very little ammo on hand, I had to navigate a sewer containing six enemies. The first few attempts, I instantly wasted all of my ammo on three enemies and kept making a run for it, resulting in my immediate death at the hands of the group’s fastest monster. During my third attempt, I discovered a metal chair tucked away nearby in a hidden room that was deadly enough to decapitate two enemies at once. I used it, along with my shotgun, leaving one lone monster--easy enough to escape.
Pull back from combat, however, and the factors that make The Final Station a joy to play are lost behind the repetitious nature of the adventure; there's always a passcode to find in order to reach a new area, which yields an abandoned town to explore and a safe zone where you can catch your breath. These areas give you an opportunity to upgrade your arsenal and chat with other survivors, but the townsfolk you meet stop short of being truly interesting. Try as they might to draw you into the world with idle chitchat, their dialogue doesn't match the gravitas of the highly unusual circumstances they're dealing with. You quickly get the sense that the story’s just a means to an end.
In between missions, you're forced to take your train between towns, managing any survivors you may have saved during your journey so far. These rides are the dullest portions of the game. The train only has a few cars, and if you do manage to bring a few survivors on board, you’re tasked with feeding and healing them. But to do so, you only need to pick up a meal from a nearby dispenser and give it to the desired survivor. The train will also break down periodically, with the ventilation system and power often going out. Fixing these issues is simple--all you need to do is spam a few button presses. You're rewarded for every passenger that survives their journey to an intact city, making the rides a little bit bearable. But that’s not enough to make up for these mandatory, tedious treks.
Despite the weak connective tissue that ties it all together, The Final Station leaves a positive impression. There are numerous dark and dreamy settings to discover--crumbling, dimly lit caverns, old train tunnels, vividly snowy villages, and flooded towns filled with corpses and garbage floating in water--and almost every encounter forces you to develop and execute a viable strategy, lest you shoot from the hip and end up as zombie food when your ammo runs out. Zombie-based games are a dime a dozen, and while it may seem the theme has run its course, The Final Station is proof that there's life in the undead yet.