In The Final Station you’re not someone with a foretold destiny and cosmic powers, but rather a regular conductor with a means of transporting people around a dying world; one of the last surviving trains. This means you can go from station to station, saving people to bring back to civilisation while uncovering the mystery of what happened to the world. But in the end you are human, just like everyone else. You are just trying to survive.
The Final Station is keen to remind you that you are surviving, just as much as everyone else is. Everything is scarce: heath, food and ammo are all things you need to look after. These supplies don’t only have to cover yourself, but also the passengers who you pick up along the way, all of whom you have to try and keep alive. The further you get however, the more you realise that you don’t have enough to go around. This creates a huge sense of despair as you look upon a room full of infected, your low health bar and your last reaming health kit. These shared resources mean that every one of your decisions plays a huge role. You have to decide who to heal and feed as you travel to your next destination, knowing full well that one greedy move to use a health kit on yourself could mean the death of a passenger in need.
Scavenging for resources, however, is not solely limited to the station and the surrounding area. With the code to the breakers being given near the start of the level, you have the choice to decide whether or not to push forward into hostile territory. Such brash decisions need to be carefully considered however, as you weight up trying to gather more supplies to help your passengers over the potential risk. As a result, the combat is a tense and calculated affair as you try and spare every possible bullet. Each bullet you use is one that you won’t have available to you later into the journey, and this you need to make sure that the ones you do use count as much as they can. You begin to grow fearful of the times where you frantically unload a clip into a crowd, knowing full well that each infected could be handled by a single, calculated shot.
There is a constant sense of ominous risk running throughout The Final Station; something that’s not only realised through the gameplay, but also the aesthetic. The game makes use of a muted 2D pixel-art perspective that fits perfectly with the bleak, depressing tone characterised by the unrelenting gameplay. Everything, from the vast detailed backgrounds to the silhouetted foreground flourishes make you feels as if you are peering into directly into a world where you shouldn’t, and truly are trespassing. The colour pallet looks and feels desolate, as though all the colour and life has been sucked from the world, leaving it utterly joyless, just like the infected.
The story in The Final Station isn’t simply dumped upon you like a sack of coal. Instead, it’s up to you to uncover it for yourself, primarily through the discovery of scraps of text you can find scrawled upon the walls of houses and offices littering the track-side. You can also discover additional narrative beats via the passengers themselves, who talk on the train between each station. All of these points mean that the storytelling in The Final Station feels very human. You are not an omniscient character who gets told everything, but instead just another survivor working on the train. You only catch snippets of the conversation as you try and keep people alive as their salvation becomes more important, forcing you to piece the together the narrative yourself. The story is there if you want to find it, but The Final Station is perfectly happy to withhold it, leaving it up to you to find out what’s truly going on.
As you come up to the first civilisation – which is where the current build ends – it becomes clear that the passengers have no idea what has happened, and are instead all blissfully unaware of what could be coming for them as they finally disembark. It is during these moments where you can buy much-needed supplies and interact with your passengers. Everything feels calm, and as much as you know what is out there, it feels nice to take a moment to try and tell yourself everything is actually going to be fine.
Even in this early preview build, The Final Station shows potential; with the eerie audio and aesthetic making the world feel ominous and threatening. The dialogue is currently placeholder, yet it still manages to present a captivating story and mystery that’s just waiting to be uncovered. The Final Station looks to have a huge amount of promise as the game develops, and it’ll be interesting to see how handles the crucial life and death choice in the long run. It’s just feels refreshing to play a game that doesn’t hand you everything on a plate, allowing you to act as a real human being for once. Thus, the feeling of you releasing the breakers on the station, with the loot in your arms and more snippets of the story in your head, become all the more gratifying.