Review: 'The Final Station' (Switch)

Gameplay image from 'The Final Station'. Gameplay image from 'The Final Station'. TINYBUILD

The Final Station is yet another indie game that saw release on PC years ago, and is now being re-released on the incredibly popular Nintendo Switch. The Switch is building a reputation for being a haven for excellent indie games, and I'm happy to report that The Final Station is not an exception. This game offers simple but tense gameplay, paired with a cryptic story, impressive visuals and a haunting atmosphere.

This game puts you in the shoes of a train conductor in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic world. You and your train travel north, transporting supplies for the government, as well as rescuing survivors and bringing them to safety. You'll frequently run out of supplies to take care of these survivors, though, so you'll have to explore the ruined and abandoned world in order to keep them alive. The game has a deeper story and lore that is intentionally left vague, but you can slowly piece it together by finding text tidbits scattered throughout the world. It's pretty cool overall, even though I couldn't piece it together on my own.

The game is split into two distinct sections. Half of the game will be spent on the train, with whatever survivors you're currently transporting. Their hunger will steadily decrease, so you will sometimes need to keep them fed; injured survivors will need frequent medical attention as well. On top of that, there are the occasional problems with the train that you'll have to deal with, or else your passengers will get stressed out, compromising their health. Each survivor you safely transport to their destination will give you a reward, which can make later legs of the journey easier. As you're tending the train, you can also step into the passenger car to listen to your passengers talk with each other, which is always fun because they have some realistic and well-written interactions; you can also piece together a bit more of the story as you listen.

Whenever you're not on the train, you're out exploring some abandoned area, collecting supplies and fighting off the black sludge monsters that appear to have overtaken the world. The areas you explore can feel somewhat large and sprawling due to how they're laid out, though they ultimately end up pretty linear, running through a giant loop before taking you back to the start; this isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. Looking through additional rooms can net you more supplies, but you can also run into enemies, which can take a toll on your health, or force you to use some of your limited supply of bullets... unless you know how to avoid it.

Combat is one of the places where the game stumbles a bit. In theory, you have to decide when to fight enemies, risking damage by using melee attacks or using up valuable bullets, and when to abandon supplies and run away. In reality, however, most enemies can be very easily defeated by a combination of quick melee attacks and backstepping. Once you figure out the best way to defeat each enemy (which won't take long), the game becomes too easy. There are scattered instances with large amounts of enemies where you might end up dying, but death only sets you back to the previous checkpoint a few minutes ago. Since there are no real consequences for dying, it's easy to try encounters over and over again until you master them. After the first level, I never used a single medkit, which let me save them for the survivors. I would definitely have liked to see tougher enemies.

Exploration is fun enough, though. Most indoor areas are pitch black until you open a door and reveal the room, so you'll always be surprised by what you find the first time you play. In addition to enemies, you'll come across lots of supplies that can be used to help yourself or treat survivors. Most things you find are automatically turned into money, which can be spent at outposts, but you'll also find ammo, food, medkits, and crafting supplies. I never did find the crafting station (it's in the engine car of the train, as it turns out - I did not pay enough attention to the UI), but you can use some of the things you find to make medkits and ammunition. The game's UI does a great job of distinguishing between the various kinds of supplies you can pick up, so you always know what you have on hand.

It helps that the environments all look pretty great, too. The game is rendered in a pixel art style, with characters and enemies looking fairly low-resolution, but still clear enough to understand what you're looking at. While the foreground environments look a little better than that, the game's backgrounds can be absolutely beautiful at times. The combination of these various visual styles is a little strange, as sometimes the backgrounds seem out of place when combinde with foreground objects, but it's not a big deal. The game's sound design is fine, too; there's no voice acting and barely any muic, but sound effects are all crisp and satisfying.

The main game can be beaten in a few hours, and while there's only one ending, you can go back and play again to try and save everyone, or choose certain actions in the game differently. This version also includes the game's DLC add-on, The Only Traitor, which offers a slightly different game style. You play as a different character, traveling the countryside in a car instead of a train, taking on one passenger at a time that you can swap out whenever you like; each passenger has different attributes and abilities, which will have an effect on how well you can survive. Beyond that, the gameplay is mostly the same, but you do get some additional hints as to what's going on in the story of The Final Station. Overall, this package gives you a decent amount of playtime, even if you only play through it once.

While the game's lackluster difficulty makes the game a lot faster and less tense than I would have liked, I still ultimately enjoyed my time with this game. The controls are spot on, the world and story are intriguing, and after a bit of a slow start I was engrossed enough that I didn't want to play anything else until I was done. If you like survival games, The Final Station deserves a place in your Switch library.

Final score: 7.5 out of 10

A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of review.

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