Friday, September 2, 2016

The Pipeline: Riding The Rails Of Hell In The Final Station

One conductor, one outbreak, one hope!

Posted By on September 2, 2016, 7:33 AM

It's a bold move to make your leading action hero a train conductor. Usually, they're the guys getting shot or ordered about in westerns while the real heroes are on the way. But if there's anything I've learned in my time of playing and reviewing titles from tinyBuild Games, it's to kick back and let them take me on whatever insane journey they decide to put me through. The latest game from this gang is The Final Station (released for PS4 and Steam on Aug. 30), an awesome action platformer with a slice of sci-fi and a dash of survival that will intrigue any gamer.

click to enlarge Next stop, Oblivion! - TINYBUILD GAMES
  • tinyBuild Games
  • Next stop, Oblivion!

In this game, you are a train conductor—and by the looks of your surroundings and the field reports you find along the way, not the best one on staff, either. You conduct a small Belus engine, with sections you have to monitor to keep the train going and operating smoothly, as you make your way from station to station picking up passengers and cargo. The story tells you that it's been 106 years since an event called the "First Visitation," and it appears the world you live in is about to go through the second. People all around you are starting to get sick and turn into creatures that are completely black with glowing eyes. It's your job throughout the game to pick up people and get them from place to place while visiting  cities and dealing with the situation at hand as the most unlikely hero possible.

click to enlarge The moonshine in this town is having the weirdest effect on everyone. - TINYBUILD GAMES
  • tinyBuild Games
  • The moonshine in this town is having the weirdest effect on everyone.

The Last Station has one of the creepiest vibes I've ever experienced in this style. The mood that you get as you progress grows ever grimmer, with the citizens and army panicking at every turn.  It becomes your job to keep them healthy and alive on the way to each destination with a combination of food and medical kits, earning money for each passenger you bring back alive. Each town gives you the option of exploring and picking up items for money and protection, but also comes with its own amount of hell, as you will increasingly run into the growing horde of creatures. Sadly for you, you need to stop at each town to find the access code to unlock your train from the station and ride the rails again. You can either load up on ammo and various guns along the way, or risk punching your way out, but there is no sneaky pacifist option. 

click to enlarge This looks like a place I can trust! - TINYBUILD GAMES
  • tinyBuild Games
  • This looks like a place I can trust!

The gameplay is pretty solid for what is essentially an 8-bit side-scroller. The interactions with people can be informative and funny, and the clashes with enemies will get your heart racing. Watching each town fall apart as you see the citizens taken over by what appears to be a disease makes you super-paranoid about what could happen next, whether to yourself or to the people you're trying to protect. The only part of the entire game that seems monotonous is the train upkeep. As you gain passengers and cars, you'll be given various systems where you have to monitor diagnostics and keep them in the green. As the game progresses, these panels become more intricate—and a bigger pain in the ass to manage—from spot to spot. There are moments where you'll be tempted just to let the train die and start from scratch rather than monitor another panel again.

click to enlarge I didn't realize I'd be monitoring a nuclear core on this ride. - TINYBUILD GAMES
  • tinyBuild Games
  • I didn't realize I'd be monitoring a nuclear core on this ride.

The subtlties to the game are what truly make it a standout: the music and tone as you get to each destination; the story that's hidden throughout your interactions and the items you find lying about; the hints as to what happened the first time around, and how it's slowly creeping into the life of this world you currently live in. But most of all, there's a sense of uncertainty—there's really no way for you to predict how things will go as you enter a new town, or what you'll encounter. Everything is partially based on what you accomplished in the previous city, as well as who and what you managed to bring with you to the next town. There are times you are tasked with bringing cargo that has an escort, and if the escort dies, you're stuck with that cargo and have to deal with the ramifications of it not getting where it needed to go. Those are some serious Butterfly Effect ramifications that will totally throw your game off and take you down a very different path than the one where everything is okay in the end. 

click to enlarge Well that certainly is a big rock. - TINYBUILD GAMES
  • tinyBuild Games
  • Well that certainly is a big rock.

The Last Station is  an ambitious concept that is well executed, and has very few flaws within. There are elements to the gameplay that almost everyone will have some problem with, as it meshes six different genres into one indie title, but a lot of it is easy to get over. This is a game that you need to buy for the story itself—and while it's a rarity to talk about how the gameplay is secondary in an indie title, it is so true here. If you dig suspenseful gameplay that isn't just made up of jump scares and panic moments, this will be your new favorite game.

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