Train simulator and zombie-shooter The Final Station arrived on Nintendo Switch recently, and I’ve never been so close to hurling my precious console at a wall before stomping the life out of the Joy Cons once and for all. At least when I play games like this on Steam I can wheel around on my chair and get some distance, but the Switch consolidates all that impotent rage into an easily throwable object (Definitely not looking forward to the Dark Souls remaster). Even though my many deaths have embedded a Pavlovian response of anger every time I pick it up, I keep going back, and for a fairly simple looking title, it’s just that compelling.
It’s another apocalypse, and you’re just one tired-looking train driver with a peashooter of a pistol and lots of needy mouths to feed. But you have a unique advantage as you outrun the end of the world – an experimental train that hurtles from station to station. Each station needs a unique code to keep the journey moving forward, and so you’re forced to go up against the (presumably) undead horde, using your smarts to survive. Bold, careless play is rarely rewarded, and there will be several occasions where you’re trapped behind a wall of enemies with just two bullets. Every second counts – you can just run past most enemies, something I didn’t discover until embarrassingly late, but they will catch you, and when they do, that health bar goes down faster than an inappropriate prostitute joke. Even the most well-thought strategies can fall to pieces if you whiff a shot or hurl a chair at the wrong time, which results in some levels becoming a rehearsed sequence of quick thinking and careful movement. As hopeless as the game’s setting is, the relatively simple mechanics come together in a way that makes success feel inches away, which will keep you coming back after a laundry list of infuriating failures.
As you travel, you’ll pick up survivors, and it’s down to you whether you want to keep them alive by using vital food and medicine to collect a reward when they reach their destination, or let them die and loot the corpses for a more immediate source of supplies. Opting for the second approach lends the driver a sinister air as he agrees to help survivors, and it gave me flashbacks to the many hours lost on Rimworld taking in strays and converting slavers so I could literally wear them as a nice coat later on. If you want to get everyone to safety you’ll need to ration out resources and pay extra attention to the maintenance of the train, which sometimes feels like more hassle than it’s worth. It’s easier to take the murderous route, sticking stranded and desperate people in the back of your train only to neglect them, and you can justify it all by thinking I agreed to give them a ride, not to keep the buggers well-fed or keep an eye on that cough. Morals, eh? Who needs them.
Inbetween stations you’ll be running about twisting various knobs and valves on the train to keep it running. You can also open chats with other drivers which provide a trickle of insight into the calamity unfolding along the way, and these moments of calm nicely punctutate the aggravating struggles, breaking up the extremely linear path you take. Without these sections, even just as a glorified train simulation mini-game, The Final Station would be a straight-up slog, no matter how much you love cautiously probing through abandoned stops. That’s probably the game’s most obvious flaw, but it’s somewhat countered on Switch by the console’s pick up and play nature. It works much better in small doses and unlike other challenging games – Darkest Dungeon, for example – you really don’t need to sink too much time into it to make progress. It looks great in handheld mode, and it’s wonderful that the Switch has such a healthy, varied selection of indie titles which make it much more diverse than any previous Nintendo offering. The Final Station is exactly the kind of title we want to see more of on the platform – it’s becoming a fantastic portable indie machine.
Most of us are probably hardwired to run and gun when we start a 2D sidescroller. That was my initial approach to The Final Station, and, well… it didn’t work. Not at all. To succeed, you need to stop and think – never a strong suit – and ration out your resources. Ammo is incredibly rare and enemies are in abundance. If you want to get out alive, you have to treat each bullet as a last resort and improvise with the environment to get an opening. This means chucking anything not nailed down to give you enough breathing room to haul ass through a room and knowing the routes you need to take to avoid and escape any pursuers. Your only saving grace is that the dangerous enemies are also very stupid, and will only chase you on sight, allowing you to predict their actions to an extent and plan accordingly. It’s a tough but fair system – you’ll rarely feel cheated after dying, but the odds are most definitely stacked against you at every turn. The Final Station is not a game for everybody, but the people that do enjoy it are going to have a hell of a lot of fun picking their way through the world and its cryptic story.
- Finally, a game for people who want to maintain freight vehicles and kill zombies at the same time.
- Tough and a little overwhelming but every challenge can be overcome with sparing use of ammunition and liberal throwing of chairs.
- A great entry into the Switch’s indie pantheon that’s great for playing on the go – maybe avoid it on a train, though…
- A rare combination of strategy and on-the-fly improvisation.