The Final Station isn’t what I thought it would be

And that’s a good thing

I don’t get a lot of time to play games these days, or write, or work on this website; life just gets in the way. But this week I managed to squeeze out some time to play a game I’ve had sitting in my Switch wishlist for some time: The Final Station. Let me tell you, I went into this game expecting a vastly different experience than the one I got, and I was pleasantly surprised.

The Final Station is a side-scrolling shooter with some train simulator elements tacked on. You play a train driver who is charged with delivering a special package in a world that is experiencing something called the ‘Second Visitation’. I mean, a zombie apocalypse by any other name…

Along the journey, you have to stop at various stations. At them your train is locked into place until you can find the code to release it again, forcing you to explore areas overrun with zombies. This is where I was surprised. I hadn’t done any research on The Final Station besides looking at the store page, so I went into the game expecting a neat little rogue-lite in an interesting world. What I found instead was a fairly linear side-scroller with some survival horror elements. To be honest, at first, I was disappointed. I’ve never really been a huge fan of side-scrollers and generally stay away from them, but The Final Station left me surprised. I found myself enjoying the challenge of making my way through the levels, trying to conserve ammo and find supplies, but also not being totally screwed if I ever made a mistake. Unlike in a roguelike, where death could and would end that particular run, The Final Station allows you to replay checkpoints and levels at your leisure. This took away quite a bit of the stress of each level and allowed me to play in a far riskier way than I would have otherwise. It was less about finding supplies to keep the survivors on the train alive and more about puzzling my way through each level to move onto the next. The premise of the trains is really just dressing for a fairly well-made side-scroller. This is where the issues arise.

The Final Station plays well. It features a variety of enemies that take different ways to kill. You have your standard zombies that take three shots to the body, or a single shot to the head to kill. You have your quick ones and your big ones and your armoured ones. All of them present their own dangers and challenges. The Final Station doesn’t lose points for its linearity, at least not for me. It loses points for the train sections. Most of the train ride is spent fixing a single broken part over and over again while watching your survivors food and health meters. Besides the fact that a different part of the train breaks down on each run, there’s no variety to it. It’s as though the developers had grander plans for the train sections but never really implemented them. To me, it makes more sense to have multiple parts of the train break during a train section to create a sense of panic and urgency, but it really just comes across as boring. And with the survivors, I get the feeling that I was just supposed to min-max their health and food to keep them alive. It would have been nice to have some hard choices to make instead. Do I save the scientist over the unemployed guy because one is better for our society or do I treat everyone as equals? I never really got to make those decisions because the situation never really came up and the only rewards for saving survivors was money and ammo. I think it would have been interesting to see that sort of thing play out instead.

Ultimately though, The Final Station is a good little side-scroller that I enjoyed. And to be honest, it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to play something long enough that I can review it, so hooray for that.

3.5 / 5

Secret in Story – Review

I enjoy games that come up with unique mechanics and attempt to blend story with gameplay in unique ways. There is a risk in experimenting with style that I admire in the indie scene and the game I’m looking at today is definitely taking that risk.

Secret in Story, developed by Luo Zhi En and published by Heroes Productions is a point and click visual novel, for lack of a better descriptor. It tells its story through pictures flashed at you and, following clues that the game gives you throughout, you must click the correct object to advance the story. This can be something as simple as clicking the alarm clock that is ringing, to remembering what the protagonist had been drawing a couple scenes earlier and clicking that.

Secret in Story uses sketchbook style drawings to convey its story, which is effective in conveying the succinct story it’s trying to tell. The piano that accompanies the game is a nice and calming, which is essential, because the game might have gotten infuriating otherwise.

The central mechanic of Secret in Story is the player having to click the right object in a time limit in order to advance the story. Often it takes multiple tries to get something right, and failure means you have to start again from the beginning. Ultimately Secret in Story is a memory game, and it has one jarring flaw, RNG. Parts of the game are randomised. There’s a pattern, I’m sure of it, but I didn’t care enough about the story to learn it. Often times I would resort to randomly clicking until something happened (this ups your click count and loses you some score at the end of the game, but in a narrative based game is the score really important?). One particular scene, where you have to find your phone hidden behind one of the many objects between two scenes that don’t give you much time to search was particularly frustrating. Randomising scenes doesn’t help anyone in a memory game and I found myself getting frustrated more than challenged.

As far as the story goes, it’s all told without dialogue, and that’s admirable. It tells a story about lost love (at least as far as I could tell), but it loses some of its edge because of the main mechanic. Because I had to focus so hard on what to click next, I often never paid attention to the picture as a whole, and thus missed chunks of story. With no real twists or turns I found myself not caring all that much about the characters and who they were and I kinda wish I did.

Ultimately Secret in Story is an enjoyable little game that will pass some time and won’t break the bank. The visuals are beautiful and the story, while nothing new, is conveyed effectively. Once you’ve finished the story you probably won’t want to go back, but considering its price, a one off go is just fine.