Alice: Madness Returns is the much anticipated follow up (by me, anyway) to 2000’s PC/Mac game American McGee’s Alice – the dark and gritty telling of Alice’s post-Looking Glassadventures in what has now become a twisted version of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. The original game had Alice following an anorexic, pierced Cheshire Cat around a grotesque Wonderland, presumably due to Alice’s inclement insanity, slashing her way through the Red Queen’s guards amongst other familiar faces from Carroll’s universe with a bloody knife, and the sequel delivers more of the same.
“Ride like the wind”
The Final Station is the new adventure-hybrid title from developer, Do My Best (solid company name btw), and published by tinyBuild. Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front. Yes, there is train traveling through what appears to be the end of the world, but No, it is nothing like Snowpiercer. With that, we let the game stand on its own merits, of which there are many.
In The Final Station you play as a train conductor traveling through a world ravaged by plague and destruction. Along the way you stop at various stations in order to find supplies and rescue survivors. The game is played in a 2D perspective with a pixelated art style, but it does not feel hokey or forced.
The game is described as an hybrid because of the tempo of the game. The train sections are pure resource management; you maintain the train through a series of mini-game tasks, while also attending to the health of your passengers. It is here where you can also craft additional supplies for your adventure. The crafting system is light and really serves more to increase the complexity of time management on the train. Passengers also banter with one another and add details to the overall narrative.
Naturally, things are a bit more complex than they seem. Trying to keep everyone on the train alive, while fixing things, crafting, and responding to messages can become hectic at best. The first time around I actually missed a lot of the dialogue because I was focusing on the game’s various vigilance tasks.
Stepping off the train at each station puts you into a side-scrolling action shooter. You’ll quickly encounter stations with zombie-like humanoid creates. Armed with just a couple of weapons and medkits, your goal is to grab whatever you can, find the code that allows you to leave the station, and then get the hell out of dodge.
For the most part, all resources are scarce, and carry across the entire game. What will really test your mettle is the fact that the medkits you have are shared between you and your passengers. Keeping passengers alive rewards you with cash, ammo, and other goodies to keep you in the fight. So there is a real incentive to fight through each station using your wits rather than run-and-gun. The combat offers a satisfying challenge, and there are often multiple ways to fight, if you choose to fight at all!
The game also gives you very little direction about its rules, so there is also satisfaction in figuring out what you can do in the game (hint: throwing a toilet at a zombie never gets old). I think there’s also a misconception that the game is (or should be) rogue-like, but it isn’t; I found this aspect of the game to be refreshing in a time where many indie games lean toward it.
The linear structure of The Final Station lends itself to some very well crafted levels that have logical structures and rooms. The solid level design, in-turn, provides for an environmental narrative that unfolds within each station, and across the entire game. I will post no spoilers here, but things quickly go off the rails (see what I did there). If you liked the abstract nature of Inside’s narrative, I think you’ll find something to like in The Final Station as well. The minimal soundtrack is very good, however the game also makes great use of silence as a tension-builder throughout the experience.
And here’s the interesting thing. Although the game is not entirely long I feel like there is some replay value here in the form of multiple play styles.
My first playthrough was careful and calculated, I wanted to explore every corner of the game and unlock the achievements. However, it is quite difficult to follow the story while devising a strategy for a mob of zombies that minimizes ammo consumption and medkit use. There is enough to figure out on the first playthrough that your second should focus on story, and maybe just having a bit of fun finding different ways to dispatch enemies.
The fact that I immediately wanted to start a second playthrough after completing my first is a testament to the quality of this indie. This is also reflected in the gaming community at large with a very positive reception. The Last Station is a solid action-hybrid that makes a lot out of a little, and one that will leave you thinking after you put the controller down. Recommend for fans of dystopian narratives, tactical action, zombie shooters, achievement hunters, and train conductors.
Available now on Xbox One, PS4, and PC !
The Final Station was reviewed on Xbox One using a retail digital code provided by the publisher.