PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox Live Arcade
Review based on Xbox Live Arcade version
|Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Mighty Rocket Studio
Release Date: November 5th, 2013
Well, to begin with, Final Exam takes on a pretty tried-by-true concept: A group of students are caught in what appears to be the zombie outbreak in their home town. While many creatures do come off like altered versions of what appears in the Left 4 Dead series, there’s a good deal of variety to them such as giant hornets and dog-like creatures that look like Lickers from Resident Evil 2, just without the exposed brain. You play as one of the four teens through a series of eight stages, all to find the source for the outbreak, and put a stop to it. Pretty simple, right? Well, it is, but it seems to take forever for it to even become remotely worth it.
Each stage is huge with various extensive objectives you need to complete before you can reach the end of the stage. Some of these involve protecting someone, finding items scattered across the stage to build something like a carnival float of death so you’re not hurt by the toxic waste laying around, to rounding up a bunch of kids trapped in an amusement park. Sometimes even these objectives have mini-objectives to complete them, such as putting on a mask and scaring a child back to the bus, or luring one of the boys into the bus with candy. If you think this doesn’t sound fun, well, you’re wrong, because it’s almost always less fun than that at first.
Each level can take up to thirty minutes if you just play straight through from start to finish. But, to get the most enjoyment out of it, or even make the objectives far less daunting, you need to upgrade your useless bare bones character. Each stage has additional weapons to find, and other collectables you need to grab in order to unlock skill points for better attacks and defensive moves, as well as character upgrade points which increase your health, ammo, attack power, and more. It sounds promising, but then there’s the unnecessarily large stage designs that makes finding these items an absolute grind, pushing each stage up to an hour, if not eighty, ninety minutes in length. Thankfully if you get these things for upgrades, later plays of the level are actually kind of fun, and other yield higher scores.
If that’s bad enough, there’s also the fact that most of the game has you staring at the same settings. You’ll spend more time dealing with the subway than you even want to, spanning across a couple different levels. There’s also the amusement park for a couple more stages, and your high school towards the end. Nearly all the secondary non-playable characters look the same as well, just with different colored clothes or overalls, which just makes staring at the same stage more than once all the more painful.
There’s also no music to help kill the actionless boredom of exploring for these insanely helpful trinkets. There are some audio tracks, but they are more ambient pieces for the still action cut-scenes, as well as background music to the title screen and lobbies. You do get some dialogue in the areas where there happens to be story, but this too is limited to the scenes right before the start of a stage. Other than that you have the suiting sound effects of the creatures, and the grunting and groaning that makes up most of the in-game dialogue or voice acting.
Instead of focusing on music or audio to set the atmosphere, the game focuses on being visually cartoonish and gritty. The game itself looks like a modern underground comic book come to life. The darker landscapes are often accentuated with sharper primary colors such as hues of blue or red, and the primary focus on yellows and greens to accentuate the mutants you have to go up against, as well as the serum responsible for their creation. The cut-scenes only push the comic idea more by being hand drawn panels that mostly have movement thanks to the motion of the camera.
Thankfully the controls are highly responsive, and rather natural to the gameplay. Gun fire is set to the right trigger, aiming to the right analog stick, throwing grenades to the right bumper, and the crucial dodge button is actually set to y, which is more a useful placement than you think. Using health pick ups will take some time to get use to, and if you walk away for a little while, chances are you’ll forget how to even do it. But the most annoying aspect is the simplest idea of climbing steps or a ladder, which is overly complicated. You can’t just go the Castlevania route of holding up near the stair case to go up a floor, or even in front of a ladder to climb. Instead, you have to jump and press b in order to use either one.
Of course, the tight controls really don’t mean anything until you get your character upgraded. When you do, things like dashing and pulling off combos, using your gun, and special attacks actually matter and help you keep your combo score alive, which is something you need to hit a certain score to unlock character point upgrades. By the time you’ll actually focus on complex controls of any kind, you’ll be looking at the fourth level, and hopefully with upgraded weapons like the butcher knife of the sledgehammer.
Playing co-op is a little more enjoyable, especially if playing with your friends. There is both drop-in and drop-out local and on-line gameplay, but the local co-op actually has a good deal of restrictions, making you and the other players stay within a certain distance to one another. But, when you take it on-line, you get to kill the silence through communication, go off exploring while others do the dirty work, or team up to take down a foe or stage you simply cannot beat on your own with an underdeveloped character. If you happen to jump in on someone’s game though, your score is saved, but you can’t play any later stages. Basically if you completed stage two in single player, and jumped to stage six with a co-op partner’s already in progress game, you still need to finish all those stages in single player to reach stage six again.
Finally there’s Time Trial Mode, which unlocks when you complete the game. Unlike the main story, there’s no difficulty option. It’s just wave after wave of mutants you need to take down for a high score before you die or the timer runs out. It’s rather basic, but it does get rid of the expansive levels, actually giving you a bit of a challenge going up against pack after pack, which is really where the fun is in this title.
Final Exam is essentially Left 4 Dead laced with Zombies Ate My Neighbors, but also throws mutants and hybrids into the mix. The story is rather dull and generic, the audio is nearly non-existent aside a few ambient pieces and decent voice acting, not to mention the stages are just obnoxious until you manage to get one of your characters up to the point where complex combos are just easier. Even if you get one completely upgraded, chances are you simply won’t have the patience to sit down and do it all over again with another character. While not unplayable, Final Exam is a bit rough to sit down with for long periods of time, even if fully upgraded. Thankfully the more time you invest, you will start to have some fun. Not a lot, just some.