Eight years ago when Microsoft kicked off this generation with the Xbox 360, the concept of downloadable arcade titles on a home console was nothing more than a vision. With the Xbox 360 came the Xbox Live Arcade and one addictive title that I still play to this day: Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. Sony and Nintendo followed suit, with their respective services and a digital generation from the comfort of the couch was born.
Along with downloadable titles, one other prominent trend that this generation can lay claim to (and hopefully move on from) is that of the zombie game. There are too many titles to list, and while some were great -- one even earning our game of the year for 2012 -- most were forgettable.
Well, as we wind down to Sony’s and Microsoft’s next console launches, and usher in another era of high-definition gaming, it’s only fitting that we begin to wrap up this generation with one more zombie game.
Final Exam (PC, PSN, XBLA [Reviewed]) Developer: Mighty Rocket Studio Publisher: Focus Home Interactive Released: November 5, (PC, PSN); November 8, 2013 (XBLA) MSRP: $9.99
Mighty Rocket Studio’s 2D beat em’ up, Final Exam, wants to fool you into thinking it’s not another game centered around a zombie outbreak. For starters, the ghastly crew of abominations plaguing the world are referred to as “monsters.” But one would be hard pressed to see them as any anything other than stylized versions of the zombies from the Left 4 Dead series, once the action breaks outs.
Being that this is a arcade game, it does not take long for the proverbial shit to hit the fan either. As a group of friends -- who would never in a million years actually hang out with each other -- head off to their high school reunion for some good old nostalgic times, the fun has to be put on hold when they, literally, come crashing into a horde of monsters. It's a simple set up, but then again this game is all about smashing and blasting anything dumb enough to get in your way.
On its surface Final Exam appears to be your run-of-the-mill side-scrolling brawler. There are four characters to choose from, each starting out with their own affinities to certain play styles (explosives, hand-to-hand combat, and guns) and a set of zombie-esque monsters to slay over the course of eight stages. Combat is pretty straight forward too with melee attacks regulated to one button and guns and explosives set to the right stick (for aiming) and shoulder buttons for firing. It’s fun, for what it’s worth, in short bursts, but over the course of the game, it begins to wear thin.
Mighty Rocket Studio aims to keep their title fresh; with basic RPG stat development, character skill trees, and environments that lend themselves to limited exploration for new weapons and collectables. Unfortunately, monotony sets in rather quick. Combat becomes the same combo strings over-and-over (regardless of melee weapon equipped) and ranged combat offers little variance.
Levels additionally flow the same each time. Environments are typically multi-floored to allow the freedom to go in any direction, and while this could have been used more cleverly -- possibly hiding alternative routes and other secrets -- it's unfortunately used to send players on fetch quests. One level you may be rescuing and carrying children to safety and the next collecting samples, but regardless of what you're doing it all blends together in the end. Really the only shining light to the game’s level design are the few throwbacks to other old school arcade game genres tossed in the mix. There’s a shmup style boss fight and something akin to Space Invaders tossed in, but they are too few and far between.
There is decent assortment of enemy fodder to to dismantle though, ranging from rampaging monsters to acid spitters, but by the end of the game you'll be quite sick of them. Enemies constantly come in swarms, and respawn over time, which causes any uniqueness they have to wear itself thin. What escalates the repetitiveness the most, and perhaps the game’s biggest shortcoming, is the reuse of environments. Nothing is worse than doing the same stuff on repeat in the same location.
Multiplayer does little to fix anything. Local play is limited to two-players, with online supporting four, but over time the enjoyment of playing with others teeters off into just more monster mashing. Upon completion a timed survival mode unlocks (kill as many enemies without dying in seven minutes) as well as a harder difficulty to try out. If you're truly a sadist this will be up your alley, since the best scores for the leader boards come from playing at the highest skill challenge.
I know I've painted a pretty grim picture of Final Exam, but I do want to state it’s not the worst of games. It does an admirable job bringing some modern systems into an old school brawler and at a more than affordable price. It controls well and the visuals are mildly entertaining with all the gooey giblets that are constantly flying around. It’s just a game you'll go through once and never go back to again.
Average - Like a meal of lukewarm water with white bread. It filled my time and my belly, but lacks any discernible flavor or nutritional value. A game that left me no different than it found me. Just passing through.
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