Final Exam – PC
Developer: Mighty Rocket Studio
Publisher: Focus Home Entertainment
Release Date: November 5, 2013
Nerd Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Reviewed by Malefico
Here’s one for all you console fans out there, a good, old-fashioned side-scrolling action platformer done up PC-style. In Final Exam, four old friends are reunited and on their way to their high-school reunion. The night of celebration goes terribly awry when they pass through a deserted town which has been overrun by hostile, hideous creatures bent on human destruction. Sounds like a video game premise to me.
Final Exam offers a single-player local and online co-op multiplayer mode. Starting with this review I’ll use Fraps, a graphics measurement and benchmarking tool to show real-time frame rates in-game, so we’ll have a better idea of how graphics quality is in low-end systems for the games I review. In the case of Final Exam, in-game frame rates were excellent with low graphics settings and FPS only dipped under 30 briefly during cut scenes. For those interested in Final Exam, it’s also going to be available on XBox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network.
For those familiar with the genre, Final Exam game controls are typical and quickly mastered. Rather than break all the various controls down, I’ve included a number of the game’s tutorial screen shots showing movement, basic and advanced attacks, and the use of various items. Movement and certain advanced attacks and dodges are accomplished using W,A,S, and D.
Players can run using Shift, and jump using the Space bar. Left-clicking the mouse launches melee attacks, while right-clicking fires a ranged weapon or tosses an explosive. Guns and bombs are aimed using a targeting reticle that’s controlled by mouse movement. Monsters can be picked up and thrown using the reticle to determine where they will land.
I found it a bit awkward to go from simple melee attacks to shooting/throwing mobs, and I often wasted shots or tossed a monster directly at my feet. In a multiplayer game, with each character using their own specialties, this would likely be less of an issue. The game supports keyboard/mouse and USB controllers on PC.
There are four avatars offered in the game. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages:
Brutal Joe is the basic melee slugger of the group. Hardy and strong, he excels in dealing damage up-close with a variety of hand-to-hand attacks.
Nathan is the brain of the group. He excels at technical wizardry and has a strong resilience to pain.
Cassy is the balanced battler of the bunch, with equal melee, ranged and explosives skill at the outset.
Sean is the group’s gun nut. Although he is able to melee, he prefers to engage enemies from a distance.
The Bottom Line
Final Exam combines a cartoonish art style with a gritty element that makes the game jump off the screen. Art is well-done and makes for an effective atmosphere. The game environment is well-rendered, with good use of light and shadow in the ruins of the town. On-screen animations are smooth and detailed. When a bad guy is successfully dispatched, bloody parts scatter into the air, and even the monster’s eyes pop free and fly. The game includes different animations for beating, burning and blowing up mobs, which makes for a dynamic experience.
The developers make good use of lighting effects, creating a dark, dimly-lit world and adding to the tension of wondering where the next bad guys will appear. The oncoming packs are thrown into shadow as they pass between the flickering overhead lights, and in darker areas become nothing more than menacing silhouettes.
And the game is frugal with system resources. At no time during my review of the game did frame rates drop out of the 70’s, showing that even on ultra-low end systems like the POS the game is eminently playable. FPS only showed below 30 during cut scenes, when it really doesn’t matter (at least to me). Also, as a tribute to how good this game would look on my real system, all the graphics were on their lowest settings, with no AA.
Because even basic enemies require multiple hits before dying, the action quickly becomes fast and furious as roving packs of monsters come at you en masse. The game offers a good variety of villains to beat on but can be slow introducing new types (for my taste).
I only played single player for purposes of this review and found that the game basically added a new type with each mission completed. For me, this was a bit slow as I found pounding the same type of mob repeatedly to detract from the overall quality of the game. However, the game does a good job of mixing groups of various types together and having them present in increasing number definitely ratchets up the difficulty. In the early levels I found the interval between attacks to be a bit much; you can literally run across several screens worth of terrain before you encounter more monsters. Since individual missions can be completed quickly, the slow pace of mob introductions is an annoyance rather than a serious flaw.
Noticeably lacking in this game are mini-bosses. Although the game does introduce some tougher mobs, true bosses are reserved for the end of levels after the player has completed a number of missions. I’m not going to detail boss fights here, but suffice it to say even the first will require a fair amount of skill.
Levels are well designed, requiring players to ascend and descend staircases and ladders in order to reach new areas, and otherwise adding variety to the game. The developers did a good job avoiding a pitfall common in this genre, which can reduce levels to uninteresting, bland treks across flat terrain. Side missions like disabling alarms to unlock doors also keep the levels interesting and help break up what could be a monotonous massacre.
The soundtrack is aggressive and provides a rock-n-roll background for the on-screen mayhem. Edgy and grungy, it definitely adds to the atmosphere and gets you pumped up to beat on the creeps who have destroyed the town and threatened you and your friends. Sound effects are a bit repetitive, with players uttering no more than three different grunts and shouts as they attack. Likewise, monster sound effects are rather limited, but each type does offer its own set of snarls and growls.
Final Exam is a fun way to pass some time without having to become a video game disciple. It offers good level design and graphics in a co-op experience that lets players pick the avatar that’s right for them. Like any platformer, you can pick it up and put it down at will, making it a decent choice for blowing off steam when you can’t or don’t to want to spend hours playing a video game. The developers have created a visually interesting and stimulating world where players can bash evil together in a fun, fast-paced experience that includes a good soundtrack.
It has its flaws. Controls that are a bit awkward, questionable intervals between attacks, relatively slow introductions of new monsters and the lack of mini-bosses took away from my enjoyment of the game. I also found the combat to be a bit repetitive. However, I did have fun playing and would recommend it, especially to fans of the genre, as a worthwhile diversion. It’s difficult to niggle at quality issues when the game is so cheap. Newly released this month, it’s available on Steam as a free demo, with the full game for $10. Or, you can spend $30 to get four product keys so you and your friends can get together online and go monster hunting.
Though not a perfect game, it’s definitely worth a look. Final Exam is overall very well-done and would be worth the price of admission even if it didn’t offer the online co-op experience. I took away some points for the issues mentioned above, but had to add back for the inexpensive nature of the software.
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