Games

Indie Horror Month 2016: The Quiet Apocalypse of 'The Final Station'

The Final Station finds horror in silence.


The Final Station

Publisher: tinyBuild
Developer: Oleg Sergeev , Andrey Rumak , Do My Best
Platforms: PSN, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 2016-08-30
URL

When I saw Don't Breathe in theaters (which is a really good movie by the way, highly recommended), there was something wrong with the speaker on the right side of the screen. It rattled when there was a low tone, as if a screw had come loose, and the deep bass sounds shook the speaker against its supports. It wasn’t anything that really hurt the movie-going experience, but it did serve to highlight certain changes in the score.

Most of the music consisted of low drones, drawn out for such an extended period of time that I eventually ceased to notice them. They became part of the background noise, an artificial baseline for what sounds normal -- a fake silence. This made the scenes of actual silence stand out, since they "sounded" impossibly quiet.

The Final Station is a game that sees horror in all forms of silence. From the literal silence of sound to the abstract silence of answers, all of its horror and suspense is built around what's missing.

The game is in no rush to get to the action, and it uses its slow build to craft one of the quietest apocalypses I’ve ever seen. We play as a train operator in a futuristic world that suffered a major disaster 106 years ago, something called the First Visitation. But that doesn’t really matter on the morning that we wake up. It’s just another morning as far as our unnamed conductor is concerned.

We spend a good day traveling without incident. An engineer companion explains the basics of train maintenance, then we stop at a couple cities to go over the process of unlocking the blocker that keeps the train clamped down when not in use. We have to get a blocker code at every train stop (a bit of red tape that will become dangerous later on), but for now, it gives us a chance to explore the game's various cities, tracking down the guys in charge for our code. It’s a nice slow burn intro, showing us how the world works, how the trains work, and establishing a baseline of normalcy before stripping it away.

And boy does it get stripped away fast. At our first stop, we hear a single news story about communication problems with the west coast. It’s just a single narrative hint amidst a rather large amount of non-important information, just NPCs doing their jobs like they do every day. When we get back on the train, we get a message from a fellow operator about communication problems down south, but it’s written in such a casual manner that it comes across like a job related annoyance rather than anything disastrous.

As the train pulls away from the station and the passengers argue about alternate routes getting shut down, there are explosions in the distance, behind the mountains. That distance is important because it removes any impact of sound. We only see the explosions as bursts of light peeking out from behind the landscape. The world is now going to hell, but all we hear is the rumble of the train.

The next stop is an emergency military base, a compound of tents set up as the army was forced to retreat. We’re called to see the General, and on our way to the meeting, we pass through a medical tent where people are bleeding black liquid from their eyes and mouth. It's a disturbing image, even when it’s abstracted through the game's pixel art, but it’s made more disturbing by how painless it all seems. No one is screaming, no one is crying, and no one is fighting the doctors. People are infected and dying, but the scene is bizarrely calm. One man is sitting in the waiting room, bleeding from the eyes, and when you talk to him, all he says is: "It's not blood".

When we do meet the General, we’re conscripted into escorting some cargo. As we head back a new path opens up, a ladder down to the tunnels below, where things have already gone to hell. The profile side-scroller view works perfectly in this moment: At the same time we see the calm horror of the hospital above, we also see the silent death of the hospital below. Everything is broken and dark here, and just as we’re about a leave a black ghostly thing bursts out of a room to chase us up a ladder. It’s clear the infection is already here; it snuck in literally right under our noses, and it was so quiet no one noticed.

There’s no grand battle that ends this world, no dramatic fight with heroes and sacrifices and spectacle. This is a whimpering apocalypse.

Every subsequent stop that we make only reinforces the connection between silence and disaster. There’s no music narrating our search for the blocker code, just the sound effects of footsteps, slamming doors, and the thunderclap of our gunshots. Even the black creatures are weirdly silent. They group together like zombies, but they don’t moan or groan. They just run at you and attack without even so much as a grunt. The silence is dangerous for the world and for the player.

There is music in the game, however, but only on the train and at certain stops that show evidence of human life. We come to associate music with life and safety, to the point that the melancholic soundtrack sounds beautiful on the rare occasions that we hear it. But with most of the world dead, most of the world is quiet as well.

Then there’s the silence of answers. We never quite get a handle on what’s going on. Questions are certainly answered: What caused the infection? Why are some people spared? What is the Savior? These things are explained, but only briefly and never to our satisfaction. There’s an air of confusion surrounding everything that we do and that we see that feels purposeful. We’re not a hero scientist or military leader. We’re just a train conductor who gets roped into larger events because our train is the only one running when the world dies, an unlucky everyman who Forrest Gumps his way to survival. Answers and understanding are above our pay grade.

Sound and music are often used to frighten us in horror games. They’re used to create general tension, like in Don’t Breathe, or they’re used to score a cheap jump scare with a loud bang, but silence can be just as effective when used well. It does, after all, speak volumes.

The Final Station is available on Steam, PSN, and Xbox Live for $15.00.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image