Final Exam – Preview

Title   Final Exam
Developer  Mighty Rocket Studio
Publisher  Focus Home Interactive
Platform  Xbox 360 (XBLA), PS3 (PSN), PC (Steam)
Genre  2.5D Sidescrollig Beat-em-up
Release Date  November 8, 2013
Official Site

Even if it hasn’t been on your radar, there’s still a chance you may have heard whisperings about Final Exam. This will probably be due to the fact it was once called Obscure, and was a spin-off from a survival-horror series released a few years back, but recently had its name changed which, ironically, made the title slightly more obscure than before. But the change makes sense; Final Exam looks to be taking itself a lot less seriously than its spiritual predecessor.

Set in a school that’s just been the centre of a zombie outbreak, Final Exam sees you taking one of four high-school stereotypes and fighting your way through waves of zombies to survive. Each of the characters has their own strengths: the Jock can take more punishment and deals out more damage with melee, the Punk is more of an all-rounder, the Nerd is a dab hand with explosives and the Black Guy is best with… guns. As much as I can understand the “joke” behind making the characters stereotypes from high-school culture, giving the black kid a specialism in guns comes across as lazy racism and, to be frank, I’m not wholly comfortable with it.

Each character can be levelled up with XP earned playing through the game, which allows you to unlock new skills and abilities to beef up your characters. I got a rather detailed look at the Jock’s skill tree, who gains skills that allow him to deal explosive damage across a wide area, and can also earn Jock-specific skills such as charging forward, as one would in a football game. After unlocking skills, you can customise your character’s weapon loadout, with a bunch of different options for melee weapons and a handful of firearms available for every character. Ammo is relatively limited in the game, so choosing a good melee weapon is key, but there’s still a nice range of ranged weapons to appeal to those with an itchy trigger finger.

Finally, after customising my character, I dropped into a level, ready to kick some zombie arse. We were placed into a fairground, where our school bus driver was refusing to leave until we saved some of the smaller kids lurking around. Arrows pointed us the in the right direction, so I, playing as Black Guy, and my newly appointed best friend, taking control of the Jock, set off to save some lives. The controls were pretty standard fare for a side-scrolling shooter, although since ammo was limited we mainly stuck to melee attacks, which largely consisted of hammering the Square button until everything in the area died. It’s not a bad system, and there are plenty of abilities to use to keep things interesting, but you may want to reinforce your attack button to withstand the pounding it’s likely to take.

Finding the children wasn’t as simple as just running into them, as you also had to return them to the bus. Thankfully, you can pick up objects, such as small children and enemies, and run around with them to your heart’s content, or throw them at enemies to knock them back and do a bit of damage. I have to admit, I got a rather obscene amount of pleasure from throwing bratty kids into a zombie’s face, although I think that says more about me than the game itself. Some kids can’t be picked up either; one particularly fat child wouldn’t stop eating from a candy machine, so instead you have to pick up the machine and lure him back to the bus. Of course, you’re open to attack when you’ve got both hands full with a candy machine, so you’ll have to drop the machine from time to time, at which point the fat kid gorges himself on sweets until he vomits. Charming.

You won’t always be picking up fat kids, of course, as the next level charged us with finally escaping the fairground on foot, fighting off a huge number of monsters that were throwing themselves our way. The attacks were relentless, and health pickups were surprisingly limited, but revivals from your co-op partner are blissfully quick and restore some health, so my new friend and I were diving all over the place taking out creatures and saving each other. When the action starts to heat up, it is actually a pretty fun game to play with another person, if only because you have someone to scream “help!” at when you start running into trouble.

Uncomfortable racial stereotypes and an almost too silly sense of humour aside, Final Exam looks like it could be a decent multiplayer game for when you’ve got some friends round and want to try something new. The levelling system provides plenty of scope to improve your characters and make play even more chaotic, and there looked to be a nice mix of objectives available than simply bashing your way through hordes of enemies. We’ll have to see what the results are when it launches on PC, PlayStation Network and XBLA on November 8th.

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