Side scrolling hack n’ slash platformers and co-op adventures seem to be all the rage currently, and with Final Exam, developer Mighty Rocket Studios has handed in its best effort at the genre. Unfortunately Final Exam comes off as more of a mid-term rather than a comprehensive review.
In Final Exam, players will take control of one of four friends returning to their high school for an alumni party. The selection includes Brutal Joe the ”jock,” Sean the “handsome” one, Nathan the “geek,” and Cassy, a talented “street dancer,” and each have their own special moves, skill trees and preferences in weaponry. Along the way, the group runs into a giant monster which flips their car, causing them to crash. The players then follow the group as it fights towards Leafmore High School in the hopes that there will still be a social event going on even in the midst of a monster outbreak.
Players will battle their way through eight levels, but that number is a little disingenuous. The game really only offers three or four different locations, with the rest of the levels simply reusing the same layout but with a few additional rooms and a lighting change. These levels sometimes even reuse the same locations for missions by simply making the player pick up something where they might have smashed or delivered something before. There is the occasional gameplay variation, like a Space Invaders-type mini game, but these events are so short and spread out in comparison to the normal side scrolling combat that it’s almost not mentionable. Monsters also follow in this trend, having only a handful of different types which then get reused through a different color palette. These darker-colored monsters are only slightly smarter, occasionally blocking and requiring a few more hits to take down.
Combat at the start of the game is fairly simple. Melee attacks are restricted to one button with the option to use a gun or grenades if ammo is available. Later, melee combat expands to allow for combos and juggling, but only if the player decides to level up their character’s combat skills. This isn’t such a bad thing, but the game is really built around trying to obtain a high score. The only way to achieve higher scores is to utilize these combo moves and the maneuverability they provide. Gating these moves into a skill tree doesn’t feel like giving the player many options, and more like a way to force invested players to return to past levels in their aspirations of moving up the leaderboards.
The pursuit of score seems to cause Final Exam more harm than good. In a co-op game, although players are working together to achieve mission goals, they are also competing against each other for scores and resources. Each objective has points attached to it, so completing them earns a reward. This often causes players to ignore the needs of teammates to ensure that they will be the ones turning in the objective and receiving the points for it. Resources like medkits and ammo dropped from downed enemies has a piñata-like effect, causing players to immediately run towards it to claim it as their own. This unbalance leads to events such as a player with almost no health having zero access to a medkit while someone with a large amount of health hoarding plenty to use down the road. Downed players can be brought back to life by others, but death comes at a large hit to your points. It’s frustrating knowing that if you went it alone you wouldn’t be in the situation, since you would be able to get the resources to stay alive. Taking the adventure online might be a bit of a challenge though, since it appears not that many people are playing it. Over the course of this review (launch week), few players were online and only two or three times did I complete a level with a full group of four players. Two player local co-op is available, but cannot be taken online.
At the completion of the game few options are available for the player. A time attack mode is unlocked, challenging the players to stay alive for seven minutes against hordes of enemies to achieve a high score. Or a player can return to the main game to play through it again using a different character. Any leveling, collectibles or weapon unlocks found on different levels stays with the character in which you found/unlocked them with, so if you complete the game with full stats and all collectibles with Nathan, you start back at square one with Cassy.
Final Exam can be fun in small doses. Its horde smashing does offer a nice gameplay loop of constantly one-upping itself with the numbers and differing enemy groups, but repetitiveness sets in quickly. In school they teach you repetition is the quickest way to learn something, but it’s also what makes you want to quit studying.
This review is based on a code for Steam sent to SideQuesting by the publisher.