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The 1980s are remembered fondly by my generation for many reasons. First and foremost, it was our childhood and there was so much awesome during the period. We had Saturday morning cartoons, Saturday afternoon kung-fu and Godzilla marathons, Saturday Night’s Main Event, hell, Saturday was more awesome than it has ever been. We also had many awesomely (good and bad) movies about high school, monsters and guns. Above all that, we had the era of arcade games. They still exists in small pockets today, but nothing beat that time when we had good ol’ fashioned romps like Gauntlet, Ikari Warriors, Double Dragon, etc. Team up with your best buds (or the jerk that just walked up and dropped a quarter in) and just kill everything in sight. Those were the days and yes, I am showing my age, but I don’t care, home consoles and all their graphics and music still don’t provide the same experience as being in a noisy arcade after school or on a Saturday afternoon. Regardless of that sad truth, that does not mean that we should stop trying to relive those fantastically loud, seizure-inducing days. Thankfully, Focus Home Entertainment, by way of Mighty Rocket Studio is doing a bang up job of bringing us that old school experience via PC, PSN and XBLA. Ladies and gentlemen, get ready to take your Final Exam, and this time your friends are allowed to help you out.

 

You’d better ace this one or it’s all over!

 

IS THIS WHY THEY SAY “YOU CAN’T GO BACK?” On the night of the big reunion dance, four old high school buddies, Brutal Joe, Sean, Cassy and Nathan pack into a car together hoping to relive the good ol’ days. They enter the city limits of their old hometown and just as they come upon their old alma mater, the unthinkable happens. A giant creature stands in the road and Sean crashes the car trying to avoid it. As they quickly regain their senses, they realize that they aren’t in Kansas anymore (they weren’t there to start with). People are dead, injured or hiding all over the place and glowing green monsters of all shapes and sizes are to blame. Our four heroes know how to do two things when they are together: Party so hard you’ll call the national guard – and kick all forms of ass. Guess what you ugly, oozing, drooling monstrosities? you just ruined their party s o there is only one thing left for them to do. Final Exam lets you grab up to three friends in your home or online and fight for your right to party! Or was it….party for your right to fight? Who cares? Both were 80’s jams that would have played at the party these bastards ruined so show ‘em all the true meaning of payback!  FINAL EXAM! It’s time for an all-night cram session.

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OUT WITH THE OLD AND IN WITH THE . . . OLD-INSPIRED? Final Exam can be played by yourself, but it is intended to be enjoyed by several people at once. This 2.5D side scrolling beat and shoot ‘em up takes advantage of all that was good about co-op arcade games and tries its best to leave out all the bad. The balancing of both the characters and the monsters allows each player to enjoy the game their own way. If you like to stand and shoot, you can choose Sean or Cassy as their abilities give them an edge with firepower. If you like to blow stuff up then Nathan is your guy and if you just like to get in their and beat things to death then Brutal Joe is aptly named to handle your desires. Please note that only melee weapons and explosives have true stopping power. We learned the hard way that monsters keep coming at you when you shoot them. You are encouraged to keep moving by spawn points that will keep spewing monsters at random intervals. The only safe zones would be if you are alone and hit pause or if your partners stay by your side and guard you. Of course, the more players you have, the more monsters come after you. The resolution to this are increasingly more destructive weapons that you thankfully do not have to fight for. Food, on the other hand, the game will make you scramble for. You have one health power-up per life  and once you use it, you have no idea which monster kill will spawn the next one. This is where teamwork becomes important; if one of you is better at staying alive than the others, you should keep that person healthy as they can revive you an unlimited amount of times when you die. Between the horde attacks, mini and regular bosses and killer obstacles, I guarantee that you will die. Final Exam has an old school feel to it, but the overall game dynamic follows that of a much newer game: Left 4 Dead. You can (and should) stick together, but players can run ahead while others clean up. You can leave behind someone that is taking too long. The problem is that you might trigger a horde attack or just get stuck in a place with something you cannot handle alone. The odds of survival alone  during a combined tank and horde attack is about the number of copies of E.T. for the Atari 2600 any sane individual should have in their possession. Despite that, I am sure someone will manage to play through the hardest setting alone and beat it without dying eventually. This game was made for that type of lunatic as well. To facilitate said madness, the controls have been spaced out so that you are not fumbling around trying to find your weapon of choice. There are separate buttons for melee, firearms and explosives; things only get a little confused when trying to remember the controls for special attacks. Even that is only a matter of practice makes perfect, making Final Exam extremely easy for anyone to pick up and play.


UGLY NEVER LOOKED SO GOOD When you have a good HDTV, even a steaming turd looks good (yeah, that was disgusting, but it is true!). Fortunately, that was not a crack at the visuals of this game as Final Exam has excellent animation and an art style that fits the theme very well. Mighty Rocket was clearly going for a look that screamed “80s horror movie” and the only game of recent note that does that better than them is Lollipop Chainsaw. Then again, that was a sixty-dollar game when it released. Final Exam uses chainsaws and just about every other weapon any good or bad guy had in an 80s horror flick (sorry, no Freddy glove…yet) and lets you gloriously splatter your enemies on the screen. The backgrounds are painstakingly detailed to give you the feeling of walking around in the Walking Dead comic book. The animations remind me of a combination of Earthworm Jim and Team Fortress 2 and there has been no noticeable slowdown or glitching in the game. These are all positives that make Final Exam a great game to enjoy with friends. I would say the best co-op arcade experience that I could compare it to would be the ‘Splosion Man games.

Final Exam is like playing the less serious version of Left 4 Dead (because that was so serious) and what I mean is that this game is much more lighthearted. Teamwork is important, but unlike L4D, it is not a must. Players can have plenty of fun on their own whether they are actually alone or playing with friends and the game lets you work at your own pace as long as you keep your eyes open. Monsters will come at you continuously and they know how to climb ladders (even the jumpers and spitters). The unrelenting AI keep the game from being boring and having no “clear” areas keeps players on their toes with a decent difficulty. With new consoles coming out, I am sure that many want to save their funds for next-gen titles, so a good $10 game is a deal that cannot be beaten. I think we have established by now that I don’t care about making puns in this review so let it be known that Final Exam makes the grade and that you should let it graduate into your collection with flying colors.