Review

Final Exam

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Final Exam is a 2.5D side-scrolling shooter / beat ‘em up developed by Mighty Rocket Studio. The game features co-operative play for up to four players with RPG-type elements, and given that it is a loosely-related reboot of the ObsCure franchise, is a mix of teen horror meets alien invasion.

What You Need to Know

Four high school buddies make their way back to their Alma Mater, Leafmore High, for the mother of all parties at their high school reunion only to find the small town has been invaded by a horde of hideously hungry monsters hell-bent on decimating the town and its inhabitants. Trapped in the heart of this nightmarish disaster, our protagonists Brutal Joe, Cassy, Nathan and Sean must fight their way out and save as many survivors along the way as they can. Maybe they will even get to the bottom of this horror and find a way to stop it?



What’s New?

Final Exam is a mix of side-scrolling beat ‘em up brawling and frantic RPG-type quest-running. The game is not entirely two-dimensional in the sense that players can navigate in a ‘half-Z dimension’ to traverse various levels in the environment. The tone of the game is a combination of classic teen horror and morbidly dark comic violence.

Unlike other RPG platformers, characters will not automatically level-up in between levels, and players must seek out hidden objects within each level to unlock enough character rewards to upgrade their character’s attributes. The teen-themed small-American-home-town-gets-overrun-by-ferocious-beasties genre hasn’t really been covered much before and it’s a welcome change to the typical fantasy settings we’re accustomed to.

Unlike most platformers, Final Exam will require players to backtrack quite often along old paths to retrieve certain items or go through previously locked areas. Performing attack combos gains more rewards but you have to know when to bank your combos because anyone taking a hit will disrupt your combo build-up and remove all your hard-earned points.

What’s the Same?

As with most side-scrolling beat ‘em ups there’s the usual overrun of monsters and the classic hack-and-slash mechanic as in games like Castle Crashers or Vampire Smile.

There’s a choice of four characters to play, each of whom have specialised roles in the team: You have the high school quarterback (Tank), the trendy street dancer (jack-of-all-trades), the tech nerd (explosives and support), and the dark and brooding rebel (firearms, long distance).

Level variations bring with them a wide variety of level objectives including rescuing survivors, carrying objects, flipping switches and engaging in vehicle battles, again much like Castle Crashers and also Charlie Murder.

You’ll Enjoy Final Exam If You Liked…

… Castle Crashers – while it has a different thematic style, it’s a lot like Castle Crashers in terms of its non-stop action and easy pick-up-and-play approach, and the overall experience is just as fun.

… Charlie Murder / Dishwasher series – the mix of close-quarters combat and long-range firearm combat coupled with the overwhelming (and recurring) onslaught of monsters feels a lot like the Charlie Murder / Dishwasher series.

… Maniac Mansion – strangely enough, although the two games have nothing in common in terms of gameplay or genre, and given that Final Exam is an ObsCure reboot, the teen hero theme of Final Exam sits very nicely with the Maniac Mansion plot. When you consider that each character with their unique abilities in Final Exam can be matched up to specific characters in Maniac Mansion, they certainly have a very strong spiritual connection and if you enjoy the idea of teen heroes battling an evil genius to save the planet, you will enjoy Final Exam.

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What I Liked

- 5.) Four unique characters each with their own strengths and limitations and the challenge of unlocking character attribute upgrades in each level (there’s no such thing as a free ride in this game – you have to find a set of upgrade icons before you are rewarded at the end of the level with a level-up).

- 4.) The vehicle mini-games are entertaining and well placed within the bigger scheme of the game to always keep the action fresh and dynamic. I especially enjoyed the modified float ride with flamethrower, miniguns, and rocket launcher that required us to hop from point to point to defeat the enemy waves.

- 3.) The game is designed for co-op. You can either split your team up to achieve objectives more quickly or you can stick together to improve your chances for survival. The objectives scream for co-op whether you’re simply covering your team-mates while they reload or diligently protecting them while they are carrying a box of nitro to your next objective.

- 2.) The idea of a combo meter that you can manually bank when you want to adds a subliminal strategic element to the game. If any one of your team is hit during the game, anything in your combo meter is reset so it’s important to work together to protect one another while at the same time knowing at just what moment to bank to ensure you don’t lose anything, while always trying to maximise your reward by building up the meter for as long as possible.

- 1.) The level of detail in the game is remarkable. The graphics carry a polished comic style to them and the entire aesthetic of Final Exam is visually appealing. The music is entertaining and appropriate for the situation that you find yourself in; always changing, always frantic, it adds a strong mood to the teen horror undertones of the game.

Favourite Moment

One of the later levels of the game is set in an infested theme park called ‘Splashy World’ where a school bus has broken down and the school kids have run amok in the park. It’s your job to find the kids and bring them back to the bus. Easy enough for some of the kids who are oblivious to the dangers lurking in the park (they think it’s all part of the show) but others are more reluctant to move.

One kid has to be coaxed with candy but if you leave him to eat too much he ends up vomiting all over the place and the monsters have a hard time getting through. Another little girl has dressed up a monster and is innocently chasing her life-size doll around the park. To get her to leave with you, you first have to kill the monster and then forcefully carry the inconsolable temper-tantrum girl over your shoulders back to the bus. Such acute attention to detail and an ironic twist of humour in the midst of a grand tale of destruction!

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What I Didn’t Like

- 2.) Although the game supports four player co-op and two player local co-op, there’s no option to play split-screen online co-op so it’s either one copy for two players, or four copies for four players online. I can’t understand what would have been so difficult to allow four player co-op on one console, or to allow split-screen online co-op. Such a disappointment, especially with the game throwing so many reminders to you that it is meant to be played with four players.

- 1.) Although it fits well with the theme of a monstrous overrun, there is no respite from the monsters in Final Exam. Monsters will continue to respawn over time no matter where you are or what you’ve done and it quickly becomes a frustrating nuisance having to pause to fight every few steps. It really breaks the flow of the game.

Least Favourite Realisation

The publishers very kindly provided two review keys for the game so I could test it in co-op (which it is clearly meant to be). Having played the local split-screen for starters, I invited a friend online to join us and we discovered that the local split-screen option is not available in online mode so even with two keys we can’t get more than two players. Very disappointing to learn that four player co-op is very unreachable without four consoles.



What’s Extra?

There’s a leaderboard to compare your level scores, and if you complete the game you unlock Time Attack Mode and harder difficulties. In Time Attack Mode you have seven minutes to get the highest score possible. This is best performed with a variety of attacks in order to rack up a really high combo. Likewise, higher difficulties increase the point value of the combo system but at the expense of tougher, more powerful enemies.

The Bottom Line

Final Exam is a fantastic amount of fun. Reviving the teen hero motif in the side-scrolling beat ‘em up genre and presenting players with a grand co-op experience, Final Exam is going to keep brawler fans happy for all of the eight hours or so that the game offers. Just such a pity it can’t be played by four people without four copies.


Final Exam was reviewed on the Xbox 360 via Xbox LIVE Arcade


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