Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Review: Final Exam

Final Exam (2013)
Platform: Personal Computer (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, X-Box 360
Induction Date: 11/07/2013

The title of the game may not bring the best of memories to a lot of people but Final Exam is actually not that undesirable as one may associate it to be. It is a side-scrolling action game that begins with four long-time friends getting attacked by monsters on their to attend a party being held at the high school they attended together. The story doesn't make too much sense and what follows is pretty random and nonsensical but it also offers a convenient setup for the characters that you control which consist of familiar high school stereotypes.

On the ground and in the air, there are monsters everywhere.

The stage design of Final Exam is rather interesting for its genre because instead of the linear moving from the left to the right until the stage ends, the game features objectives that you have to complete and you are free to access the often huge layout of the entire area. A majority of these objectives are the fetch quest variety however where you have to look for things and sometimes you are even tasked to carry them to a location. There are a number of strange set pieces and objectives but these don't happen frequent enough. There are indicators that will direct you to your objectives so at least you won't feel lost doing them. Of course, there is a lot of monster-killing involved in all of the aforementioned activities and your characters are equipped with both melee and range attacks. Not only that, they also have access to explosives as well as four special abilities. Enemies spawn randomly as you run around the stage except during certain objectives where you have to clear the monsters out. There are also random horde attacks where you get a huge wave of enemies attacking you. Each stage can take quite a while to complete and there is a high degree of repetition in the game. Since character progression - the characters have access to a skill tree - is tied to completing the side objectives like reaching a certain score threshold and finding hidden items, there is a possibility that you would have repeat playing the stages after your first play-through.

Don't play with electricity.

I have to admit, this game is not all that exciting when I was neglecting its combo mechanics because at its core, Final Exam is a more of a score attack game. It is really all about scoring the highest possible points during your stage run. This is accomplished by raking up a high number of hit combos. The combo count builds up whenever you hit enemy and by turning off the automatic combo confirmation, you can pretty much wait until the combo count is crazy high before you enter the command to confirm the combo and get your score bonus. The thing is, whenever you are hit by an enemy, you lose your entire combo count and this can be maddening especially when your combo is into the hundreds and you are just too greedy for more. It's a high risk, high reward gameplay and due to its challenging nature, it is highly satisfying when you pull it off right but also very annoying when you don't. Still, it's the best aspect of the game and if you like climbing up the leaderboard, it's good enough to keep you playing the game.

Don't forget to confirm those combos!

Final Exam supports up to 2 players in local play and up to 4 players online. There are not a lot of people playing this game online on Steam but I was always able to join a group whenever I wanted my mulitplayer fix. The game is a lot more fun with other players and you can even split up to complete game objectives. You are able to select the same characters when playing with others. Though the 4 characters have distinct special abilities, they unfortunately all share a majority of the skill tree upgrades. The characters do have their own specialization when it comes to basic stats but a completely distinct individual skill tree would have ensured the player's interest in building up all of the four characters. Also, the special abilities take too long to charge up so they are there to be used mostly during moments of desperation. I would have liked to use them more often though because that would have pumped up the action a lot more.

It's all about the high score.

The one glaring problem in Final Exam is the lack of enemy varieties. The decision to limit the number of enemy types probably had something to do with the combo system because the player needs to be able to remember the enemies' attack patterns to properly dodge incoming attacks and keep the combo count high. Adding generic enemies that are only there as free kills and combo booster but then changing their looks between the stages would have helped the game. Worse still, you also fight the same bosses over and over again though the game changed up the scenarios involved in these encounters. Final Exam still manages to be a fun game, especially when played with others. The combo system offers a hidden challenge that can be both a point of obsession as well as frustration and that in itself surely deserves a passing grade.

RATING: 3 out of 5

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