The Final Station is a unique, engrossing horror-adventure

At first glance, The Final Station looks a bit worn. It appears to be a sort of pixel art side-scroller zombie apocalypse-a-palooza, so, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ve seen something like this a few dozen times. But there’s a freshness to its approach to story — and its commitment to keeping you engaged with its world — that’s well worth sticking around for.

Sure, it has some zombie shooting — and that will be a part of the package — and yup, we’re dealing with end-of-the-world subject matter, but it’s all done with a bit more substance and sadness than all that. Everything that happens in this game, from hunting down codes to keeping your run-down train on track to, yup, shooting the probably-undead is in service of a mood and a story.

You see, this is much more an adventure game than an action game, despite the way it looks and controls. You play as a little train conductor who runs one of the last remaining trains for the last bastions of the human race, after something called “the visitation” happened.

Right away, I was intrigued by this sparse, weird little world. There’s something special about good pixel art — particularly pixel art that isn’t directly trying to call back to the bouncy 8-bit era, but instead, uses its own rough edges to evoke, rather than illustrate — that I appreciate. It’s used to excellent effect here, enticing me to explore every inch of its spare, lonely, and eventually creepy locations.

You start out by going to run-down towns, collecting passengers, and keeping them alive as you truck on. On your train itself, you need to manage several systems — as well as your passengers’ health.

It doesn’t take long for things to go from bad to worse, and in one of the first towns you happen upon, a strange sickness has arrived and military rule isn’t far behind. Uh-oh.

Yeah, you’ve played this story before, but not necessarily from this point of view. And The Final Station keeps things moving so well — and always offers you interesting things to do, in every scene — that I never tired of searching every last nook and cranny of the stages.

This is a horror game I didn’t even know I wanted. It captures something powerful — a longing, a desperation — that only the best examples of the genre can hint at.