Developer: Mighty Rocket Studio
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: November 5th, 2013
Available On: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on the PC. There may be differences between versions.
Final Exam, a 4 player co-op 2.5d brawler, had exactly one thing that impressed me. It wasn’t the game’s combat system, its graphics and art style, or its story. No, the one thing that left me impressed with Final Exam is that it somehow managed to be more boring than actual final exams that I’ve taken in school. That’s an impressive feat, though obviously for all the wrong reasons.
Originally intended to be a reboot of the Obscure series, and possibly still one since the game was never really clear on that, Final Exam sees four characters returning to their high school for a class reunion. Only problem is that on the way their they run into a hoard of monsters. You play as either Brutal Joe, Cassy, Nathan, or Sean as they try to figure out what’s going on. The story is given out in animated cutscenes between levels, but it clearly feels like an after thought. For the most part it’s just there to crack a few jokes and get you from level to level, so you don’t have to worry about this much. That said, I think it works against Final Exam. While a similarly boring LocoCycle kept me going to see its funny story, Final Exam had no such reason to convince me to keep playing.
Each of the 8 stages (which took me about 30 – 45 minutes each) sees you having to meet certain objectives. Stages are surprisingly large and can be explored for hidden collectables like weapons for you to use, or soda cans that are useless unless you go out of your way to find all eight on each stage. Since Final Exam ties stat increases to finding collectables, it almost becomes mandatory to go out of your way to make sure you find enough to get an extra point to throw on your stats. If you don’t do this then you could find yourself not being up to snuff in the later levels. Objectives usually vary, though every stage seems to have at least one that requires you to travel to the four corners of it to collect objects to bring back to the middle. One stage is centered all around saving children from an abandoned amusement park, and is easily the worst stage because it just drags on and on. Even worse is when the next stage has you going through the exact same area but now you have to escape yourself. There are a few times where the game changes things up, letting you do things like pilot a heavily armed parade float, turning the game into a Space Invaders clone where you shoot baseballs at descending monsters, or assisting another character in a psychic battle against the school principal. I’m not really sure where that last one came from either. These moments usually show up once per level and have varying quality, but at least they break up the repetitive combat.
Speaking of combat, it’s basically broken into three things. Thrown weapons and ranged weapons work almost exactly as you’d expect. Both require the right stick to aim and then either the right trigger to shoot or the right bumper to throw a grenade or molotov. The meat of Final Exam is supposed to be in the melee combat. You use X to attack and Y to dodge, and can also use the left stick to add modifiers to your attacks that will either slam enemies into the ground or knock them into the air. You can also use special abilities by holding the left bumper and hitting any of the face buttons. I never really found any of my special abilities to be that interesting though, as two of them were just “knock everyone away” and the other two were special ammo types that basically did the same thing. I found myself using these skills to defeat monsters that often had little, if any, difference between them. Oh sure, some of them exploded if you got too close, others would back up and spit acid at you, and some flew and dropped bombs. Yet as soon as I got close to any of them a single uppercut would knock them into an endless combo that always ended with me hilariously sweeping the board clean of enemies. With the exception of a few big “juggernaut” styled enemies, there was no reason to ever change from the “uppercut and mash X” strategy that worked so well.
This would basically continue to define my time with Final Exam. I would travel from one uninteresting setting to another where I’d mash X until everything was dead and wander around trying to find collectables to boost my stats. Like the majority of co-op games it’s obviously more fun with friends. Up to four people can play Final Exam together either locally or through the internet. It helps break up the boring segments when you can just mess around with your friends, but it still doesn’t really make Final Exam a game that’s fun to play. It’s just one that’s fun to mock when you have friends around. Honestly, that’s something I think can be said about almost any game, so it doesn’t really say much for Final Exam.
When even co-op couldn’t save Final Exam from being a dull game, I knew it was time to call it quits. I feel like Obscure deserved better from this completely average, and completely boring, reboot. It’s one of those games that just fits into the category of being so average it’s just difficult to recommend for much of any reason. So I can’t. Final Exam is not a game I think you should play.