Final Run Review

The Mad Max series is one of my all-time favorite movie franchises, I must’ve read and re-read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road roughly a half dozen times, and I’m totally addicted to The Walking Dead on TV at the moment. So, with that in mind, I guess you could say it’s something of a no-brainer that I thoroughly enjoyed Rotor Games’ App Store debut, Final Run (out now, $3.99)  — a game that’s set against the backdrop of a grungy, post-apocalyptic wasteland overrun by zombies, and which puts the player in the boots of grizzled mercenary and behind the wheel of a tooled-up armored car for the road trip from hell.

The story centers around skilled wheelman Kurt Boltares and his ward Doctor Shizu Lee who rebel against their power crazed leader, “The Chief”, blow up a research lab, swipe some valuable data, and hightail it away from the containment area and into the ominously monikered “Gray Zone.” Lee’s research into the epidemic that all but wiped the human race off the face of the planet (and turned most of the remainder into highly contagious walkers) is the McGuffin that drives Final Run’s compelling plot forth; for nefarious reasons, Chief will stop at nothing to get his hands back on it and sics droves of his sadistic minions on our heroes.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that sounds like the set up for a high-octane action game chock-full of car chases, gun fights, and nonstop zombie slaughtering, but to label Final Run as such would actually be doing this surprisingly nuanced driving game/survival horror hybrid a disservice. Like all the best horror games, Final Run takes its sweet time setting up the plot, fleshing out its characters, and building up a bleak, oppressive atmosphere of desperation and desolation.

Players chomping at the bit for blood, guts, ‘n’ explosions may find the pace of the opening missions here — which place more of an emphasis on exploration and exposition than all-out action — a little languid, but the slow-burn storytelling and worldbuilding makes for a rich, immersive experience and, hey, when enemies do start coming out of the woodwork, it’s all the more thrilling!

The first adversaries you encounter in Final Run are the killer gangs of scavengers that roam the Gray Zone in souped-up vehicles, spoiling for a fight. During these tense face-offs, the game shifts gears rather dramatically and takes on the gritty, trashy spirit of titles like Twisted Metal and Vigilante 8. And, yes, this is as fun as it sounds! These breathtakingly cool bouts of vehicular combat provide a welcome change in tempo and are most definitely one of Final Run’s highlights.

Of course, as well as fending off attacks by rival drivers, you must also contend with hordes of shuffling walkers and indeed the airborne z-virus itself. In a rather neat move, the game’s zombie levels are all played against the clock as, get this — if you hang around in undead-infested territory too long, you’ll contract the disease by simply breathing the same tainted air as these festering mutants! Cue some challenging and pulse-racingly exciting sequences in which you’re challenged with driving and shooting your way out of dodge before Boltares and Lee snuff it.

You’ve probably already gathered as much, but over the course of Final Run’s 19 levels, Rotor Games do a bang-up job of keeping things unpredictable, exciting and well varied — one level might task you with cruising around a dilapidated military base searching for medical supplies, while the next has you frantically gunning down zombies or carefully maneuvering a stretch of highway rigged with explosives. Rotor even throw in a few exposive boss battles for good measure (hey, you didn’t honestly think The Chief was just gonna let this pair drive off into the sunset, did you?). In addition to the primary mission, each stage also boasts a bunch of optional secondary objectives which can be completed in order to unlock all the cars and guns on offer, so you’re guaranteed to get plenty of mileage out of this one.

As satisfyingly meaty as the game’s lengthy campaign is, I can’t help but think the developers perhaps missed a trick by not also including one or two high score-fueled, quick-fire bonus modes. An arena-based survival mode would be awesome and, while it’s probably a lot to ask from a modestly-manned indie outfit like Rotor Games, I can also see a Twisted Metal-esque multiplayer deathmatch mode working well here and being a massive hit with iOS gamers.

iFanzine Verdict: Final Run makes the zombie genre feel fresh again! A masterful blend of compelling plot, welldrawn characters, and incredibly intense and perfectly paced gameplay adds up to one of the most impressive indie debuts yet this year.