Final Exam is a deeply derivative game, but thatâ€™s not entirely a bad thing. Every sequel is derivative of the last, thatâ€™s exactly why they sell so well.Â Itâ€™s part Streets of Rage, part Castlevania; there is some exploration and collecting to do, but the emphasis is squarely on smashing the bums off (mostly) green monsters. Motion comic cut scenes set the scene for a bunch of stereotypical American teenagers stuck in an apocalyptic monster outbreak; itâ€™s reasonably atmospheric whilst staying tongue in cheek in a mildly pleasing way, but thereâ€™s something missing. Actually nothing really is missing, itâ€™s all there, collectibles, looting, upgrades, new weapons and moves, itâ€™s more that thereâ€™s not enough of any of it. If the game excels at anything itâ€™s rationing. It ekes out the content over its 3-4 hour campaign so well that it almost covers the cracks, but not quite.
As you move through the game it does do a nice job of changing the form of a few battles and refreshing what might have become boring, but only to the extent that it resembles a different well-worn genre. In fact there is even a space invaders section, and one thatâ€™s ripped straight out of R-Type. Itâ€™s still a plus, itâ€™s all nostalgia, but it lacks the comic edge of Deathspank, or the finesse of the originals. So what you have in the end is a buffet of old favourites served up in a new skin thatâ€™s not displeasing but not delightful either. It relies mainly on its core to stay compelling.
And the core of any 2D brawler is the combat, and (coincidentally) it doesnâ€™t exactly disappoint. But neither does it enthral. Whatâ€™s clear is that youâ€™re meant to play the game through more than once, because by the time youâ€™ve gained enough weaponry and moves to really mix it up and keep it interesting, youâ€™re at the endgame, and getting big combo scores is all part of the progression toward becoming a great big badass super monster smashing machine. Thereâ€™s a nice feature that allows you to bank your combo whenever you want in case you get hit and it resets, and it does give you an incentive to mix up your monster smashing and unlock new moves. Whatâ€™s also clear is that this is a game made for coop play, and it works well, but some decisions seem off on that count too. You never score as highly in multiplayer, so progression is slower, and also, itâ€™s considerably easier. Playing in an online match allowed me to burn through the opening levels in no time at all, but I got 1 third of the points. It unbalanced the game and there was more fetch-and-carry and run-and-push-the-button than slicey-gremlin-evisceration.
So whereâ€™s the hook with this absolutely totally OK game? I guess itâ€™s in the scoreboards. Like most simple PSN fare, thereâ€™s online leaderboards, and for those who find that kind of thing compelling, thereâ€™s definitely fun to be had racking up big combos, but again, thereâ€™s not quite enough attention paid to that either. Once youâ€™ve maxed out your characters, which doesnâ€™t have to take too long if youâ€™re in to repetition and scouring totally acceptably drawn levels for collectibles, doing more seems pointless. The combat is fun, but only up to a point, thereâ€™s nothing spectacular, and nothing thatâ€™s not been done before. Maybe if the camera was a little more dynamic, or if more levels had higher ceilings, or the special moves were more specialâ€¦ Itâ€™s fun, it really is, I promise, but only just enough fun, Like only eating one Haribo a day. Itâ€™s as if moderation was the key message, and Iâ€™m pretty sure it shouldnâ€™t be in these days of bombastic explodey marathons we call games these days.
Reviewed on PS3