The PlayStation 4 is fast approaching, and the PlayStation 3 is still drowning in new downloadable releases every week. The ageing system's PSN catalogue is fit to burst at this point, with stunning titles like Journey and The Unfinished Swan garnering more praise than most retail releases could hope for. Final Exam may not be as memorable or as special as those previously mentioned games, but it's a perfect example of exactly why the system's comprehensive library continues to thrive. In short, it's an enjoyable smaller title that's well worth the asking price.
Four friends are looking forward to partying the night away – and then the apocalypse happens. The world as we know it is suddenly infested with zombie-like creatures known as monsters, and unsurprisingly, our four horribly generic American college stereotypes must survive this rather unfortunate turn of events.
Though they may be one-dimensional, the cast of playable characters all boast unique properties. Brutal Joe – the game's meat-headed American footballer – has a typically high strength stat, for example, and can learn skills that utilise his brute strength, while Cassy – the token female of the group – has rounded abilities and can more easily adapt to varying situations because of it. The personalities and their respective statistics are uninspired, but they're simple enough that they work as a whole without damaging the experience.
Besides, it's the gameplay that'll keep you hooked. The release is a relatively basic, but very fluid sidescrolling beat-'em-up in which you'll spend most of your time clobbering monsters around the head with blunt instruments. Pushing square unleashes a flurry of quick melee hits, while tapping triangle allows for a very responsive dodge roll. Much like the combat of the PSN's own Guacamelee!, the controls feel absolutely spot on, and quickly rolling behind enemies before pulverising them is always satisfying.
Alongside your nail-coated baseball bat, you'll also need to make use of your trusty firearm, which can be shot in any direction through the use of the right analog stick. 360-degree shooting and fast-paced, addictive melee combat can seem like a strange mix, but here it works surprisingly well, and opens up the opportunity for numerous tactical decisions. You can pick up a pesky dog-like creature, for instance, and throw it into the air before juggling it with a volley of bullets.
Although the fighting system retains its accessibility throughout, there's still plenty of room for experimentation when it comes to aerial attacks, special character-specific moves, and secondary weapons like grenades or Molotov cocktails. Exploring your options especially makes for some fun gameplay when paired up with a co-op partner locally or with up to three allies online, where even more depth is provided if you're all playing as different students.
At points, the title is also considerably easier when teaming up with buddies. Sometimes you'll need to complete rather mundane secondary objectives in order to fulfil the main goal of the level – you might have to hit two switches on separate sides of the stage in order to open a gate, or you may need to pick up and carry items back to a specific place. In any case, it's essentially a task of brawling your way from A to B and back again, but when it comes to lugging sensitive explosive crates around by yourself, you'll quickly be wishing for a friend to keep the never-ending stream of mutants off your back.
These tasks can also seem like unnecessary padding. The stages on offer are already quite vast in size, and you'll often be forced to double-back though some of them when it turns out that your current objective marker – which sits on the border of the screen – was actually pointing North East, not South East. Scuttling up and down the same ladders and running through the same corridors in order to find the correct linear route can begin to grate, but thankfully, the solid combat mechanics and dynamic enemy spawning system prevent proceedings from getting stale. And it's a good job, too, as it's likely that you'll be playing through each area more than once since there are numerous secrets up for grabs, ranging from new weapons to collectibles which are needed to upgrade your stats and buy new skills.
While the progression system is quite streamlined and easy to understand because of the need to hunt down the aforementioned collectibles, we can't help but feel that a more traditional experience points-based system may have fit the release better. There are times where whole hordes of monsters will descend upon your location, and it just seems like a missed opportunity not to have a little bar fill up as you smash your adversaries to pieces. That said, the game's method does give you a good reason to explore every inch of its nicely designed and eerily atmospheric levels.
Adding further to the PSN's bulging catalogue of compelling smaller games, this is a very enjoyable and polished sidescroller. Its combat is accessible and fluid, its levels are varied in design, and its presentation is solid. Its characters and premise could have been a little more fleshed out, and cracking monster skulls while carrying out relatively boring tasks can be frustrating alone, but team up with friends and the hours will fly by as you wade through the entrails of your grotesque green enemies. Final Exam passes with flying colours.