Final Exam is a game where if you have not much else to do — despite the litany of games coming out during the holiday season — then you really couldn’t do any worse than picking this game up for around $10.
It’s a 4-player co-op side-scrolling game with elements of “Metroidvania” thrown in for good measure. Final Exam (alternatively titled, Obscure: Final Exam) is actually a non-canonical spin-off of the series called ObsCure which started back in 2004 on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox as a survival-horror game.
In this game, you play as one of four characters that play to a popular stereotype of well, anyone. You can choose a jock (Brutal Joe), a nerd (Nathan), a man whose favorite hobby is handling guns (Sean, who also happens to be an African American, but I’m sure you aren’t supposed to look into that) or a woman that kicks butt and more well-rounded than anyone else (Cassy).
Each person carries with them different sets of stats to begin the game with that you’ll later upgrade on your journey. For example, Cassy starts out with two points each in Strength, Precision and Explosives, but only one in Life. On the other hand, Nathan starts out with two points in Life and three in Explosives (which are his specialty), however Strength and Precision only have one point.
On this end, I found myself really liking the game because of how important it felt to upgrade your chosen character in between levels. Also of note, each character have varying max levels that you can pump upgrades into that others don’t. Nathan has ten total slots to upgrade his health into, while Cassy has only six.
You can choose whoever you want to play and upgrade them fully, while also switching out to someone else to try and 100% complete each person.
Beyond these stat upgrades, you also have a skill tree with a different set of skill points to use that unlock abilities and item boosts. One skill may give you more health when using a med-kit while another will make reloading your weapon instantaneous.
Speaking of weapons, you have three sets of weapons to equip before jumping into a level: Melee Weapons, Long-Range Weapons (basically, guns) or Explosives.
Both Melee and Long-Range weapons have eight different unlockables besides the ones you start the game with (there are two promised hidden weapons per level). As you collect them, they’re added to your inventory so you’re able to swap out to whatever you’re in the mood for.
While the Melee weapons generally all feel the same (you’re mashing the X button the entire game so you’re really not actively finding a discernible difference in the action), the Long-Range and Explosive weapons are the ones where you’re really going to see variation in the gameplay.
The sawed-off shotgun will fire two powerful slugs at your foes which can get you out of trouble quickly, however you’ll find yourself constantly reloading. On the other hand, playing with the Kalashnikov assault rifle will allow you to fire as frantically as possible with its damage spread out with the flurry of bullets you’d be sending towards the enemies.
It’s nothing groundbreaking, but these modifications to your experience with the secondary weapons help to freshen up the action especially if you’re taking the time to try and swap out each weapon in between rounds.
You have eight total levels to play through plus a tutorial that will take you anywhere from half an hour to 50 minutes to complete depending on the difficulty and your skill level. If you’re actively trying to find the hidden drinks (up to 7 per level) to gain an extra skill point to put into your Characteristics and extra weapons, then you’ll likely end up having to take more time than you would if you decided to blaze through the levels.
Playing with someone else slightly alters the gameplay in that by having multiple people running around the map, the game will spawn enemies whenever triggered thus filling up your screen rather annoyingly.
That’s as best of a segue as I can ask for the gameplay, because while it isn’t bad at all, once you hit the third level, you’ve pretty much realized everything there is to do in the game.
This is a side-scrolling beat-em-up, so if you’ve played one, you’ve played them all and Final Exam isn’t any different.
Graphically, the levels look tremendous for a game with this budget and the art is unique in the sense that you’re able to tell this game apart from perhaps any other game on the Xbox LIVE Arcade list. I will say that the comic-style cutscenes that play before each level, while nice and short, do look very similar to that of the Infamous series.
Each level will give you several objectives to complete that will either have you rescuing a not-so important character from a different part of the stage or gathering supplies. On paper, this sounds like a solid concept to give players substance to sink their teeth into instead of playing through malnourished stages, however I cannot stress how repetitive these levels become when they all fundamentally require the same things.
Granted, one level may have you picking up one of each enemy type to throw into a ridiculously huge blender (which was fun, to be honest) while another will have you find a portly red-headed boy in a theme park who will only follow you if you carry a box of chocolates.
The differences really are only cosmetic because they all play the same at their core. Get to one of the pieces of wood you were asked to find? Here are some enemies to fight! Do you have to carry these boxes of TNT to throw at a monster at the front of a train? We hope you still like to fight monsters while you’re doing that!
Along the way when completing your tasks, you are going to run into a plethora of enemies (of which there are various types such as dog-like creatures that spit acid or hornets). Seriously though, there will never be an end to the game’s sheer joy in tossing baddies at your feet whenever it has the opportunity to do so. And when you’re playing a genre such as the one that Final Exam falls into, you’re going to do a lot of button-mashing.
You can always switch things up by using your weapons, as well as picking up the enemies (either on the ground or out of mid-air) to then throw at other monsters. You also have various abilities to use such as an invincibility timer on Brutal Joe that allows you to run roughshod on the infected.
My favorite parts in the game are the unique passages where you’re allowed to step out of the monotony and control, say, a parade float with turrets to turn the enemies into jelly or play this game’s version of Space Invaders. I wish Final Exam had more of these segments to avoid having the player even think once that the game may be repetitive in nature.
There are boss fights in each level as well as random horde moments where the game literally wants to see how long you’d last and how many enemies you’re able to beat before the time is up. Sometimes, they may even want to throw in the horde moments during the middle of a boss fight. So, if you’re low on health or ammo, things are about to look even more dreary.
Case in point, the final boss fight — without giving too much away — is a whole lot of frustration when the end of a game should be the summary of your adventures and the culmination of your ability to see if you have what it takes to beat the game.
Instead, Final Exam’s last chapter throws as many enemies as it can on screen of various types just to discourage and hinder you from fully enjoying the moment.
It’s been a huge pet-peeve of mine in video games to see developers retread to decisions where instead of actually creating viable challenges to test a player’s proficiency, you are sent waves and waves of enemies because there were seemingly no better options to give you than that.
Of course, this game is co-op and if you do find friends to play with, this game does become a lot more enjoyable. There’s something about having someone there with you (whether with you in person through local play or online) that make these sort of moments more bearable than before.
Ultimately, this is a fine starting point for whatever future holds for the ObScure franchise — especially with this new action-oriented spin-off. There are plenty of aspects of the game to improve on if developer Mighty Rocket Studio chooses to do so, but for $10, you could do a lot worse.