THE FINALS Review – Total Annihilation

Embark Studios' free-to-play competitive shooter delivers a high-octane experience with stellar gunplay, map design and all-out destruction.

Posted By | On 11th, Dec. 2023

THE FINALS Review – Total Annihilation

Battle royale titles have arguably been more popular over the recent years, with Fortnite and whatnot commanding an overwhelming audience compared to other shooters. Nevertheless, there is an audience that craves more controlled PvP. Maps with objective-based play instead of a giant space with dozens of other teams fighting to be the last one standing. Fluid movement options which rely as much on environmental awareness as skill rather than on vehicles or airdrops. Excellent gunplay where each weapon feels good to use, even if you pick it up for the first time. Last but not least, a distinct sense of style that helps it stand out.

"THE FINALS is about a game show called THE FINALS (spoilers). It’s set in a virtual world where contestants enter and fight for supremacy."

Embark Studios’ THE FINALS offers much of that in a sleek free-to-play package. It’s fast and frenetic, but also chaotic and sometimes, almost unmanageable. There are fights you clutch through pure skill and outsmarting an opponent, while objectives are captured through pure coordination and more than a little cheese. There are shortcomings, to be sure, but the base is solid, easy to jump, and so much fun that you’ll want more.

THE FINALS is about a game show called THE FINALS (spoilers). It’s set in a virtual world where contestants enter and fight for supremacy. What’s the state of the world, and why are you doing this? It doesn’t matter, though I can see Embark going in different directions with its backstory down the line.

From the outset, you choose from three different builds – Light, Medium and Heavy – each having access to unique weapons and skills. Heavy builds can wield light machine guns and a sledgehammer to bust through walls while having more health. Light builds focus on submachine guns and abilities like cloaking and dashing to get around but suffer from being squishier. Medium is the balance in between, with access to a healing beam, assault rifles and more. There is extensive utility, regardless of the build you choose.

There are currently two modes – Quick Cash and Bank It – in Quick Play, while the Tournaments tab offers the same but with different rule sets, rankings and more high-pressure settings. In both modes, the objectives revolve around gathering cash and depositing it in the vault. Other players will try to stop you, and the first team to hit the score limit first wins. It’s really that simple.

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"Each map is aesthetically pleasing and well-designed for the most part, but they’re fully destructible, which is the real game-changer."

However, they’re both unique enough to offer interesting twists on the core gameplay. Quick Cash is about locating Vaults that randomly spawn on a map, picking them up, depositing them in the nearest cashout terminal and then defending the location from other teams. It only takes one opponent to “steal” a cashout, which essentially flips it in their team’s favor. If you don’t flip it back, your efforts are for naught. Either way, once the cashout happens, the cycle repeats, and it’s off to the next Vault.

Bank It, on the other hand, mixes team deathmatch with the Vaults and cashout mechanics. You could pursue the various Vault spawns on the map, which disperse coins to collect, and head for the nearest cashout terminal (that too without having to defend your deposit from other players).

However, you can also hunt other players, taking advantage of those with higher payouts and swooping in to steal them for massive paydays. Be careful, though, because you can never tell when an opponent will do the same to you. The Vault amounts increase as the match progresses, so there is some merit to avoiding confrontation and swooping in to steal them.

Bank It can be entertaining enough since your team can play fast and loose with the objectives, but I found Cash Out much more entertaining. Regardless of which you go with, the Arenas are the real stars.

Arenas are based on real-world locations, each focusing on some variation of urban warfare, from navigating alleys and town squares to rooftops on skyscrapers, with a single drop sealing your fate. You find floating boxes with explosives and launch pads to zip lines that can transport you across the map and rappel points for ascending or descending. It’s possible to pick up explosive barrels, though some also contain Goo, used to create barricades.

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"When you think you’ve seen it all, some new strategy pops up, and you reconsider how you’ve been handling things. However, it can also get extremely messy."

Each map is aesthetically pleasing and well-designed for the most part, but they’re fully destructible, which is the real game-changer. Dive through windows to get away from enemies. Blow up staircases to make it harder for opponents to climb up to the cashout terminal.

Heck, chuck some C4 on the terminal and blow up the floor, causing it to fall out of reach from an opponent trying to steal your cash. The environments deform realistically, with rubble shifting and getting in the way, and add a whole new dimension to combat. Some abilities can break through environments, like the Heavy’s charge while allowing for a quick escape while pushing enemies away.

Of course, the various gadgets and tools also cater to unique strategies. On a map with a cashout terminal on a moving platform, I saw a team chuck Goo Grenades to create walls, plop down a sentry and Gas Mines, and bunker down to defend it. Some teams throw down jump pads near the cashout terminal, preventing players from standing still in one place to steal from it during a cashout. When you think you’ve seen it all, some new strategy pops up, and you reconsider how you’ve been handling things.

However, it can also get extremely messy. While the moving platform play described before is clever and requires coordination, it’s otherwise easy to chuck gas mines, barricades, turrets and Sonar grenades (or use the skill itself) when guarding a cashout terminal. It also feels like Goo barricades have way too much health, and if your team lacks a Heavy or any destructive ordinance, it can be a chore to break them all. You can’t switch builds in the middle of a match, but THE FINALS lets you set a loadout of reserve items to switch to when respawning, so some counterplay is possible.

the finals

"Perhaps my only gripe with the Arenas is that only four are in the game right now. Embark provides significant variety with its Map Variants, which don’t just add a new time of day."

Balancing these tools is tricky because, inherently, they aren’t super-oppressive – it’s when stacked together that they become problematic. There’s also the fact that for as annoying as these can be, they also lend to some of the tensest moments in the game, where you’re desperately trying to break through to steal a cashout. Or desperately fighting off attackers, one after another, while huddling inside a burned-out building, hoping your health regenerates in time. Or chasing after a falling terminal to steal that cashout before the clock narrowly expires.

Perhaps my only gripe with the Arenas is that only four are in the game right now. Embark provides significant variety with its Map Variants, which don’t just add a new time of day. Instead, you could have Suspended Structures, where the cashout stations are on platforms suspended in a location. You may also see part of the arena elevated with High Rise or Under Construction, which sees certain areas under construction.

Game Show Events also add a bit of spice if the match goes on for too long. Alien Invasion sees UFOs showing up over objectives and firing below, while Death Match grants extra cash for eliminating opponents. It’s all enough to give that much more variety to the game, but time will tell once those maps are exhausted, especially since it’s unknown how frequently there will be other maps.

On the subject of balance, there is a case for the Heavy being the best option and Light the weakest. Based on the matches I played at my skill level (take that for what you will), a healthy mix of builds was involved. If anything, a more balanced and coordinated team often won the day, but I’ve seen more than a few Light build players going on a tear with their abilities.

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"Aside from Quick Play, there are also the Tournaments. It’s where THE FINALS‘ name starts to make sense."

Do I think the Heavy’s RPG launcher requires a slightly longer cooldown? Sure, but I also want the pump-grenade launcher for the Medium to have a slightly larger blast radius. Some weapons could definitely use more love than others, and there’s the whole gadget balance to work out, but for now, it’s not enough to keep me from going in, trying new things and experimenting with different strategies. The gunplay, which is smooth and responsive, helps in that regard, while the time to kill feels just right, at least so far as straight-up gun battles go (and yes, that includes the grenade launcher. No, I’m not playing favorites).

Aside from Quick Play, there are also the Tournaments. It’s where THE FINALS’ name starts to make sense. Teams compete in Qualifying and Knockout Rounds, with two going to THE FINALS. There are limited Respawn Credits, and you can’t swap items from reserves in the middle of a round.

It’s highly competitive and tense but great for those who want their wins and losses to really matter. You can even go into Ranked Tournaments, which follow many of the same rules but offer league progression for those who want a proper grind.

I can see other people criticizing the number of modes available. There are two for the regular players, one for both crowds and another for the competitive base. It remains to be seen what other offerings Embark has cooking, but for now, these will suffice, at least for me.

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"In terms of presentation, THE FINALS is very sleek without looking too minimalistic. The play-by-play commentary is also well done, though there are instances where it lags…"

Unfortunately, it can be an uphill climb when you first start playing the game. There is a Tutorial which does little more than show you how to loot a vault, deposit it and steal a cashout. A Practice Range is available with moving targets, explosive objects to manipulate and the option to change weapons freely – even those that haven’t been unlocked – to try them out.

However, you can’t play matches with other players against bots and learn the overall gameplay flow before jumping into real competition. While not a substitute for real opponents, it could at least serve as a way for new players to get used to the movement and learn the maps, if not see what full environmental destruction is capable of in real matches.

In terms of presentation, THE FINALS is very sleek without looking too minimalistic. The play-by-play commentary is also well done, though there are instances where it lags (like calling out a team being on the backfoot several seconds after they surged ahead). Props to whoever came up with the ending track, which warns of the end being near for a match – it’s not too over-the-top and fits the TV style of production that the game is going for.

Network connectivity is solid – I saw some hitching in one or two matches, but it was otherwise relatively smooth sailing. Medium settings, even with all kinds of destruction and chaos going off, saw little to no slowdown on PC. It’s a testament to Embark’s optimization that it could do this while delivering some pretty good fidelity, both in the environments and effects.

The Finals_01

"THE FINALS is generating buzz because it’s something sorely required in the shooter space: A wildcard."

I don’t have much to say about the Battle Pass system and microtransactions. They’re about what you would expect from your average live service model. Having more clothing choices available when customizing your appearance or earning some premium currency by completing weekly contracts would have been nice. If you’re not a stickler for this kind of thing, it won’t really matter. It may become a sticking point if you run out of content and want that fancy cat on your shoulder during matches.

THE FINALS is generating buzz because it’s something sorely required in the shooter space: A wildcard. A fresh, fast-paced experience that rewards player ingenuity, sometimes a little too well, and skill. It balances abilities and gunplay while having a solid foundation with its modes, maps, network connectivity and optimization. We’ll have to wait and see if it matches up to today’s titans in long-term support and player numbers. For those jumping in right now, THE FINALS is an entertaining time.

This game was reviewed on PC.


THE GOOD

Fast-paced action with responsive gunplay and movement. Environmental destruction offers various strategies and leads to tense plays. Excellent utility, regardless of your Build, but each has a distinct and fun play style. The modes and Arenas are also well-designed, emphasizing objective-based play but still multiple approaches to conflicts. Map Variants and Game Show Events further add to the variety. Performance is well-optimized, even with all the destruction. Solid netcode, with barely any hitching or lag.

THE BAD

The map pool feels somewhat limited, though future content plans remain to be seen. Commentary sometimes lags at times. Gadgets can be annoying when stacked together effortlessly in some locations. The tutorial could use more features, like bot matches. Weekly contracts don't provide premium currency.

Final Verdict:
GREAT
THE FINALS has room to improve, but it shines in all the ways that matter. If you're keen on a new first-person shooter that mixes chaos with strategy in a sleek package, it's worth a look.
This is a free-to-play game downloaded by the author for the purposes of this review. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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