Key System Points:
This game is “old” (came out in 1997) so it might have trouble on some systems. We played this game on a Pentium 4 with XP and it ran just fine (no trouble setting it up and we didn’t even need to go into Windows 95 mode). Some of the cut scenes were a bit jerky, but I don’t think it was the actual system slowing it down but the way the game was filmed (more on that later).
I’m a big fan of “old” games. You’ll notice that I place the oft-annoying quotation marks around the term old. I don’t think retro works as a descriptor for these games since that implies some type of nostalgic kitch factor that really isn’t there. I could just say old but that terms carries with it a lot of negativity and I want to draw on all of the positives associated with aged computer games – daring yet sensible plot, complicated and relevant dialogue, and interesting scenes. That describes what I love about computer games prior to the 2000s. Outside of the rare exceptions, most games nowadays are lazy copycats that bore us to death.
The Last Express looked interesting and it came with high reviews. Everyone seemed to remember it fondly and those that had played it recently thought it individual and unique.
The box promises:
Richly detailed and historically accurate 3-d environments.
Over 40 hours of game play on 3 cds.
A clue in every car. A stranger in every seat. Danger at every destination.
It reminded me a lot of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and while I liked the book, we hated playing the game. It was dull, restrictive and annoying (you had to repeatedly question the travelers after each incident or clue). The reviews seemed to suggest that this game was different since it had a mix of gameplay and an intriguing plot.
The game also promised real-time play and it was all done using rotoscope. In that respect, it looked not only unique but engaging. Who wouldn’t love to be on a train with “real” people that actually felt like it was going somewhere?
So, we gave it a go.
Warning – Spoiler’s Next Stop!
You play American Robert Cath who happens to take the Orient Express to get to Constantinople right before the outbreak of WWI. You’re joining a friend of yours, Tyler Whitney, who is actually a helpful revolutionary (freelance), but things turn for the worse when you find out that he’s been murdered. You take on his identity to find the murderer and you’re soon swept up into the complicated politics of the Russians, Germans, Serbians and the British Government (oh yes, and the Persian eunuch and his obsession with a mechanical singing bird – I couldn’t make out what the point of that bit of storyline was about).
I had difficulty deciding on how to present this. On the one hand, the gameplay is unique and therefore it is engaging. There are a number of timed fight sequences, or timed puzzle sequences where the wrong move meant death. This always makes a game a bit exciting since it requires you to be on your toes moreso than otherwise.
Unfortunately, the fights were also very predictable after a few gos. They added spice to a potentially dull story, but they became a bit tedious when you spend so much of your time trying to time your ducking with their punching.
The real-time aspect of the game was also positive since it meant that a potentially stifling set (two carriages, a dining car and a lounge car) had variety – you never knew if you were missing a conversation somewhere or if someone was leaving their compartment so that you could search it.
At the same time, the real-time aspect was emotionally draining – you felt like you were missing a lot of important dialogue and that you had to be everywhere at once. The game doesn’t have a strictly linear storyline so you aren’t always sure what you’re supposed to be doing and where. This is especially true for the first half of the game and it was probably the biggest reason my hubby dropped out of game play mid-way. You spend a lot of time just randomly milling about and between cars hoping for something to trigger an action.
The characters were diverse – you meet every type of person from a female spy, to a Russian aristocrat, to a British secret service man. The actual number of “important” characters are small, though. Most are just there for the ride and others have bit parts when it’s necessary. You can nose into their lives, but for the most part the plot crucial to game play is very narrow. You also can’t instigate conversations with characters, but have to wait for the cutscenes to prompt a forced dialogue.
The main character is your brash, tough American hero. He doesn’t have a soft bone in his body, but he’s somehow a lady’s man. I dislike this type of character so it did make playing the game a bit much when you had extensive dialogues. Luckily this didn’t happen often, but it’s no wonder that he was so disliked by everyone else. (It began to feel like everyone left the car the minute we walked in.)
There are multiple endings depending on your actions, but it’s easy to go through them systematically with the rewind function. I’d hunt up a reliable walkthrough just to look over the potentials after gameplay. Or, if you have the time, play it again. 🙂
Rating: Oh, 3 stars. It was interesting, but at the same time it was still you being stuck on a train for hours. They definitely tried their hardest to make the train less claustrophobic (at one point you have a fight on top of the train), but it’s still a bit dull.
The rotoscope technique and the real-time aspect of the game does make this definitely worth a go. I had fun playing the game (even if I still don’t have a clue what that gold bird was all about…).