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knutaf avatar 12:19 PM on 10.26.2012
The Best Old Timey Trains Game You'll Play



I don't know what exactly I want to write about The Last Express. Usually I try coming up with some idea or observation or angle that I want to explore, but this time I'm not sure I have that. Alls I know is I have to write something about it. It deserves it--it's that good.

It's basically an old-school point-and-click adventure game with some innovative twists. If you plan to play it, then I would bail out now, since there will be SPOILERS, though mostly in the videos.

The first thing the game does is have a colossal opener, and I don't mean in the way that a train gets derailed and flies through the air and makes a huge explosion and you're thrown from it and have to clamber your way up its side on a snowy mountaintop or whatever. I mean in the same way Indigo Prophecy did it: hurl you into a stressful, jarring situation and force you to pull yourself together and take control quickly.

Yup, in the opening scene of the game, you have no idea who you are, but you do know this: you just jumped onto the train from a motorcycle, found the cabin of the friend you were to rendezvous with, and GOD HE'S MURDERED ON THE GROUND. What are you gonna do now!?


Hello, janky combat.


Well, if you're like me the first time I played, you're going to spend 10 minutes examining every inch of the room for clues and stuff without disturbing the body... and then promptly get caught by the train conductor making routine checks into all the cabins. Oops. Try again: this time I'll dump the body out the window and swap my coat (which has just gotten his blood on it) with his, hanging on the wall, so that I can talk normally with the conductor as he comes by.

I did say it was a point-and-click adventure game with an innovative twist. That twist is that the entire game happens in (scaled up) realtime. It's a train, so it has to be on schedule; it's always progressing along its route from Paris to Constantinople. After 1 hour of playing time (or however long), the train's gonna get to Vienna, whether you like it or not. Are you prepared? Have you done everything you need to before that point?


Oh, DO go on.


Likewise, all the passengers on the train are also on a schedule. At some point, the dude in the car next to you is going to the dining car for food, and so will the pretty lady down the hall. They're going to sit down and chat. This will happen every time, unless you do something to prevent it. The German merchant you need to talk to is going to depart at Munich unless you can make headway on your deal. Better get cracking on that.

Maybe this is a good time to bring up the intrigue. You can't have a murder mystery ON A TRAIN without intrigue, and lots of it. Oh, and how The Last Express delivers on that. It's basically nonstop intrigue from start to finish.

First, you'll be intrigued by that murdered corpse of your friend, whom you go on to impersonate for the rest of the game. Then you'll be intrigued by the beautiful, acclaimed Austrian violinist who might be related to the Transformers due to the way she meets the eye. You'll be intrigued by a dude named freaking KRONOS. What's up with that? You'll be intrigued by mysterious artifacts, and downright confused--I mean intrigued--as you sort out out the basic malfunctions of all the political groups you're surrounded by (this is the volatile eve of WWI, after all).



The best part is that the game doesn't tell you what your "objective" is. You kind of have to puzzle it out as you go along. Anyway, it's pretty great.

You'd be correct in assuming that with all this crazy intrigue happening, you can get turned around and miss important events. The game gives you a time rewind mechanic to let you back up if you think you missed something. It's pretty much necessary; I definitely missed some key things at first. Luckily, I was streaming it, so I had a great, adaptive, on-demand, minimal hint system.

The game also does this thing where you can end in multiple ways as you go along. Unfortunately, these endings are all consecutive, so there's really only one "real" ending. Still, I kind of appreciate the effort compared to just saying "YOU DIED" in big red letters whenever you mess up.



Speaking of failures, there are are ever-present threats of antagonists. When these really materialize into actions taken against you, you have to use the power of foresight, rewinding, and your wits to foil their plans. The thing I really like, though, is some of these obstacles are multi-layered. If you thwart a guy's plan one way, he may have a plan B that he dutifully implements, so he still succeeds in screwing you over. This is another thing I don't see enough of in games, where normally if you overcome a puzzle or obstacle, you're good to go for now.

And then there's all this other stuff the game just gets right: controls are mouse-only and fine. The art style is unique and looks like playing a painting. The voice acting is actually top-notch--by no means a common accomplishment. The ending is excellent and poetic and depressing.



The one thing I didn't expect out of this game was humor. It's a pretty serious game overall. I mean, we're dealing with robbing trains and getting stabbed and global conflicts around the time of WWI, but there were several moments in the game where I straight up burst out laughing. You've already seen the video evidence of this. I'm fairly sure at least some of these occurrences weren't intentional, but at least one scene was deliberately funny, and that made me go, "what the heck is up with this game?" It was rad; I like a good mixup.

Destructoid already reviewed this thing just recently, but I think this is such a masterpiece that I just couldn't shut up about it. GO GOG IT. It's like 7 hours and friggen five dollars. I didn't regret it! (ringing endorsement).


So long, sucker!

 
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