Feb 4, 2011

The Last Express - Part I

I do know that the precious reader of Gnome's Lair has been quite aware of my interest (or is that fascination?) with The Last Express. I have after all been constantly mentioning the thing both via Twitter and Facebook, and have also grabbed a digital copy via gog.com, which I promptly installed. But should I review it? I really don't think so. More than a few excellent reviews and retrospectives for this truly unique, groundbreaking, gorgeous and amazing adventure game are readily available and are way better written than anything I could hope to come up with. That's why I have chosen to do something I've never really done on this blog; namely write a series of posts more or less detailing my experiences through the game.

Here I go now...

Being a traditionalist, I didn't immediately start playing after downloading and installing the game. Oh no. I read through the manual, watched the mostly spoiler free making-of video and even had a glance at the digital version of the Quick Reference Guide. The manual was unsurprisingly the best part, what with it trying to explain the intricacies of the game's non-standard interface and features, while wisely providing minimal only information on the plot and some interesting insights to the Orient Express -the setting of The Last Express- itself.

Robert Cath being all bloody five minutes into the game.
The game itself starts off with an impressive if short intro movie that managed to immediately set the tone and introduce me to the amazing visuals on offer, though intriguingly failed to also introduce me to my apparently Irish avatar and his motives. This lack of knowledge has so far proved an excellent idea, as I slowly get to uncover who I'm guiding (most probably to his doom), discovering his shady -hopefully revolutionary, what with Mr. Robert Cath being Irish a few years before Ireland's war for independence- past and finding out what it is I'm supposed to be doing. As for the newspaper clipping discovered in my pocket, the same clipping that let me know I was a wanted man, was too vague to enlighten me, but intriguing enough to get me hooked.

The game's interface, on the other hand, is rather intuitive and more or less straight forward, despite the rather odd way the inventory works. Also, the fact that The Last Express is played in real time and comes complete with an incredibly handy rewind time feature, allows for complete freedom of exploration, true in-game choice and a relaxed pace. There simply is no anxiety for dead ends, which I thought -and still think- is necessary to enjoy such an investigation heavy adventure.

Action sequences are fiddly, though a smart diversion.
The first few hours are, after all, far from action-packed. As Robert Cath I fought a guy, sneaked around, eavesdropped and enjoyed the excellent French, Serbian, English, African and Russian accents, disposed of a body, got a feel for the train, helped an ageing aristocrat make it through the night, met some surprising characters and even hid in a toilet while waiting for a policeman to leave the train. I particularly enjoyed reading through a 1914 newspaper, that ominously foreshadowed the Great War. 

Importantly I also found out that I'd better get the passenger list, some papers and a certain suitcase from the off-limits luggage compartment. Following characters and trying to either chat them up or spy on them proved quite a bit revealing too, whereas climbing in and out of my cabin's window has not been particularly enlightening though incredibly fun, but, I'll admit, hardly as elating as breathing the atmosphere of the turbulent and politically tense times before the First World War.

A Russian anarchist arguing with a young lady of a Czarist affiliation, a German capitalist that wants to purchase gold, Serbian patriots that had something to do with my deceased (and inelegantly disposed) comrade and some sort of colonial royalty make for an incredible assortment of characters, that turn the confined space of the train into a vibrant setting as lively as you'd imagine it. Oh yes, I might have not progressed as much as I'd hoped, but I'm definitely enjoying myself.

The Last Express' flick-screen engine has aged gracefully.
Continued in the aptly named Part II, that will soon appear.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:


  1. Sounds great, been meaning to play this.

  2. You will definitely love this one dear Jonathon. I can -within reason- guarantee this.

  3. I can say without exaggeration that this is the best post-1990's adventure game I have played so far. It's a "period film", and it does a great job of expressing both pre-World War tension as well as the political affinities in it. That, and closer to home for me, I love the Agatha Christie-styled mystery that communicates the story.

    Been waiting a long time for you to discuss this game. Glad to see it is finally here dear gnome :)

  4. Ah dear Chris it really is fantastic seeing you here again. After all, you were the person that convinced me to give this game a chance and you were so right. You are also very, very correct in describing The Last Express as a period film.

    Aha! You mailed me. Excellent!

  5. Thanks a lot for your coverage on a truly fantastic game - or should I say, a truly fantastic experience - that doesen't deserve to be forgotten.

    I don't remember many adventure titles that fascinated me in a similar way, that made me feel like I was truly a part of what I saw on the screen, that felt like a piece of software could actually feel "alive".

    Truly a great, great piece of art - guess it'll be time for a replay soon! :)

  6. Thank you for the kind words Ingmar. We definitely agree. Also, it does seem that the Last Express is made to replayed.

  7. Man, I remember reading about this game when it first came out and really wanting to play it. Maybe now I finally will.

  8. I keep meaning to get this from GOG, and have yearned to play it for years. Hopefully soon I will have the time to sit down and immerse myself fully in the game.

    After waiting all these years, I don't want to give it divided attention; I want to approach it with the pure focus that a piece of such classic status demands from the player.

    I really do hope it is as enjoyable as I've been lead to believe!

  9. I was never too fond of this game. I love the writing, voice-over work, backgrounds and the music, but I find the rotoscoped stills a bit boring. And the whole experimental concept doesn't fly with me either. I found that the game felt like a chore for a while because I had to keep replaying the same chapters in order to figure out the proper sequence of events.
    I was very excited about this and got it soon after the release, but it was a disappointment to me. Maybe I just didn't get it or maybe I was too young. I don't know. But I've always felt that this game is a bit overrated. Interesting, but not very playable. I'm sure many will disagree.

  10. @ Jonas: I believe you will both enjoy it and find it most inspiring too dear Jonas.

    @ Ben304: I more or less had the same thoughts, but eventually decided that time for undivided attention is a strictly theoretical concept and decided to simply enjoy the thing as much as possible. Give it a go.

    @ Anatoly: Well, I guess it's a matter of taste dear Anatoly. I 'm loving both art and concept so far, despite being initially afraid I'd hate the realtime thing. Perhaps you should give it another chance? You have after all endured through all those Sierra offerings...