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.
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.
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.