“It’s July 24, 1914. My name is Robert Cath, and I just hopped on the Oriental Express. By request, I’m on this train ride from Paris to Constantinople to accompany my buddy Tyler Whitney, who’s supposedly in some kind of trouble. Speaking of trouble, I just ran into a little misunderstanding with the Irish police. That’s why I “hopped” on instead of boarding at the station. Technically, nobody knows that I’m here. Am I guilty? No way – what kind of respectable American doctor would come all the way to Europe and break the law? Oh by the way, I forgot to mention that I found old Tyler dead in our compartment box, so I conveniently threw him out of the moving train and assumed his identity. Of course I’ll make that up to him by trying to find his murderer, as soon as I figure out what the heck is going on…”
Broderbund proudly presents the new adventure The Last Express, by Jordan Mechner (author of Prince of Persia series). This time though, expect more of Sierra “Quest” genre gaming instead of the mind-bending action filled “save the princess” game. The story takes place entirely on the historical Oriental Express. Aside from solving the murder, your goal is to…well, I suppose your goal is to find your goal. You start out finding your friend dead, and that’s it. The rest is completely up to you. You can do almost anything you desire, walk around, talk to people, try to sneak into other people’s rooms, maybe even save the world.
“Since we’re going from Paris all the way across the continent to Turkey, I might as well show you around this lovely train of ours. There are three main trains that I have access to: two sleeping trains and the dining restaurant. All these snobby French people think they’re so great, and find the only American on board obtrusive, rude, and coarse. Hey, I’m only exercising my freedom (wait, this isn’t the US, but who cares anyway). There’s also these Russian people on the train. One of them is an outright liberal, making mad speeches about abolishment of class differences…nah, whatever. There are people of other nationalities, German, Arabic and others. It’s quite interesting listening to their accents. Mais oui oui. Je dis oh la la. Parlez vous francais?”
For every character in the game there is a voice actor/actress making up all the conversations. This is great because it gives you the feel of being in Europe interacting with all types of poeple. When they speak in French, German, or Russian, you hear them while seeing subtitles at the bottom (our Doctor here is multilingual) with the exception of Arabic, Turkish, and Serbo Croatian. To make things even better, everyone is completely portrayed as a stereotype. The French are shown as arrogant and they don’t even bother to hide their contempt towards the annoying American. All the while, it’s fun to play out the role as a scoundrel, breaking into other people’s rooms and being rude. Let’s also give kudos to the Russian. At that time Russia was approaching its revolution and that commie twist came in perfectly to add a little more spice to the building tensions.
“Man, this trip sure is long. It’s going to take days to get to the final destination. I feel the urgency to find out what is happening on this wretched train, but sometimes there’s just nothing to do except sneak around. When I try to go into other people’s rooms the conductors always stop me and shoo me off. What’s wrong with a little exploring? I spend most of the time sitting around in the diner staring at nothing. Oh, and what’s wrong with the people here, they look so ugly, and the mirrors in the bathrooms hardly do justice to my handsome face. I’m bored, worried, and scared. Someone’s going to find out I’m not Tyler anytime now, and there’s nothing to do besides listening to the awful drone of the train, chug chug chug…Don’t we have some phonographs or radios (or am I just getting ahead of my time)?”
It doesn’t matter if those things weren’t invented yet – just ADD SOME MUSIC! You’d think that with three CD’s there would be something going on in the background while playing. Nooooo, all you get is a train noise that will make you pull out your hair and scream like a madman. Ok, so there is this little part in the story where you listen to a little violin/piano performance. That’s still not considered game music.
In addition to that bothersome cacophony, your frustration is increased by the limited gameplay. You’re mainly stuck in three cars of the train. Wandering around in those three cars, you spend most of the time in the hall. It takes about 20 mouse clicks to walk the entire hall of a car. There’s absolutely nothing to search for in the hallway, and you’re not allowed to go into the compartments. Furthermore, the game is not entirely animated. It consists mainly of just pictures (the frames change one by one as you take each step). With that, the makers definitely should have improved on the art. The combination of cartoon pictures and SVGA background was a cool idea, but the simplistic pictures of the characters totally negated the original freshness and made the graphics suffer greatly.
“I think this train ride is starting to get to me. I wish I could just get off. I’m definitely not getting involved in any messes like this anymore. Maybe I should have been the one who died.”
Let’s all hope that The Last Express is really the last of this kind of train adventures. Simply put, adventure games just aren’t meant to be so narrowly (literally) limited within the confines of a train. On the other hand, anyone who’s played this can’t argue the fact that tremendous amount of effort was put into the game design and production. The historic and story backgrounds are superb. The sound effects of the people was a great touch. Unfortunately the most important aspect of the game was lost, and that was gameplay. It’s not that difficult a game, but it just wasn’t fun enough to stick with and try to finish. These types of games are generally played only once anyway, so if they don’t get it right the first run…