The Last Express
The year is 1914, the month July. Tension is in the air as the threat of war escalates throughout Europe. Your name is Robert Cath and you are a young American doctor. Your friend, Tyler Whitney, has summoned you to join him upon the Paris-Constantinople Express. Unfortunately, you arrive late and after a harrowing leap from a motorcycle, you are safely on your way. Or are you? Upon entering Tyler's cabin, you find him dead on the floor -- not exactly the welcome I would want! Your first "puzzle" to solve is what to do with the body. From there the stakes get higher.
The Last Express was enjoyable to play, but also easy to master. Those of you looking for inventory-solved "puzzles" will be disappointed. I found that much of the information needed to solve the mostly "real-time" puzzles was found through the process of eavesdropping and snooping, two things that I think are fun to do (but of course, I suppress these feelings in my daily world). It is a nice touch that your character understands Russian, German and French (using subtitles). And by the way, "real eavesdropping" rules apply -- you must be within a certain distance of the other characters to "hear" what they are saying.
One problem I found with the real-time play was that the other characters are also on real time. Sometimes what this really meant was that you needed to be in the right place at the right time to make the most of your opportunities, although usually the opportunity would present itself again later.
Luckily this is a game that provides you with many chances to succeed, even if you die trying. I liked the fact that if you died, the game would take you back automatically to the last point where you still had a chance to succeed (even if it takes twenty tries to figure out what to do). You also have the ability to rewind 5 to 15 minutes as well. The game is automatically saved at the last point of play when you exit. I found this feature frustrating because I was unable to save the game and leave a clue to myself as to what I had or had not already done at that point. Example: KAT5DIAMONDF would tell me that it was my 5th saved game and that I had just found a diamond. I must admit that I missed this feature.
Your character is mostly viewed through a first-person perspective, switching to third-person for animation sequences. Movement through The Last Express was standard (like the cursor changing from arrows to hands) to clue you in to what courses of action are available to you at a given point.
The attention given to the train's detail was one of the highlights of the game. The box even boasts that "The Last Express has been authentically re-created down to the last screw ... " This should create some interest for history buffs who are into this time period. However, while I enjoyed the backgrounds immensely, I had a hard time with the animation of the characters. The rotoscoping process takes images of real actors and turns them into animated characters. While this adds depth to the characters and makes them all the more interesting, it unfortunately makes the animation seem a bit off and choppy. While some may find this easy to get used to or even a bit endearing, I found that the choppiness tended to make me ill and that I had to limit my playing at times. So if you are one prone to this type of problem, you may want to think twice about this game.
The music provided during the last express seemed reminiscent of the early 1900s. Although the music certainly didn't make or break the game, it did add some nice touches. There is even a "concert" put on in one of the cars on the second day that is worth checking out, but not for too long; after all, you have cabins to be snooping in.
The sound effects were realistic, and I enjoyed them throughout the game. The voices of the other passengers became louder as you approached them, as did the whistle of an annoying little boy. And among other things, the train noises became louder when you opened the window. These touches were a nice addition to the game.
The documentation for The Last Express was fairly typical: a basic storyline and outline of the characters, along with a few nice illustrations.
Win 3.1 or 95: 60MHz Pentium or faster, 8 MB RAM (16MB
recommended), SVGA monitor/local bus or PCI video (640x480, thousands of colors), 4X
CD-ROM drive or faster
I enjoyed playing this game for the atmosphere it presented, but felt that it was really created more to give the feeling of the environment than for puzzle solving. I believe that less choppy animation sequences and a different technique for saving games would have made this a stronger game. As it is, The Last Express earns a score of 70 from this reviewer.
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