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The Last Express
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Props must be given to the creators of this game for trying to produce what is akin to a living Poirot novel.  For the most part, it succeeds.  The opening movie sequence and mellow music adequately set the tone.  People have criticized this game for its combination of rotoscope animation and changing picture book quality stills, but such criticisms are unfounded.  This game oozes atmosphere and seems to come to life, at least on the surface.  You play an American named Robert Cath who illegally boards the fabled Orient Express.  He finds his good friend Tyler Whitney murdered in one of the rooms.  Since he's already in hot water as it is(one of the reasons being that he's gotten into some trouble with the Irish police), he quietly ditches his friend's body and assumes his identity.  From there, you can pretty much do anything you like.  You can move from room to room at your whim.  Characters move about, too.  They come from countries across Europe and speak with seemingly authentic languages and accents.  They talk to their kids and each other and eat in the dining room and smoke in the smoking room.  No two games play exactly the same.  Meanwhile this game never loses sight of its goal of wanting to produce a living novel.  Every once in a while, it becomes necessary to barge into a character's room and investigate, but you can't do it while a conductor is looking on.  Newspapers also talk about clouds of war looming on the horizon.  This is certainly one of the most political and historically educational games I've ever played.

Unfortunately, for all this freedom, the game never finds its center.  While not everything needs to be done correctly in order to win, there's really only one true path.  You need to trigger certain key events in order to avoid getting killed.  Thankfully, the time frame in which you have to do many of the events is rather broad, and unlike many games with a time element, time here passes rather slowly(sometimes too slowly).  There are only certain points in which it's "too late" to do an event and further the plot(and avoid getting killed).  The game solves this problem by including a rather ingenious time travel device that allows you to go back in time to any main point in the story to try something again.  Even still, unlike The Longest Journey in which many of the puzzles made sense, The Last Express pretty much throws you to the lions from the start.  You're left to your own devices and have to figure out how to get to the game's key events by yourself.  It's "Do this or else" pretty much from the start, and often you'll find yourself dying without knowing what it was you did wrong and how to avert your death until you stumble across that key element or item you overlooked.  There are other oddities.  You can completely forgo some investigation or forget to read some journal, and yet there will be times where your character will enter a conversation talking about something you had no knowledge of and no idea how it got into your character's head.  The game also goes off in different tangents and never wraps up much of anything.  The story completely forgets about Whitney's murder and why Robert is in trouble with the Irish and goes on to talk about a priceless item called The Firebird and ends with one of the oddest, most bizarre and off-the-wall plot twists I've ever seen.  The cool fight sequences, probably a first for an adventure game and the highlight of this game, are few and far between.  In fact, there are only three.

Even so, the puzzles of this game are challenging, even if it does feel like you're walking around blindly half the time, and the story is genuinely exciting.  The short arc involving the bomb is as big a shocker as any plot twist I've seen, eavesdropping on people as they go about their business feels cool, and taking in the whole "film noir" theme is positively exhilirating.  For all its faults, The Last Express still feels like a work of art.  Plus it contains a nifty nugget for fans of classical music in the form of a concert, which you can completely watch and listen to in its entirety or get up to do more investigating.

Grade: Decent

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