A playthrough of Broderbund’s 1997’s graphic adventure game for PCs (running Dos or Windows 95), The Last Express.
The “Making of” featurette included with the game follows the credits (@3:34:00).
The Last Express is, in a word, phenomenal. It is entirely unlike just about anything else I’ve ever played. I mean, sure, it looks kind of like Myst (surprise), and there are places where the animation looks like what an updated Prince of Persia might have looked like (again, surprise), and it takes the same basic time-based structure as the old Sierra game The Colonel’s Bequest.
But it all feels fresh and new, even twenty years later. That’s right. The game was released in March/April of 1997. It just had its twentieth birthday. Anyone feeling old yet? 😉
Anyways, the project was led by Jordan Mechner (Karateka, The Prince of Persia), and his influence is clear. The real-time based gameplay, the rotoscoped animation, the exotic cultural elements… they all bear his mark. And damn, I’d argue this was the best game he ever created. It still blows my mind that despite the incredible reviews it got at the time, it flopped horribly. I’m glad I got my copy of it as quickly as I did (it had been out maybe a week or so when I got it), since it was only available for a few months before it got pulled from the shelves.
I guess maybe it’s similar to why famous painters always die poor. They’re ignored forever until someone finally goes, “Wow, I suddenly realize this is brilliant!” The Last Express is just as much art as it is a game.
The entire game takes place on The Orient Express with a murder mystery at the kickoff of The Great War. There’s some stuff about a valuable treasure, extortion, terrorism… you know, the stuff that when woven together properly can make an utterly gripping historical drama. One of the real achievements of The Last Express is in how beautifully cinematic it is considering that the player is in complete control the entire time. It is in no way an interactive movie, nor is it a point-and-click slide show. It’s a living, breathing world, and it’s a ridiculously convincing and immersive one.
The experience is intense – there are a few dozen people on-board, all driven by an AI that runs according to the in-game clock. It’s pretty impressive to see at work – you’ll walk past people in the hallway, sometimes stopping to talk to them, while at other times you’ll wait for them to leave so you can break into their compartments. People react to you differently based on what you do and how heavily you tread on their toes, and it’s all believable because of the writing and the acting. The production here is top notch – there are several languages spoken regularly throughout the game, and they’re all delivered convincingly (at least, as much as I can claim as someone that doesn’t speak a word of Russian), and the actors seem to ALWAYS hit their lines. I honestly can’t remember a single line being poorly delivered – nobody is deadpan, nobody is completely hysterical, and there are no goofy fake voices to hide that one actor is playing six roles. Few games are done with this attention to detail and quality, and it really makes the game shine.
Sorry about the couple minutes where music is missing from the recording. YouTube forced me to do something about a couple of the classical songs that were recognized through their scan.
I’m not going to say much about the game play itself, because that would spoil so much of what makes the game magical. Just trust me – if you’re a fan of adventure games and you’ve never played it before, you really need to. It’s a classic. And it was released years ago for phones, so it’s easy to track down.
No cheats were used during the recording of this video.
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