Almost two decades later, it has found its way to iOS and Android mobile platforms, and I’m pleased to say that The Last Express has aged gracefully, offering an incredibly unique story-driven experience that has the player solving a murder mystery while navigating in-game events that occur in real-time. While this genre and game design is relatively old compared to other story-driven games, there are many aspects that still hold up, despite the fact it’s over twenty years old. Gamers looking for a compelling and interactive old-school murder mystery – look no further – the mystery of The Last Express is the perfect one to solve, anywhere.
The Last Express begins with the player taking control of Robert Cath, an American doctor on the run from British and French authorities. It’s established that Cath received an invitation from his friend, Tyler Whitney, to join him on a trip aboard The Orient Express from Paris to Constantinople (now Istanbul). It’s also implied that Tyler wanted to discuss something very important with Cath, being the main reason he was invited. Once Cath manages to get aboard the train after its left the station, he is directed to his assigned sleeping compartment only to discover the bloody and mutilated body of his dear friend. With the only clues to what occurred being a perfume-scented scarf with an embroidered “W” on it, a scroll of an old Russian fairy tale called The Firebird, and an empty box specially designed to carry a missing circular-shaped object, Cath takes it upon himself to find out who murdered his friend, and what shady business brought him onto the train in the first place.
The Last Express manages to achieve a very distinct art style through a process called rotoscoping, involving the use of real actors, photography, and computerized digital imaging.
As the game runs its course over a period of three in-game days, the player must familiarize themselves with the train and its inhabitants in order to piece together what occurred in Tyler’s compartment. The cast of characters (or suspects) is rather broad – there’s August Schmidt, who is a German Arms dealer on board to complete a business transaction with the deceased Tyler, and a mysterious Austrian violinist named Anna Wolf that Cath happens to see leaving Tyler’s compartment right before discovering his body. There’s even an enigmatic art dealer who is referred to by train staff as “His Excellency”, who also happens to be on board to conduct business with Tyler. The characters are well-acted and incredibly intriguing, constantly leaving me suspicious about who was responsible for the murder. The way the characters have been brought into the game is quite remarkable as well – The Last Express manages to achieve a very distinct art style through a process called rotoscoping, involving the use of real actors, photography, and computerized digital imaging. This allows for the cast to be portrayed quite realistically, despite being digitized. Facial or walking animations are excellent and add another level of immersion. Not only are the animations top notch, but the voice acting is also superb and reflects the French, German, and Russian nationalities that would’ve been prevalent during that time.
In smaller environments, these inputs can become quite close together, and I found sometimes I would press to turn in a direction I didn’t intend to.
The timeline of events is governed by an almost real-time in-game clock. Certain events must occur or specific actions must be taken in order to advance the plot, and in some cases, reveal different endings. This allows for significant replay value and kept me extremely busy as I replayed different sections to see how the following events would be affected. This system also allows the player to advance or rewind time to replay a desired event to change its outcome. In 1997 there weren’t many games that had this mechanic, and it adds another layer of tension when the player knows they’re literally on the clock to make every second count.
The control scheme utilized in the mobile port of The Last Express is easy to use and works surprisingly well for a mobile game ported over from PC and Macintosh. The touchscreen is used to navigate the train in a series of still frame environments. The player has access to a hint system (which is an appreciated addition, as the original game didn’t hold your hand at all), an inventory, as well as the pause menu which provides the rewind/fast forward mechanic, should the player wish to revisit a certain event to produce a different outcome. Similar to Resident Evil, collected items can be examined, and in some cases modified, to be used to gather additional items integral to the storyline.
While most of the transition from PC to mobile platforms has been smooth, there are a few aspects that did not translate well. In some areas where there are multiple objects to interact with (like looking at your compartment door for example), many arrows or hand symbols will cover your screen. For me, this took away from the immersion, and almost felt like the abundance of visible symbols was there as an attempt to show me what objects can be interacted with when I should be discovering these on my own. Furthermore, in smaller environments, these inputs can become quite close together, and I found sometimes I would press to turn in a direction I didn’t intend to.
Revisiting The Last Express was absolutely wonderful, and as a game that was originally envisioned over twenty years ago, many of the aspects that made it groundbreaking in 1997 still hold it up today in 2017, where it’s evolved from being a three-disc computer game to being playable on mobile devices. While some aspects of The Last Express didn’t transition over as smoothly as one would hope, strong voice acting performances that represent the nationality of the characters, an intriguing murder mystery set right before World War I, as well as fantastic sound design, make The Last Express hard to not recommend for mobile gamers and murder mystery enthusiasts alike.
|Intriguing mystery with fantastic sound design and voice acting||Aged game design and a sometimes cluttered interface|