Written by  :  -Chris (7565)
Written on  :  Nov 14, 2000
Platform  :  Windows

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An artistical masterpiece... unfortunately, not much of a game.

The Good

If there’s a rare compliment in the gaming business, it’s this one: this game has style. Last Express has deserved it in many ways. To film footage of live actors, then turn it into beautiful Art Nouveau graphics – that’s style. To make the locations, the wardrobes, the conversational topics historically accurate – that’s style. To let the multicultural passengers of a train talk in their native tongues and use subtitles – that’s style. Jordan Mechner and his crew manage to create characters that are not only credible, but also interesting; and that’s the foundation of the whole game. Slowly uncovering the background and motive of every passenger on board of the Orient Express proves to be considerably more exciting than one expects at first. I know very few games in which the actors, locations and places have been picked with that much care. Unfortunately, I know many an example in which the actual gameplay doesn’t live up to the look.

The Bad

Beneath its artistic veil, Last Express is a disappointingly simple game. You can count the puzzles on one hand, and they are not the “think”-type, but the “search” one. Not “How do I distract the conductor to search the rooms undisturbed?”, but “When is he going to leave at last, dammit?” Even worse, the puzzles obstruct the plot; you want to progress, but can’t, as something has to be done first. I wouldn’t have needed puzzles in this game. I would have enjoyed it as much, probably even more, as interactive movie. Yes, I know this term is dreaded. Rightfully so due to bad experience, but not because the concept wouldn’t work. Last Express is the best hint we’ve received so far that it would work, and be astonishingly thrilling. Because it is fluent like a movie, yet involves you like a game; it’s not the actors of a film that unravel the mystery – it’s you! Last Express has learnt from the movies how to fill persons with life, how to create atmosphere, how to tell a story. All it would have needed to learn from games is the freedom of choice, nothing else. Forget about puzzles; trust in man’s strongest drive, curiosity. Discovery means satisfaction; give him things to discover! Why annoy him with stupid action sequences when an exciting animated fight alone would be reward enough? A truly excellent interactive movie does not need to force challenges; it should be a challenge in itself.

The Bottom Line

The Last Express is weak as a game. That said, it is a milestone of computer gaming, as it marks an attempt at style in a business that’s uniform, at development in a business that doesn’t get ahead. As close to a truly thrilling interactive movie as anything, it fails only because it tries to be too much game, when it should have been more movie.