Ah the last express! A masterpiece when it came out, hundred years ago... But it kind of still is a masterpiece, and now it looks like a real peace of antique art. It does have something great to offer though, if you can see past the technical aspects.
You are on the last voyage of the famous train the oriental express, just before the first world war breaks out. You arrive on the train just after the departure, finding out your friend has been murdered. Slowly you learn about the passengers and their complex stories and motivations, who all seem to intertwined. You really feel the tension of the situation and the looming war. It is a great murder mystery that you would snuggle up with in your sofa, but this time, you are really there, seeing and experience the train as the main hero.
Well, sort of. Due to restrictions of computers back then, scenes are more like gifs with few colors. I think the whole game was filmed, and then more than half of the frames had to be taken out in order to run well and save space.
But the style, and especially the colors work in favor of the game. It reminds of how commercial posters were designed at the time. The characters and writing is well done. It is particularly refreshing that people speak their languages, instead of everything being in English. Your character knows a few languages, and in those cases, subtitles are provided.
This is one of those games that made me interested in gaming: a chance to participate in a movie, an event that you have dreamed to be a part of. The whole idea of not just watching a murder mystery happening on this beautiful train, but to actually be the hero was what really drew me in.
What really makes this title even more special is that all passengers have a deeper story that happens with or without you. Instead of just running down a corridor, while a normal game would feed you events in specific order, in this game you can explore the train at your own leisure. You listen to people in order to understand their motivations and backgrounds. All the passengers have their own agenda and the game feels alive. Great AI considering when this game was developed (1997). You have to behave, think and act like you were really on the train. You have to think: "What would they do now? Where are they now? How can I get to them? What are the consequences?" It is not about just finding objects and pulling levels. Also, you could argue there are multiple endings. In my mind there is only one good ending, but then you can end the game in other ways as well.
The game has a nice chapter system, and instead of saving, the story has "time". You can rewind the clock if you mess up.
The game is also not trying too hard to entertain you constantly with music and fantastic events. You are on a train, that behaves like a train. People behave like passengers from the time. But it is not boring at all, there is a real mystery going on of course. I for example love it how you can choose to interact with your romance interest. What would you do in real life?
So what is not so good about the game?
Well, the game is a sort of a port, because the original would not work on today's PCs. It is quite buggy. It crashed a few times, and the language files don't work as I write this. No matter what you select in the menus, the game will set the language to whatever your OS language is. There is a hint system included, which is both good and bad. It is good because the game does not behave like a normal game, and there is no hand holding, which can be confusing. Some help might be welcome. It is bad because you can just look at all the hints and the game offers no challenge what so ever. I recommend you don't use the hints, and just rewind the time if you mess up, it makes you interact more with the game like you are there. There are some quick time events. Not too many thank God, but they are not forgiving and some of them you end up doing 20 times before you win.
And, this title is not for everybody. This is a great old piece of art which really focuses on atmosphere, immersion and story. It is not a "gamey" game which feeds you constantly in fear of you being bored. You have to assume what to do yourself. It is more of an interactive story, and I think younger players are not going to dig it very much. It has nothing of what newer games provide (of course).
I'm not pushing the "older games were better" cliché, because it isn't true. But I miss these kinds of elements this game offer in newer games. I would love it if someone did a reboot on this one, with today's technology. Or if there were more games like this where you are in a specific situation with developed NPCs, where the game assume you are not a complete idiot.