The Last Express is an old game, an interesting game and one I’ve been meaning to play for a number of years. I was finally spurred into action by the guys at Idle Thumbs, who rightly asserted that The Last Express is a perfect example of an evolutionary path in video games that just never panned out, mainly for financial reasons.

The Last Express is an adventure game by Jordan Mechner, who also made all of the good Prince of Persia games. The storyline for the game is set over three days and it’s all set right on the very eve of the first world war, with all the action and adventure taking place on a train that is travelling from Paris to Constantinople. The train is the famous Orient Express and as the journey begins there is a murder on board. Admittedly I know a lot of this only from what I’ve heard – I’m still playing the game for the first time at the moment.

So far then, The Last Express is just a normal game, but here’s the kicker – it’s all set in real-time. It's also a game I want to invite you to play with me.
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Would you like to play The Last Express with me?
The Last Express uses a unique rotoscope art style

Everything that happens on the train happens once and once only, minute by minute in time with the real world. When the police stop the train for three minutes to search it then it isn’t just a case of finding the pre-ordained solution to the problem of avoiding them and letting them go, it’s a matter of actually avoiding them for that entire time. Although I’ve not got to it yet I’ve also heard there’s a section of the game where the passengers enjoy a concert that lasts for twenty minutes and you can actually sit down and enjoy it with them, or fill that time searching for clues.

There is some lee-way in the game naturally, to make sure you always have a second chance. Inexplicably you carry a Faberge egg with which you can rewind time or, in some places, fast-forward it. It’s a handy tool if you find yourself cornered by the clock, but as far as the game reality is concerned there is only one timeline and you can’t use the clock to pick up multiple items at once, for example.

I’ve not played the game very far just yet, having only just made it to Strasbourg from Paris, but I’m enjoying it. The game is clunky as hell and uses the same style of movement and 3D environments as Myst did, but it’s tolerable. The fact that you sometimes don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing is more annoying, but careful exploration always turns something up it seems as, while the train is quite small, it’s realised in stunning detail.

Would you like to play The Last Express with me?
Action! Intrigue! Co-operative forum-based gaming! Maybe!

The reason I’m telling you all this though is because, since The Last Express is a game of determined length and with identifiable checkpoints, I thought it might be fun if a group of us in the community decided to play the game together and share ideas about what’s going on, like a little detective club. I’m probably not going to play it again until this weekend, so any of you who want to join me have plenty of time to catch up and meet me in Strasbourg, so to speak. From there we can all aim to reach the next station by a certain date and share ideas and suspects along the way. As long as nobody races ahead and ruins it it should be fine – and I’ll promise you now that anyone who does will get perma-banned. I want to enjoy this game with or without you all, OK?

The Last Express is pretty hard to track down for sale since the publisher and developer went completely out of business, but it is easily available online in some utterly non-condonable forms. It runs natively on both Vista and XP from what I’ve seen.

I’m still not entirely sure how this idea might work, but if you’re interested in hopping on board the Orient Express with a bunch of like-minded geeks and trying to collectively solve a murder-mystery then say so in the forum and we can try and figure it out. Hopefully, I’ll see you in Strasbourg soon and come this weekend we can move forward with the plot from there. If not then I'm going to look very silly for having asked.
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