The Last Express is a classic point-and-click adventure game from 1997. It's been brought to Android by developers DotEmu, who are developing a reputation for bringing classic older titles to modern platforms.
The Last Express is one of the tenser point-and-clicks you're likely to come across without introducing elements of the supernatural. Taking place on board a train that's traveling through Europe toward Constantinople days before the outbreak of World War I, you'll be interacting with a number of strong characters with different motives.
That's not all that The Last Express has to offer, though. It's tense for another reason - time management. There's an in-game clock that runs substantially faster than real time. If you don't complete certain objectives by a set (and obfuscated) time limit. If you don't, it can either lead to your premature death or you'll miss out on certain interactions. If you do die before completing the game, the game allows you to turn back time to certain specific, key points, with the hope being that you can rectify whatever mistake you made the first time around.
However, time travel is a complicated business and there are certain limitations to what you can do. It's not just a case of pausing yourself in the present and quickly hopping back to change something so that your present self is in a much better position. Rather, once you go back into the past and change something, you must continue to play from there, presumably as changing your actions in the past will erase your future self from the timeline completely. If you can't find something in the past to change, then you can return to the future and look for a different point in time to go back to.
This probably sounds a little complicated. It is, but with good reason. The Last Express doesn't just have a single ending and each problem encountered along the way has more than one solution, too. This makes it a much more flexible title than some modern point-and-click games, which have become all too linear in recent years.
Without spoiling things too much, there are two proper endings - a good one, and a bad one - and these do not include the premature endings mentioned earlier. The Last Express doesn't lock these endings off to those who haven't collected every object or spoken to every person - you can actually skip some characters completely and still get the endings, you just won't be able to glean as much insight from conversations that you do have or reveal quite as many of the smaller details on the plot that the game has to offer.
Time management and travel aside, The Last Express is still very much a typical point-and-click adventure game. You'll be talking to characters, exploring different areas of the train, eavesdropping, collecting items and using them to solve puzzles later on. Objects and navigation are presented through on-screen icons which are just about adequate, albeit a little on the clunky side and not always brilliantly descriptive, either.
Characters are fully voice acted, and it's generally done to a good standard - although some of the foreign accents do come across as being a bit ‘Allo ‘Allo rather than authentic. When you do begin a conversation, it's presenting as a cutscene - meaning you don't have control over what your character says or how he reacts.
Graphically, The Last Express is an odd one. The static art style itself reminds us of a low-budget 90s cartoon - a little rough around the edges but stylishly so.
The animation, for me, is my least favourite part of the game. It's done in a style that you don't see too often called rotoscoping. There's a reason why it isn't used very often, as the final product looks very stilted and juddery - something that we didn't really enjoy looking at for protracted amounts of time.
The cutscenes use the same rotoscoping style, although here there are weird combinations of static and moving backgrounds, which to be honest only serves to make things worse on the eyes.
There are issues, too, with the subtitles, which are required for those of who aren't multi-lingual, to pick on key clues and information. Sometimes, the subtitles, in white text, are displayed over the top of very similarly light backgrounds or objects, making them a real chore to read - especially on mobile screens that don't have great contrast or pixel density.
Another thing that we found a little annoying was not being able to change screen orientation without restarting the game - and that despite which orientation we chose, we was still left with sizeable black bars.
The game itself will take up a whopping 1.25GB of space on your mobile device - something it most assuredly did not do on PC in 1997. I'm guessing that's somewhat necessary to accommodate decent quality sound assets and reworking the game to run on Android - but it is still about the largest Android game we've ever downloaded by some distance. Not one to download if you have a data cap or slow Wi-Fi!
That being said, if the sound assets have been reworked, DotEmu haven't made a spectacular job of it when compared to their other classic ported titles such as Karateka and Sanitarium, as we've encountered quite a lot of audio crackling, especially in conversations. There's very little in the way of background music (indeed it just seemed to start suddenly a long way into my play through), and environmental effects are rudimentary and repeated ad nauseam.
The animation style is a miss, for me, although it's going to be subjective. However, that, combined with the price makes The Last Express is a hard one to recommend to anyone who isn't a die-hard point-and-click fan. Even for those people, I'd heartily suggest playing it on PC. It's available on Steam for about the same price and presents a much better playing experience.