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Paris. July 24, 1914. The Orient Express sits in the Gare de l'Est, bound for Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, and Constantinople. Gendarmes look out from a balcony as an announcer warns of the train's imminent departure. A worried American looks out the door of the train car as it begins to pull out of the station. With a look of disappointment, he returns to the car.
As the train speeds through a French field, a motorcycle pulls alongside it in its travel. Two people have squeezed onto its frame. The passenger stands up on the motorcycle. Grasping at the rails, he makes a leap across to the door of the train, as the motorbike's driver pulls off her cap to reveal her long, flowing red hair. You are Robert Cath, wanted all across Europe. You have just boarded the Last Express.
The Last Express was a 1997 Adventure Game by Smoking Car Productions, set on the Orient Express at the eve of World War One. Lovingly written and put together, it was the unfortunate victim of a Diabolus Ex Machina involving its distributor. Broderbund's entire marketing department quit just weeks before the game was to be released, which resulted in absolutely no advertising for it. While critically acclaimed, it was one of the biggest gaming flops in history.
If you can't track down a copy, all is not lost--one of the creators (Jordan Mechner) edited all the significant events together into a movie, which can be watched at his site, and the game was recently rereleased as a Digital Download Collector's Edition. It is also available on GOG.com, and an iOS port has been announced.
The game provides examples of:
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign - The Persian eunuch shouts at you... in Arabic.
- Averted for everyone else. All characters other than the aforementioned eunuch speak their native languages perfectly.
- All There in the Manual - The story works just fine if you don't check, but the official web site (mirror) and the official strategy guide have a bit of background on the characters. Playing the game without these just dips you in headfirst.
- Badass Bookworm - Robert Cath; medical doctor, speaks at least four languages, currently pursuing an interest in classical Byzantine literature... and throws a hell of a punch.
- Batman Gambit - Schmidt's arms deal was arranged only so it could be thwarted by Anna and give the Austrians and Germans an excuse to go to war with Serbia. It fails if either Anna dies, Schmidt cancels the deal, or Cath pushes the train on to Constantinople.
- Big No - When you blow the whistle at the end.
- Bilingual Bonus - Although French, German and Russian dialogue has subtitles, there are none for Serbo-Croatian or Arabic, neither of which Cath knows.
- Also, although Cath can speak Russian, he apparently cannot read Cyrillic script and needs one of the Russian-speakers to translate the fairytale for him.
- Bilingual Dialogue - Done to the extreme.
- Break the Cutie - Tatiana. Let's start with the fact that her grandfather is a Czarist and her lover is an anarchist bomber and say it only gets worse from there.
- But Now I Must Go - just after Anna and Cath save each other and there is a bit of romance, Anna unfortunately has to leave the train. The game is scripted so that it will always arrive just after the fight sequence.
- Cassandra Truth - Nobody believes François when he says he saw a body being thrown out the window. Even though that's exactly what you did.
- Dead Man's Chest - One of the ways to stop anyone from finding the body is to stash it in your bed.
- Dead Person Impersonation - Robert Cath, the protagonist, impersonates his friend, Tyler Whitney (in the page picture).
- Deadpan Snarker: Robert Cath has his moments.
Milos: Have you heard of "Unity or Death"?
Cath: Sure, that's Harvard's motto. Or is it the post office...?
- Development Hell: A film version directed by Paul Verhoeven was announced some time ago but seems to have stalled.
- Doing It for the Art - The "making of" video shows how painstaking they were about accuracy, the quality of the live art nouveau animation, the intricate-yet-flexible storyline, and the depth of characterization right down to individual reactions to meeting the protagonist in the corridor.
- Downer Ending - WWI begins, Cath doesn't/won't get the girl, Tatiana blows herself up, and the explanation of Tyler's death leaves something to be desired. The other ending hints at a sequel, but the player dies just afterwards. Plus the Comic Relief dies among others.
- Empty Room Psych - Some of the passenger compartments have (at times) nothing important or plot related in them but you'll be so happy you managed to sneak past the conductors you'll look everywhere before leaving.
- Foregone Conclusion - It's too late to prevent the war; it's all a matter of being in the right place when it begins.
- Gainax Ending - YMMV, but the golden robotic bird of death really felt out of place in a game that up to that point established itself as a serious spy murder mystery.
- Gorgeous Period Dress
- Grey and Gray Morality - The creators were going for this, as touched on in the "making of" video. Cath, for instance, is not a bad guy, but he's not exactly ethical, either.
- Hide Your Lesbians - If you read Rebecca's diary and listen to her and Sophie's conversations, it's clear that they're involved in a lesbian relationship and the purpose of their travel is to go to a secluded island together. But then Sophie makes it clear in one conversation that she intends to get married (to a man) one day, and advises Rebecca to do the same before her beauty fades. Rebecca does not like this idea.
- Lady of War - Anna
- Late to the Party - The game quickly becomes this both in-game and out as the player is given little introduction to the protagonist (if you didn't think to check the web site or the official strategy guide, the entirety of his backstory and motivations must be puzzled out through dialogue and in-game documents). Cath himself has practically no information about what he agreed to help Tyler accomplish, and spends the first half of the game bluffing that he does.
- Lipstick Lesbian - The two French and English girls traveling together.
- MacGuffin - Tyler's money, and later The Firebird.
- Multiple Endings - Mostly dying or being arrested, but the player can also escape the train with a lot of money but a lot of unanswered questions. Or, set off an international incident.
- Mysterious Past - Just why does Robert want to go to Constantinople so badly, anyway? (answer: he's a wanted man in more or less the entire Western world, and Tyler offered him a ticket out. Also, it's on the way to Jerusalem.)
- Cath says the whole freedom-fighting and arms-dealing things were more Tyler's areas, but he was allegedly hanging out with the Irish independence movement just before the game begins. It's also not clear where Cath picked up the knowledge of herbal medicine (with Datura stramonium) or what appears to be a hypnotic ability he uses a few times, including on the Firebird itself.
- Kronos is also particularly mysterious. His descent and what title he has to be addressed as "his excellency" is unclear, along with how he knows what's really going on in general, including knowing Cath's name and that he masquerading as Whitney from the outset, or why (aside from an passion for knowledge) he wants anything to do with the Firebird.
- Noodle Incident - "Still angry about Cuba."
- Obfuscating Stupidity - George Abbot, bumbling British businessman... and spy.
- Also applies to Cath. All of the French people on the train (except François, the little boy,) assume he cannot speak French. This lets him eavesdrop on their conversations very easily.
- Orient Express - A fictionalized account of its final run.
- Police Are Useless - The Orient Express has to leave the station on time. Even when a body was found near the tracks. Even when every passenger on the train has been located except one.
- Somewhat justified in that the train conductors consider them just small-town cops with nothing better to do than harass them with something that can't possibly be their problem. That said, if they do find Cath, they realize he fits the description of a fugitive and arrest him right away.
- Press X to Not Die: All the "fights" in the game are basically this. Quite annoying, in the context of the game's checkpoint-based save system, because screwing up once mights redoing everything since the last train station.
- Real Time: Sped up by a factor of five.
- Refuge in Audacity: If you want the game to continue beyond Vienna, the correct way to obtain the briefcase is to drop into Kronos's cabin from above during the concert, steal the briefcase, then walk out holding the briefcase in plain view of everyone. The audience is probably too focused on Kronos and Miss Wolff to realize what's going on; Kronos and Kahina know exactly what's going on but are powerless to do anything about it at that time since their concert is part of The Masquerade and they must keep it going.
- Scare Chord: Used when Robert Cath discovers the body of his friend, Tyler Whitney.
- Stillborn Franchise - The Last Express hints at an awesome sequel in which both the significance of Cath's ring and the reason behind his all-consuming drive to get to Jerusalem will be revealed. The suggestion that the 13th tribe of Israel may be involved somehow makes it all the more tantalizing. These would all be spoiler tagged but there will never be a sequel, so we will never know what happened.
- Stock Scream - The Wilhelm can be heard when Cath tosses one of the Serbian terrorists off the top of the train.
- Sweet Polly Oliver - One of the Black Hand. Nobody's fooled.
- Those Two Girls - Rebecca and Sophie, who have nothing to do with the plot but love to talk about everything. If the game ends early, you get an excerpt from Rebecca's journal, explaining what happened to that mysteriously handsome man.
- Thriller on the Express
- Traintop Battle
- Unexpected Gameplay Change - The fight scenes.
- Vasquez Always Dies - The only females who die in the game (in the good ending) are also the least feminine. Except Tatiana.
- Western Terrorists - The Black Hand, Serbian nationalists. Alexei Dolnikov, Russian nihilist/anarchist. Cath himself is a fugitive for at least his involvement with the IRA; though his only crime there was treating their injured - or so George diplomatically concedes. It's not clear if that's what happened or if that would become the "official story" if Cath took his offer to ally himself with British interests; either way, the offer isn't taken.
- Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Lampshaded in a dialogue between Cath and Schmidt.
Cath: "Where do the Fatherland's interests lie in arming a band of Serbian terrorists?"
Schmidt: "You surprise me. I had thought you'd at least keep up the pretense of sympathy with the group who is paying you."
Cath: "I didn't say I wasn't sympathetic. I said they were terrorists."