The Last Express is an adventure video game designed by Jordan Mechner and published by Brøderbund in 1997 for PC. Players take on the role of an American who accepts an invite by a friend to join them on the Orient Express, days before the start of World War I, only to become involved in a maelstrom of treachery, lies, political conspiracies, personal interests, romance and murder, upon boarding the train. The game is unique in how it was created, its non-linear story, and in how events in the game are conducted within real-time.
The game was a commercial disappointment following its release, but received highly positive reviews and a positive post-release response. A Sony PlayStation port was in development, but was cancelled before it was finished. The game was later reacquired by Mechner, who worked with DotEmu to make portable versions of the game for iOS and Android, and later released a remade version for Steam, entitled The Last Express – Gold Edition.
The game operates primarily from a first-person perspective of the story's lead character when they explore the train, with cutscenes being conducted in the third-person. Gameplay takes place almost entirely within real-time, albeit accelerated by a factor of six; the only time when it is not, is when the player's character sleeps at certain intervals and when the player is on the game's pause menu. Events within the game are scripted and thus occur at specific times denoted by the in-game clock – for example, a character leaving their compartment in order to go to the restaurant car in order to have lunch. When on the pause menu, the player can rewind time, either to a specific point, or to a specific destination on the express' route (i.e. Paris), or the player can fast forward to a later time, up until the current point in the story that they have reached.
The main areas of the game are within the carriages of the train, with the player able to look around each place they are in, move down corridors, enter and leave compartments, knock on doors, and talk to people. Items within the game can be interacted with, either to be examined, or in some cases, collected by the player for use later on. The game's story features around thirty characters, each of whom has their own artificial intelligence and individual agendas – as such they conduct actions that allow them to complete their own personal goals, only changing their plans due to player intervention - with the game using a non-linear approach of story-telling, in which the player's actions or in-actions, affect how the story plays out; the game's many events, led to its script being around 800 pages long.
The game's story features multiple endings, depending on the player's actions. Around thirty of these are game overs, involving the main character being killed or arrested. Four are alternate endings, with only one of these being the "true" ending.
The game's story takes place in 1914, between 24–27 July, on the last journey made by the Orient Express from Paris to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) before the outbreak of World War I. Much of the game's events occur within the train itself, which consists of two baggage cars, a restaurant car, two sleeping cars, and a private car. The plot written for the game includes many elements of a mystery, including murder, secret plots and deals, lies and personal agendas, as well as featuring notable references to political climates in Europe.
Robert Cath, an American doctor on the run from the British and French police, both of whom suspect he was involved in the murder of an Irish police officer, accepts an invite from his friend Tyler Whitney to join him on the Orient Express, in regards to an important deal he has made. Forced to board the train while it is heading out of Paris, Cath discovers Whitney dead in his compartment, with the only clues he finds being: a mysterious scroll written in Russian and consisting of a simple fairytale; an elaborately designed box that is empty; and a purple and gold scarf with the letter "W" embroidered on it. Assuming his friend's identity and dealing with his body, Cath decides to investigate, and finds a few people of interest amongst the train's passengers: August Schmidt, a German arms dealer whom Whitney had been in contact with; Anna Wolff, an Austrian violinist whom Cath has suspicions about; Vassili Obolensky, a Russian count travelling with his granddaughter, Tatiana Obolenskaya; Alexei Dolnikov, a Russian anarchist and a childhood friend of Tatiana; and Sophie de Bretheuill and Rebecca Norton, a pair of women travelling together.
Sometime after dinner is served, Cath finds himself invited to meet with Kronos, an mysterious art collector travelling in a private car with his African servant Kahina, who reveals that Whitney had arranged to exchange an item called the "Firebird" for a large sum of gold, and that he is aware of who Cath is. Shortly after the meeting, Cath finds himself encountering Miloš Jovanović, a Serbian travelling with a group of associates, who mistakenly believes he murdered Whitney until Cath sets him straight, only to learn that his friend had made a deal with him, but learns little on the details. Unable to sleep that night, Cath visits Anna in her compartment upon finding she is still awake, only to be forced at gunpoint to reveal who he is when she informs him that she knows he is not Whitney, having been in his friend's compartment upon his arrival on the train. Anna finds herself forced to drop the matter after the pair overhear Obolensky having a panic attack. Shortly after Cath helps to treat him as best as he can, he eavesdrops on Anna asking Tatiana to look after something important.
The next day, Cath has a meeting with Miloš, who reveals that he and his associate are part of a Serbian outfit called the Black Hand, and learns of the agreement made between Whitney and a Serbian general. Having helped with supporting foreign liberty causes, Whitney had agreed to supply a large cache of weapons to the Serbians, and was given one of Serbia's national treasures to help with the purchase – an elaborately designed music box called the Firebird, which assumes the form of a golden egg when closed, but when opened in a special way, transforms into a beautiful singing mechanical bird, and a whistle designed in the form of a scarab beetle. Whitney had arranged to sell the treasure to Kronos, in exchange for gold coins that he would then use to purchase the arms from Schmidt. With no gold and the treasure missing, Cath finds he must recover them and complete the deal with Schmidt, or face severe consequences.