The Last Express is an adventure video game designed by Jordan Mechner and published by Brøderbund in 1997. It takes place on the Orient Express, days before the start of World War I. It is noted as being one of the few video games that attempts to realistically simulate real time. The game was a commercial disappointment, but received highly positive reviews and a positive post-release response.
Mechner founded Smoking Car Productions to create the game. The company was located in San Francisco from 1993–1997 and at its peak had sixty full-time employees.
Set on the Orient Express in 1914, the player takes on the role of Robert Cath, an American doctor on the train's final journey from Paris to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) before World War I. Cath, already wanted by French police as he is suspected of the murder of an Irish police officer, is contacted urgently by his old friend Tyler Whitney, to join him on the Orient Express, gateway to the East, and a possible exit from all his troubles. Cath boards the train via a motorcycle and looks for Whitney, who is already on board. However, from the moment he steps onto this luxurious train, Cath becomes involved in a maelstrom of treachery, lies, political conspiracies, personal interests, romance and murder.
The game has 30 characters representing a cross-section of European forces at the time, including Serbian freedom fighters, a German arms dealer, a Russian anarchist, an Austrian concert violinist, a Persian eunuch and his private harem, a mysterious art collector and others. As the train races east, the player must stay alive while interacting with these characters, which includes eavesdropping on conversations, sneaking into compartments and defusing a bomb. The story is non-linear, with the player's actions (and failures to act) determining the course of the story; as a result, the game's script is 800 pages long.
The Last Express is unique for taking place in almost complete real-time, albeit accelerated by a factor of six. The player can also rewind and occasionally fast-forward time at will. The game begins at 7:14 p.m. on July 24, 1914, and ends at 7:30 p.m. on July 27 (if the player has reached the proper ending). The only events during which the game does not proceed in real-time are times when Cath is sleeping or unconscious, as well as a few cutscenes. One of the game's most notable uses of this technique during a concert, in which two of the non-player characters perform a piano/violin duet that lasts approximately twenty minutes of real-time: the player character is free to sit down and enjoy the music, or move as he pleases. The game's some thirty characters have their own artificial intelligence and individual agendas, moving around to accomplish their goals, or changing their plans due to player intervention. In this way, the game has a higher replay value than a similar-length linear game, with no two playthroughs exactly alike. Additionally, the game features multiple endings; about thirty are "fatal", in which Cath is killed or arrested, and four are "non-fatal" endings, of which only one is considered to be the proper ending.