The Last Dynasty, released in 1995 by Sierra, looks like it could be a cool action packed sci-fi adventure. And with that Star Wars meets Star Trek cover and strategic use of the word 'sizzling' on the back of the box why wouldn't you? In actuality the 'action packed' and 'adventure' elements are mutually exclusive leaving us with a game that, while enjoyable in parts, has something of an identity crisis.
Funnily enough, that crisis could also be said of our hero, Mel. He and his partner Dok have been hard at work developing a miniature rocket ship in the hopes of blasting it to outer space. Using their back yard as a launching area, it fails abysmally. At this point we're unsure of the relationship between these two twenty-somethings. Are they University students? A quick look at the manual suggests that they are not. Are they the first representation of a gay couple in videogames? It's not explicit but it looks commendably likely. In truth Dok is the secretly a guardian of Mel who, unbeknownst to him, is an alien prince with some very valuable data locked away in his mind. Now you know it's obvious, right?
Anyway, after the failed rocket attempt Dok shows off another little project he's been working on. A VR space combat simulator. Learn how to fly a spaceship and shoot at stuff. This is basically a tutorial for the space combat sections of which there are many. Despite how it looks, it's not particularly complicated. Move your mouse over the intended target and shoot. You change view and weapons with keyboard commands but it's not always necessary. Even the speed is automated by default. If an enemy is in your crosshair the ship will speed up to it and automatically steady out in line with the ship. You can manually control the speed with the + and - keys but not before you toggle the controls method by pressing S.
Now that you know the ropes, the alien war will make its way to Earth and furhter the plot. Good timing. The two board the grounded combat vessel of an ally and head off on their exciting adventure. Actually, there's a few space missions before we get to the adventure part, so hold off on that for now.
The combat missions are as confused as the game itself. From the tutorial onwards, we're taught to shoot all enemies in sight in order to progress, much like the dogfighting of most every other space sim. But there objectives change on a number of missions, causing a lot of confusion because it's not obvious what you have to do. For example, one mission asks you to head for the nearby planet but when you do a force-field will prevent you from doing so. There's a nearby structure that's obviously the source of the barrier and according to the HUD it's marked as an enemy so blast away! The only problem with this tactic is that once destroyed an overwhelming number of enemy drones floods the area and you're as good as dead. What you have to do is wait for a freighter (which is also marked as an enemy and can be destroyed) and stealthily follow it down. There's no clue that this is what you need to do and it left me stumped for quite a while. Only once I figured it out did I get a message from the ship's computer to 'follow the freighter'. The irony is that levels such as this would be very welcome had they been designed with more care.
After a number of missions, the adventure section starts. These sections are a lot more than the mini-diversions that make up the adventure portions of Wing Commander III (of which this takes a lot of inspiration from). From here, the rest of the game can be completed without a single return to the cockpit if you so choose. Viewed in the first person, it takes place on a large space station which looks to be abandoned and isolated, though in the context of the story is fully manned and operational (technical or time limitations no doubt). The puzzles are little more than fetch-quests that requires a large amount of back-tracking. Nothing too taxing though it does test your patience. The station is very large - an actual selling point - but there's a lot of empty rooms and similar looking corridors. It could've been half the size and still be considered a slog to get through. It looks incredible for the time with each step animated from point to point like the The 7th Guest. It's visually more impressive compared to the slide-show photographs of titles like Myst, but it doesn't allow for much in the way of interaction. It's a pity you can't get a closer look at some of the more interesting environments.
If you ever get bored of the station, you can return to the space action at any time. There's no reason plot-wise to do this but it does show how much confidence they had in this segment. In reality, the game sits uneasily for both action gamers and adventurers. Those of us in need of a point-n-click fix will have to slog through the twitch-based action of the space combat only to be disappointed by a sub-par adventure in the second half. Action gamers may like the frenetic action, but it's been simplified to the point where even speed is automated by default. And when they get to the space station I very much doubt they'd have the patience to get much further.
So who is this game for? I can imagine there were arguments at the design meetings at Coktel Vision as to which direction The Last Dynasty would go. In the end they went with splitting the game into two distinct halves each with their own genre, essentially being two games in one. Mixing the two can work - look at Coktel's own Inca series - but The Last Dynasty ultimately ends up being a rather schizophrenic game meant for everyone but caters to no-one.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox running Microsoft Windows 3.1 to get the game working on modern systems. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
The Last Dynasty is © Sierra On-Line & Coktel VisionReview, Cover Design and Installer created by me