Review - 'The Secret World - The Last Train to Cairo'
'The Secret World', available from Amazon
The second piece of purchasable DLC released for the MMORPG The Secret World takes you back to Egypt to continue your battle against the Cult of Aten, and its mysterious leader Abdel Daoud. While, before, your goal was to aid the Marya soldiers in their efforts to prevent the cult from resurrecting their ancient god, this time it seems that the cult have a new plan - one that involves smuggling a powerful and dangerous artifact out of Al'Merayah, and taking it to the distant city of Cairo. So, it is a race against time to uncover the cult's plans, and to recover the artifact before it reaches Cairo - because, it if does, the inhabitants of an entire city could meet an extremely unpleasant fate.
It will be the fan favourite (well, I'm a fan, and he's one of my favourites) Nassir, the Marya demolitions expert with a particular fondness for American action films, who will set you on the right path. Of course, it isn't going to be as easy as following a convenient trail of breadcrumbs left behind by your average comically inept enemies - nothing ever is in The Secret World. Instead, on learning of the cultist's plans, you will once more find yourself dealing with the immortal mummy turned shady arms dealer, Said. Of course, nothing is free for someone like Said - so, before he will give you the information you need, you will have to do him a few favours. Favours which, in this case, just so happen to require a trip back into the distant past of ancient Egypt.
This is, quite clearly, a very different sort of story to the one told in the previous DLC, The Vanishing of Tyler Freeborn. This is perfectly fitting, of course - each section of The Secret World as always had a distinct feel which separates it from all the others. Solomon Island has always been a place of straight-forward, if occasionally surreal, Lovecraft-inspired horror. Egypt, on the other hand, is a place of high adventure - a place that brings to mind the adventures of characters like Allan Quartermain or, of course, Indiana Jones. And, there are a few knowing nods to the Indiana Jones franchise, in particular, with this new story. It is, after all, no coincidence that the newest Auxiliary weapon (the class of high-powered weaponry added to the game after launch) is a whip. Just as it's no coincidence that the new merchant added to the game alongside the DLC sells a conspicuously familiar outfit. There are also times when the music will begin to sound similar, though not quite identical, to the classic Indiana Jones theme You will even find yourself having to outrun a massive rolling boulder, at one point.
One early highlight in this new story is actually something rather simple. At one point, you will find yourself temporarily stripped of your powers - requiring you to rely on your own fists for the first time. The mechanics here are fairly simple, though actually pretty effective. Your usual ability bar will be replaced by one containing a selection of different light and heavy punches, along with a 'block' healing option. With this new mechanic in place, you will then be set loose to dish out a bit of good, old-fashioned, two-fisted justice to a few crazy cultists.
This section was one that I particularly enjoyed - and, I hope that this simple mechanic is use again, in some way. It also came as something of a relief after some frustration with the 'Sabotage' missions which opened up the new story. The 'Sabotage' missions, for those unfamiliar with The Secret World, are a class of mission where the goal is typically to avoid out-right combat, and to work behind the scenes.
They were a respectable effort to add some much-needed variety to the game. The problem for me, though, is that I just don't like them - and, I never have. They're stealth mission in a game that doesn't actually have any sort of stealth mechanics - and, they tend to work about as well as you would expect. Some are actually fairly well done, of course (the 'Black House' mission from early on in the game, with its investigation of the nature of a haunted house, was an early favourite of mine, despite being classed as a 'Sabotage' mission) - but, whenever you have one that involves having to avoid any sort of security, you know that you're in for a frustrating case of trial-and-error.
I have to admit, though, that I was expecting a bit more from the time travel sections of the story than we were actually given. I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting, though. Introducing time travel into the fictional universe of The Secret World, and establishing it as something 'real', feels like a pretty big deal - and, giving the player the chance to travel a few thousand years into the past is even more so. But, there is no real opportunity to see ancient Egypt at the height of its power, or to interact with any historical figures. Instead, your trips back into the distant past will amount to little more than an opportunity to poke around Roman encampments, and Egyptian temples. They're only short missions, really. Of course, it's hardly a failing of the DLC that it doesn't quite meet my own personal expectations, though - especially when my own expectations weren't even all that realistic.
Of course, just like with The Vanishing of Tyler Freeborn, it was the final mission of the new story-line that gave the greatest pay-off. Here, things end in a way that seems perfectly fitting to an Indiana Jones inspired adventure - with a frantic race to catch a fast moving train, and a fight over the carriage roof-tops as you make your way toward the mysterious artifact. I'll admit that my first attempts at this final level ended in, rather embarrassing, failure - though, as has happened so often with the combat in The Secret World, it seemed as though that was mostly my own fault. Simply taking the time to swap my abilities around, and change tactics, was all it took to turn things around.
Once again, the DLC will be about $10 for a couple of hours of new content. It may lack the feeling of tense immersion that you get with The Vanishing of Tyler Freeborn was - but, The Last Train to Cairo, despite the occasional frustration, was a lot more fun. The new story was among the best that The Secret World has to offer - but, unfortunately, the emphasis on frustrating 'Sabotage' missions spoiled the experience a bit, for me.
© 2013 Dallas Matier
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