Developer: The Story Mechanics
Publisher: KISS ltd
Review Platform: Steam (PC)
Review Copy Provided By: The Story Mechanics
Release Date: April 25, 2013
The 39 Steps is not a game. It can be best described as a digital adaption of a literary work. Sure it has interactive elements but those elements are the bare minimum of what can be defined as interactive. The Story Mechanics adapted the classic James Buchan’s espionage thriller to a digital visual novel for iOS devices, PC, Mac, and Linux. The original novel inspired Ian Fleming’s James Bond, various famous stage productions, a radio drama starring Orson Welles, and movies including an Alfred Hitchcock adaption. The history behind the book and its adaptation is classic enough to have its fans but leaves one to wonder if that is relevant enough for a new kind of adaptation for modern audiences.
Set in 1914, Richard Hannay’s plight could be considered the original man on the run narrative. Hannay moved to London and quickly becomes restless around the onset of the first World War. A neighbor seeks safe haven and reveals that there is a plot to assassinate the Greek Premier. Soon after the neighbor is dead and Hannay has been framed for murder and must escape London while solving the puzzle of The 39 Steps on the run from the police and killers.
The 39 steps has barely any gameplay and the little bit contained in the interactive digital adaptation is way too simple for a PC game. The focus on story can be appreciated but the level of reading is more appropriate on other more personable platforms such as the iPad which The 39 Steps is also available on. Most of the game features beautifully drawn backdrops with text from the book and to progress to the next line of text the mouse must be rotated clockwise and counterclockwise to return to the previous line of text. Clicking the mouse progresses to the next backdrop after finishing the text on the current backdrop.
Some scenes allow you to click on objects and spend even more time reading providing details about the world. During an early chapter there are a couple newspapers that provide a frontpage full of articles to read. The information tends to be a bit of an overload creating a situation of not knowing what to focus on as important to the plot. Stopping and reading everything still leaves the game with only about 6-8 hours of gametime cutting quite a bit of text from the original novel.
As mentioned earlier, the art is hand drawn and quite a treat to look at. There is not a lot of animation with most of it being camera pans over the scenes as dialogue or player progressed text plays out. The 39 Steps ends up feeling slow paced due to the lack of visible action but those looking for a literary digital adaption should be fine with it.
An interesting design choice was that for the most part when characters are in the seen they are shown as ghostly blobs. The best assumption on the reasoning behind this was so the player could picture the characters much as the reader would in their head. The ghostly characters is quite puzzling considering that those interested in The 39 Steps are probably looking for those visual representations.
The audio work is top notch. Only the dialogue is voice acted but it is very well done to the point that I would have at least liked to hear the rest of the text narrated by Hannay’s voice actor. The sound effects are reminiscent of radio dramas and when mixed with original music score from Si Begg, the whole package is a treat on the ears immersing the player in early 1900s Britain.
The 39 Steps digital adaption is hard to classify as a game and when critiqued as one, it does horribly. Unfortunately the marketing behind the title is not very clear on what to expect leaving most to assume some kind of gameplay because of the PC-based digital platforms that it is available on. Despite being slow paced due to the amount of reading, the presentation is great and should be experienced by fans of the original work, adaptations, and/or genre. The recommended platform is a tablet so it can be consumed like a book as much as possible.