The 39 Steps Review

London's apparently pretty boring after a life in Rhodesia

  • Developer: The Story Mechanics
  • Publisher: KISS Ltd/GSP
  • Release Date: 25 April 2013
  • Time played: 4 hours

The 39 Steps is advertised as a "digital adaptation" of a classic adventure novel of the same name by John Buchan, and apparently it was an inspiration for Ian Fleming's James Bond. This definitely attracted my attention since ashamedly I've never heard of The 39 Steps before seeing the game advertised on Steam. Some investigation shows that John Buchan's novel was pretty popular, so much so that there have been several adaptations of the original 1915 novel such as radio plays, four films (including one by Alfred Hitchcock), a theatre play and now a video game. Considering its popularity, I thought it was a safe bet that I'd probably like the story despite gameplay being a mystery, so I decided to take the plunge and give it a go.

Does The 39 Steps have a sufficiently entertaining story or is it just trash? How does it work as a game? Can it even be considered a game?

Plot (5/5)
The 39 Steps has you playing the role of a wealthy Scottish man called Richard Hannay who has just returned to Britain from Rhodesia. After only a few days in London, Richard is already bored with his humdrum existence and almost decides to return to Africa when he meets a mysterious man who is eventually murdered in his very own apartment. Trying to escape the authorities who will surely blame him for the murder, Richard sets off on a journey across Britain not only trying to escape the authorities but also the real villains behind the murder.

As mentioned, the plot is based off John Buchan's 1915 novel The Thirty-Nine Steps which was apparently an inspiration for Ian Fleming's James Bond. In fact, it's apparently one of the earliest literary examples of a "man-on-the-run" thriller which is now often used as a plot device in Hollywood movies. So the plot might seem rather cliché in today's day and age, but the plot is still a lot better than many game plots out there today. I really enjoyed the story and was keen to find out what happened next after completing each chapter.

Gameplay (1/5)
The game unfortunately has no real gameplay whatsoever besides occasionally completing some gestures and looking for clues in a room. At least in Telltale adventure games you picked what to say during conversations and there were some Quick-Time Events during action sequences. So if you're expecting riveting gameplay, do not buy this game. However, as a "digital adaptation" where the story is enhanced by the sounds of Britain in the early 20th century, professional voice acting and the ability to investigate memorabilia of the day, it achieves its goal.

Sound (5/5)
Voice acting is performed by professional Scottish actors and there's great use of sound effects to bring the story to life. The game feels a lot like an interactive audiobook during the conversation segments of the game.

Music (4/5)
The game has suitably dramatic music courtesy of British DJ, Si Begg but it's not the most memorable save for the tense main theme you hear snippets of whenever you start a new chapter.

Graphics (4/5)
I love the painted backdrops in this game and there's a lot of detail put into the various objects you come across, such as newspapers of the day. It's a pity then that the characters in the story are just represented by silhouettes but maybe that was intentional; just like reading a real book, you've got to use your imagination when thinking about how the characters look.

Replay (2/5)
It took me about 4 hours to complete the game and that involved unlocking 100% of the Steam achievements. So when the game advertises itself as having a playtime of "5-8 hours" this seems to be a bit generous to me, unless you're a slower reader than myself of course - much slower.

Come on guys, this isn't a mobile game... oh wait, maybe it is

Polish (4/5)
I didn't notice any serious bugs although it's obvious this game is a port from a mobile game. At some points of the game instead of you simply opening doors you have to instead do a series of tedious gestures with the mouse which I assume mimic touchscreen gestures (e.g. holding the mouse button down and spinning it in a clockwise direction). While I don't mind adding some more interaction to the game I probably would've preferred Telltale's Quick-Time Events over the method The Story Mechanics employed since there are times where you'll have to repeat the gestures for trivial reasons such as not picking the right radius to draw a circle for example.

Score – 7/10

The Story Mechanics have done a splendid job of making you feel like you're back in 1914 Britain which enhances the experience you'll have reading their adaptation of the novel. If you're wanting to play a game, you'll be disappointed but if you're looking for an adventure novel to read with that extra level of immersion, and you've never read or seen the The 39 Steps before, it might be worth a look.

The 39 Steps is available from these retailers:

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[ LINK: Official The 39 Steps website ]