Implayed (Episode 37): The 39 Steps

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I hadn’t heard of this game before I saw it in my Steam list. Turns out it’s a bit of a spy thriller book turned into a visual novel sorta game. I haven’t played much of it, but the few scenes that I have played have proven to be enough to have me hooked.

See, I’ve been watching these videos from The Great War, a channel on YouTube which has started chronicling the first World War on a week by week basis just as it happened 100 years ago. Obviously, the series starts in July 1914, as you get the context of what would become wartime Europe and how the events lead to the start of what was thought would be a short war.

The game sets itself a bit earlier than that. Still in 1914, but this time in the London of May, sometimes sunny but mostly wet, grey with rain. You play a thirty-seven year old chap who was participated in a war back in Africa, continued mining diamonds for De Beers there, and eventually came to the England in search of something to do. Speaking of De Beers, the diamond industry is quite an interesting beast, and you can read more about it here. It’s an older article (from 1982), but it’s a great piece of investigative journalism.

Voiceacted scenes like these really help immerse you in the story

Voiceacted scenes like these really help immerse you in the story

Anyway, this strapping chap you play as doesn’t find London as fun as most other people do, and decides to go back to Africa unless something turns up. And, being a novel adapted into a game, of course something does. An American spy barges in and tells you he’s faked his death to escape some ne’er-do-wells who have pinpointed his location. You play along, despite considering him a madman. What novel would it be if you didn’t?

Anyway, his story checks out, but that doesn’t stop his enemies from pursuing him, and it falls upon you to finish his mission. Are you hooked yet? I was. I’m intending to read the book now. Or maybe I’ll skip that and simply play the game to the end, despite some of the gripes I have with it.

See, there are no resolution options. The only way to play windowed (which I prefer) is by pressing Alt-Enter. The controls are a bit awkward, despite only requiring mouse prompts. You can go through text by spinning your mouse cursor, but who does that? You can also just click. I have no idea why they tell you to spin in the tutorial. My main problem is with the right click. If you click that, it puts you back in the menu. Resume and you are placed at the beginning of the current chapter, with unskippable cutscenes between there and where you were at.

The character you play is a war veteran, but he's not the typical badass

The character you play is a war veteran, but he’s not the typical badass vidya character

They’re relatively minor gripes compared to how the game treats its interactive novel species though – you are railroaded through the story but still get to explore some of the stuff that you see, rummage for items that may provide clues or more background story (of which there is quite a bit, considering the historical context), as well as interact with certain items via mouse gestures. I’m not sure if there is any more gameplay to it than that, but there isn’t any puzzle element to it that I have seen. It’s a rather casual game that way, but it conveys the information you need at your own pace and with rather gorgeous presentation, with various lines of voice acting throughout.

Would I recommend 39 Steps, the game adaptation of John Buchan’s eponymous story? If you want to play a game, probably not. But as a novel experience (see what I did there?), I wholeheartedly do.

You can get it here.

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