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THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS by The Story Mechanics

THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS

By The Story Mechanics

Pub Date: April 13th, 2013
Publisher: The Story Mechanics

The often reworked World War I–era espionage classic re-emerges on a new, interactive media platform that somewhat dilutes its inherent drama and suspense. 

Richard Hannay’s desperate flight from both the long arm of the law and a murderous cabal of World War I conspirators has been entertaining audiences in one form or another for the last century. It’s not particularly surprising that the well-worn tale has now turned up as an ambitious, visually stylish app that seeks to bridge the gap between gaming and literature. All the classic elements of the intrepid Mr. Hannay’s adventure—from the grisly murder of the secret agent he harbors to his subsequent escape into the Scottish Highlands—are retained in the digital version. Split into 19 chapters that must be completed individually in order to progress through the story, the app also consists of several marginally interactive components that will be very familiar to role-playing gamers everywhere. Ghostly bits of clickable text, for instance, fade in and out over mostly static interiors and exteriors while two-dimensional characters appear on screen. Seemingly unimportant items like maps, newspapers and letters must be collected in order to fully understand unfolding events. Collectible Profile cards help keep track of the increasing cast of characters and their back stories, while chapters can be revisited in order to pick up missed items. Players/readers can also check out their progress at any time during the digital experience. Overall, however, the story plays like an old CD-ROM game from the mid-1990s, with only token stabs at utilizing the iPad’s next-generation capabilities. One feature that attempts to capitalize on the device’s “drawable” screen merely mimics mundane actions like opening a door or a window and feels particularly pointless. The pacing throughout—from glacial camera pans and push-ins to evaporating dissolves—is also problematic and painfully slow. Superior voice acting, however, is consistently good, from the main character down to each member of the supporting cast. 

Digital (in)activity slows down an already ponderous suspense yarn.