This is a Visual Novel. That means there are no real puzzles, no real gameplay, and it is just the story. If you like point and click adventure games, a visual novel isn't a big step backwards from that sort of thing. You just don't get the puzzles that come along with the adventure genre. So when you want a totally relaxing time of just visualizing a story a graphic novel will succeed in doing that without making you have to think much about solving any puzzles. The 39 Steps is probably one of, if not the best visual novels I have ever played. It adds a lot of extra background and lore to explore within this as well that most visual novels don't contain.
The 39 Steps is a classic thriller novel that has been adapted to this medium in such a way that it feels like a big time studio was behind it rather than an Indie team. This political thriller takes place in Europe, mostly in England and Scotland, You are a man that stumbles into a bit of a political conspiracy by chance, which forces you to eventually run for your life and solve the mystery before your life is ruined.
The quality of the artwork is superb. The menus and user interface are clean and slick. There are no bugs, no glitches, and everything is done in a professional way. You can "add a bookmark" at any place in the story to the point that you can do this after every line of text presented. Making it simple to navigate back to where you were. The story is also broken up into about 20 segments so you should never find yourself lost along the way. You can have 3 profiles as well. I think it would be difficult to play this without feeling like this is how a visual novel SHOULD be done. It is as good as it gets for this genre. Adventure fans not familiar with the visual novel genre may just find that this will convince them to try more due to how well made it was.
It has hand painted watercolor artwork that looks extremely realistic, and is a wonder to gaze upon. You feel like you are inside the rooms the story brings you to, the landscapes outdoors that you are stomping through, and they are so well done that you may even feel the sun shining down upon you while you are lying in a field trying to hide from your pursuers. Behind all these backdrops are well placed sound effects to give the right atmosphere. Things like horse's hooves clacking away, the coughs of patrons in a restaurant, and the footsteps of a cobblestone street. Combine that with a perfectly toned musical score to crank up the tension when it is needed, or simply set the stage for some mystery, all aspects of a well done story are in place from a technical standpoint.
The game is mostly done in written text, as all visual novels are, but there are many scenes of the story that give us voice acting. The voice acting is professional. Believable for all times voices are used, accents feel genuine, and the characters all give the right inflections for the tone they are trying to convey. It is some of the best voice work I have heard in a game, and spectacular considering that it is an Indie title.
Besides the voice acting, there are even a few video scenes done in that old time English cartoon way of film and presented in the silent film format. The solid black characters on solid colored backgrounds riding a horse and carriage, or an old Model-T, where you only see the whites of their eyes and teeth. Showing stories being told as they take a trip from one area to another as they are recounted to other characters. There are 3-4 of these and they are an amusing break from the reading. Between these and the voice additions you feel like you get to take some breaks from just reading quite often.
Besides the presentation being top notch, The 39 Steps has an interesting view into the time period in which this novel takes places (1910's). You are able to click on scenes that give you closer looks at objects where you can read letters, look at objects more closely to give you the more intricate details of their design, and most importantly you can read several newspapers from the time period. These newspapers aren't all fictional either. The relevant articles for the story purposes are highlighted, and can be read from an easier view text form, but there are dozens of interesting historical stories and advertisements from the historical time period. You can find articles on politics, the era's fascination with the new flying “aeroplanes”, and I even spotted an article talking about the aftermath of The Titanic in which passengers had taken them to court trying to retrieve lost belongings from America.
The 39 Steps offers an intriguing tale in a visual novel format. Professionally made, great design, and quite satisfying. Achievements are simple to get as they are given by following along with the story so it is an easy 100% game. I would recommend this to any adventure fan looking for a casual story experience. I believe you could finish this game in a few hours (My playtime is way off it didn't take nearly that long). Possibly around 5 hours or so if you spend any time reading the many newspaper articles that are presented for you to browse. Hopefully this group makes more classic adventure titles in this format because they have done a superb job with this one!
NOTE: I had never read this novel before playing the game so I cannot tell you how much you might enjoy it if you have. I enjoyed it immensely having not read the book prior to playing the game. I can only assume it would be less enjoyable to someone that has already read the source material beforehand, as it is to me almost every time I watch a film after reading the book first. ;)