There's a general misconception around gaming that even the simplest of titles require an affinity for technology for them to be playable. The thing is, this is completely untrue. For a game to be fun, at its core it needs only a few simple design features such as; an interesting angle, interactivity, and understandable gameplay that doesn't require a computer science degree to comprehend. Developer Stave Studios recognises this and that's why the developer has created a Hitchcockian indie adventure called Over the Alps that's very accessible.
Set as a narrative adventure above anything else, Over the Alps is about a British spy in continental Europe a few years before the Second World War. Your job as this spy, is to track down a contact, learn of your mission, and then execute it without being caught by the local authorities, all whilst simultaneously evading a Nazi agent. Due to its simplicity, doing this is more a game of words, a battle of wits that involves choosing what you believe is the right answer in each scenario in the game's branching narrative system.
The main essence of the gameplay is centred around this brilliant narrative system. The title effectively plays like a story, an interactive adventure that sees you tackle each conversation and event by choosing a set reaction that will have different outcomes. For example, this may be something as simple as replying to someone in a generic conversation, however with an ulterior motive of attempting to pull some information out of a target, meaning the way you approach the conversation requires a little finesse. Likewise, an interaction could also be impactful, that is, a high-pressure scenario where the decision you make could result in the authorities catching you or the Nazi agent outwitting you. Needless to say, treating each reaction with importance is necessary.
Since Over the Alps is built with this narrative system at its core, the gameplay itself is incredibly simple. For the most part, every interaction is based around clicking an option, designed to look like placing stamps on a postcard. This means whether you're playing the title on PC or mobile, you can sit back enjoy the story and immerse yourself in the adventure.
With the way the narrative is structured and written, during a playthrough of Over the Alps it's almost impossible not to become attached to your character. There are multiple occasions where you will make a decision because it's what you would do, an untrained individual unfamiliar with the complexities of espionage. These situations usually result in chaos and disaster, but they make for some brilliant moments. Similar to this, you'll often make decisions that reflect the sort of spy you wish you could be. As fans of Bond, we'd often pick a choice because it seemed to be the most calculated or suave decision only to find out it annoyed the character we were talking too, which was an eye-opener for sure. The point is, with the way the narrative is built, you can approach each interaction in your own way, making for a storyline personal to yourself.
The only issue with the narrative and design of Over the Alps is its replayability. In fact, it's only really a factor that presents itself when starting a second playthrough. The full storyline is only around two-three hours in length, meaning wanting to indulge in more of its content will likely see you restart for a second try. The issue with this becomes apparent when you already know how a certain scenario will play out, meaning you actively try to counter it, only to discover the title pulls you back towards the direction it wants to go, eventually. Essentially what you begin to notice is each decision has less weight than you thought and attempting to evade a specific situation is usually in vain.
What this means in the grand schemes of things is Over the Alps is at its best during the initial playthrough and future experiences are much less impactful. With this being said, the first full run of this game really is fantastic and should be actively searched out for any fans of fun and immersive narrative tales.
Aside from its narrative, one of the more impressive aspects about Over the Alps is its stunning art style and soundtrack. The title features two main art directions, with the first being the hand-drawn sketches found on each postcard that depict a vision of what each character looks like. The beauty of this is it creates a great atmosphere and actually makes it much easier to connect with the characters you're conversing with in-game. The second art style is based around the backgrounds of each area you travel to. These are picturesque landscapes that really capture the grace of the alpine environments of central Europe and with the way they're designed, using brighter, luscious colours, you can't help but feel envy for your character being able to undergo this journey.
The soundtrack accompanies the art direction perfectly. It uses trumpets and various horns, with acoustic and string instruments, crossed with a drum undertone, to produce a frisky, swing sound that reflects the late '30s early '40s period. One of the best ways to describe the collaboration between the art and sound design in the Over the Alps would be to compare it to a production by movie director Wes Anderson, and we thought it shared a lot of stylistic similarities with the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel in particular.
Over the Alps is one to look out for, especially if gripping, immersive narrative adventures are your cup of tea. The writing, art style and sound direction crossed with the simplicity of its design make for an experience that's more calming than anything else. Over the Alps is more interactive than a book or a movie, but much less challenging than a platformer, making for gameplay that can suit all ability levels. The only drawback is the lack of replayability, but we think the fantastic adventure offered by the initial playthrough more than compensates for that.
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