Over The Alps Review
From molehill to mountain
There are several important fundamentals of mobile game design. The ability to quickly pick up and play – and drop again at a moment’s notice. Simple, focused visuals. And, of course, a touch-friendly user interface. When Over The Alps released on iOS last year it nailed all of these, giving players a great bitesize spy thriller in their pockets.
But with Over The Alps heading to PC, the question is how well this mobile-focused design carries over. Truth be told, it does feel somewhat like a little fish in a big pond. But light mechanics, a breezy runtime and most importantly, a strong, branching narrative mean it’s still a pleasure to experience on a bigger screen.
Over The Alps is set in 1939 Switzerland, a turbulent time for obvious reasons. But just as Switzerland managed to maintain neutrality and come out of World War II relatively unscathed, the true horrors of war aren’t the focus of Over The Alps. Instead, you play a British spy on a secret espionage mission.
That’s not to say the unfolding humanitarian crisis is ignored. Your nemesis is a Nazi femme fatale, after all. And your progress in the game is punctuated with newspaper headlines and excerpts. It’s hard not to feel a heavy heart as “Germany Invades Poland!” on the 1st September, while a later paper declares the war likely to end by Christmas 1939 in a fit of tragic optimism. These add flavour and help ground the story in its infamous time period.
Over The Alps plays like a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book, presenting you with numerous dialogue and action choices for each situation. In a delightfully twee twist, these are selected through different stamps to affix to postcards – addressed to your good chum Aubrey back home, keeping him abreast of your adventure. The stamps embody different personalities, from a devious rogue to a comedian and a cheeky gentleman, though you can mix and match them as you see fit.
They’re simple mechanics, for sure, but a quick explanation of the basics wouldn’t have gone amiss – something that’s conspicuously absent. Though making choices is straightforward, there’s a system of leaving misdirects and footprints which took me a little while to get my head around. The Swiss police are in constant pursuit, and this determines if they catch you or you give them the slip – an important factor in how your story develops.
Just a little lick
Over The Alps’ decision-making may be engaging, but the writing and story steal the show. It’s evocative and gripping but still infuses plenty of levity into an otherwise serious situation. I won’t spoil anything, but you stumble across multiple traditional Swiss events which disrupt your journey in funny and interesting ways. As you approach the finale, however, you’ll likely become increasingly more glued to the screen.
There’s also a cohesive style throughout. As if the postcard narration and stamp posting weren’t charming enough, each locale is portrayed in a classic style reminiscent of real Swiss travel posters. The quaint soundtrack is the final piece of the package, offering players a sort of virtual time-travelling tourism.
A nice distraction
The main downside of Over The Alps’ art is in its transition to PC. While it still retains its distinctive aesthetic, it’s less sharp and detailed-looking on a big screen. Little spots of aliasing sneak in here and there and some landscapes make more of a visual impact than others. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but I can’t help but feel its mobile origins are the superior way to play.
It only took me just over two hours to complete Over The Alps, which felt just right. Your mileage may vary depending on your reading speed and the paths you take through the story. Needless to say, the miniature runtime and various possible outcomes encourage multiple playthroughs. While I don’t desire to replay it immediately, I’m not ruling out revisiting this fanciful little Swiss tale in the future when its twists and turns aren’t so fresh in my mind.
It’s all about the words
That’s not all, however. Stave Studios have promised two upcoming story DLCs to be added to the game, absolutely free. We can’t know at this stage whether they’ll be of the same length and quality as the base adventure, but this is a fantastic selling point and something to look forward to in the future.
Over The Alps is a fantastic mobile game, and a still-pretty-great PC game. Whichever platform you pick it up on, its historical, divergent story shines through.
[Reviewed on PC]