Saturday, 31 May 2008

#15 - The Rings Of Kether

Another space mission then, huh? I don't remember there being so many, to be honest - maybe my collection (eventually sold by my little brother for some cigarettes, I think) concentrated more on the 'fantasy' and 'fighting' sides of Fighting Fantasy.

Anyway, unlike most people who read these kinds of books, in The Rings Of Kether you're out to bust an interplanetary illegal narcotics ring. It seems that despite living in a future where there are anti-gravity devices, robots and moon colonies, people still want to get wasted every now and then - fancy that.

There are two endings to this book, and I managed to find my way to one of them with little effort or difficulty to be honest - the fights were few (I had my first scrap about 3/4 of the way through) but not far between - for myself they all came at the end. But they also weren't actually all that difficult - the boss, at least the one I faced, was Skill 10 Stamina 8 - and I had seven stamina-boosting pep pills left - the kind you can pop any time, even mid fight, as this is the future, remember. Each one is like a steak, and gives you six stamina. Awesome.

Some other problems with the book were in the presentation - there's no box on the adventure sheet for your ship's 'weapons strength', and upon landing on Kether, I was told my 'spy ray' was confiscated - not that I was told in the introduction that I had one - and the rest of the book assumes I have one. I must've had two, and kept the second from customs. Somehow.

Some investigations (in the canteen and the library) led me to a small asteroid, which turned out to be some kind of cult hangout - freaky, but not what I was after. I did come across a strange little poem, which I swear was one of those things I'd need to have read a few paragraphs later, but no. This is the future, all I need to do is blast my way through everything. Or just walk on past, like much of the book seemed to be. You have quite a lot of freedom to mess about and look around in The Rings Of Kether, and due to the lack of fights, it never quite seems like you're in danger. None of this turn left you win, turn right you die carry-on.

I was eventually led to the Isosceles Tower (I wonder what shape it was?) where I discovered the drug runners' hideout was on an island 4000km off the coast, much like drug lords here on Earth, I suppose. I got there to find they had heli-pads and everything, much like drug lords here on Earth, I suppose again.

I jumped in some massive vehicle and barged on in, crushing a bunch of guards a la Arnie in The Terminator. Found another dead guy with a stash of pep pills, which was funny considering by this stage I'd not lost a single point of stamina, failed a single skill or luck test or been in a single fight.

I soon found the drug factory itself, and according to the book, "There is nobody about, so you busy yourself destroying some of the equipment." Sounds so, err, casual, doesn't it? As if I have nothing better to do! I take some of the drugs as 'evidence' (yeah right) and head on out - only to be confronted by this massive alien with three eyes and a mouth almost bigger than its head. Wow, a fight! Not really - I hiffed my stash into its mouth like a ball into a clown's face at a carnival (what an awkward simile) and it coma-d out, like a true noob.

After navigating some Cube-like booby-trapped rooms where I finally got to use up some of my long-stored stamina, I met the 'boss' - 'Blaster' Babbet. What a name. I beat him up, and saved the galaxy from the scourge of what was obviously some killer weed.

Not a bad adventure - I liked the sense of freedom, and that clues felt like they could come from anywhere, and even that some were red herrings - especially that following the red herrings didn't necessarily mean the end of your mission either. The downside of this though was that it almost seemed like no matter what you did, you'd eventually solve it. Maybe I got lucky? But even I followed dead ends and answered riddles incorrectly, yet never felt as if I wasn't going to finish the book.

I know it sounds silly, considering the subject matter of some of the other books, but it almost seemed like this was far too big a concept to tackle in 400 pages... at least as open as it was. Perhaps a little tightening would've done it better, which is normally the opposite of what most FF books need.

Not bad all in all, but I think Starship Traveller has a better atmosphere, and I did enjoy Space Assassin a little more. This was just a little too easy. Are there any instant deaths? I'm not a fan of the turn left and die, turn right and win kind of deaths, but not having an item, or a piece of information - these deaths are usually fair...

But hooray! I won. 5/15. 33%!

Saturday, 24 May 2008

#14 - Temple of Terror

Another brutal, brusing book from Ian Livingstone, Temple of Terror finds the series back in its familiar fantasy setting after a couple of diversions into the future.

As if to make up for lost time, Temple of Terror has it all - one good wizard and one evil wizard, phantoms, torture, deserts, pirates, spells, dwarves, sandworms, drinking, and more. And I didn't even get to the end!

Basically Allansia is under threat from Malbordus, an evil wizard (check) who only needs to locate the five lost dragon artefacts in the city of Vatos to be unstoppable - one does wonder why none of the previous evil wizards bothered looking for these MacGuffins, but hey. I'm not one to question the methods of evil wizards.

Apparently this Malbordus guy became evil because when he was born, the moon was full and howling wolves surrounded his mother's hut - it's perhaps just as well he wasn't American Indian.

The book begins with a visit to Yaztromo, the friendly old wizard from Forest of Doom, who mentioned I looked familiar. I assume this is an injoke of sorts, bla bla bla, but I died a horrible death at the hands of a wyvern on that adventure, so yah... He taught me a few spells and I was soon off, to either go across the desert or through Port Blacksand. I've enjoyed my previous wanders through the city of thieves, so thought yeah, why not.

Why not? Because I soon found myself on a pirate ship I knew was going to get its ass kicked by an approaching man-o-war. Luckily I escaped, and was soon in the desert. Dang it.

Somewhere in amongst all this I was at a bar, and bumped into a guy, spilling his three large jugs of ale. It cost a solitary gold piece to replace them - why the hell was I bothering with this quest, when I could get three beers for a buck? Jebus.

Anyway, after an arduous trek across the desert, I found the city of Vatos and began searching for the dragon artefacts. I soon came across a casket, and was asked if I wanted to open it. Considering I'd just seen Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I thought yeah, alright. Bingo! Dragon artefact. If only it was so easy for Indy.

An interesting twist in this book was the 'Death' creature thingee - he doesn't kill you right away, but instead leaves the five letters of the word 'death' lying about - if you read all five, you die. I only managed to read 'Th' which I suppose would just give me a lisp or something.

Something else I found interesting was that when I came across a small box with a picture of a dragon on it, I was 'surprised and delighted' to find a dragon artefact inside. Woah, couldn't see that one coming. But without the sarcasm, I truly was surprised to kill a phantom by throwing a button at it. No kidding.

In the end, the endless adjustments to my luck, skill and stamina scores were too much, and I was killed in the first attack round by a 'night horror'. This thing was almost impossible to injure, and drained your skill as you fought it. I really hope beating this thing isn't required to finish, 'cause it's a horribly unbalanced opponent to come across prior to any 'boss'. I actually came across a paragraph where you fight Malbordus (not one I was on, it was on the opposite page) and he wasn't even as difficult to beat as this 'night horror'.

So, Temple of Terror covered a lot of ground and threw the kitchen sink at it, but I think was let down by the continual battering your character goes through. I was surprised to make it as far as I did, to be honest.

My book's exactly like the one above. I'd better start hunting down some of the ones I'm missing though, before I run out! Buahaha. Four from fourteen.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

#13 - Freeway Fighter

13 books in, the team behind the Fighting Fantasy series were obviously not afraid of messing with the formula - by this point, the 'norm' was less common than variation, it would seem.

Freeway Fighter falls into the latter camp, being set not only on Earth (references are made in the introduction to society narrowly avoiding World War III and it being the year 2022) but in the near future (2022, I told you that already!). A virus has wiped out 85% of humanity, which has since divided into two camps - those who formed walled communities, and those who live on the outside as bounty hunters (NSFW).

It's the kind of world, the books says, where you'd kill someone for a can of beans. I came pretty close to this a few times in my flatting days, but it was a little more serious this time, I suppose.

As Wikipedia puts it, the Mad Max-isms are pretty blatant, you're heading from one civilised outpost to another in an attempt to exchange the excess grain your town has for 10,000 litres of petrol. Much like today. You're equipped with a car loaded up with awesome weapons like spikes and rockets, though the cover art is perhaps a little misleading - on the inside, on the very first paragraph, you're given a different image. It's basically drawn, but looks more like a De Lorean than a '50s Dodge.

I rolled some good personal stats and some bad car stats, so decided I'd try and fight my way through. Helping my decision were the higher bonuses given to stamina and the extremely forgiving, different fighting rules - I could tell this book would be a series of fights from the moment I read to roll two dice and add 24 to the result, instead of 12.

So I head off, ignoring anything along the way - at least that was my plan, just get right to the other town - but was distracted by a hot girl at a servo. Livingstone knows his target market, ha. Anyway, it was a trap, but the heavies were so lame I killed them no problems. Oddly enough, the garage had no fuel, which would prove decisive later on...

Which wasn't too much later on. After being told time and time again I enjoy the speed of the motorway clear of 85% of its traffic, and getting into random shootouts where it took hit after hit to kill anyone (guns in the future suck), I eventually ran out of fuel, ending my game. WTF?! Really? Apparently the Dodge/De Lorean gets pretty bad mileage, which leads me to ask why the hell wasn't I after 10,000 gallons instead of litres, if these gas-guzzling things were all that were left.

So, of all the least expected endings in any of the FF gamebooks, running out of fuel I doubted would be one. I was winning every fight easy, surely I could've hijacked something, someone? Arghgh. I was enjoying the atmosphere otherwise, though others report it gets a bit repetitive later on, as it's pretty much a blast through without too much variation. Still, running out of gas pissed me off as an ending.

My version is one of the later editions, late '80s I suspect, with the gold dragon thing at the top and the bold "X million copies sold" brag on the back, unlike the one pictured above.


Saturday, 10 May 2008

#12 - Space Assassin

Space Assassin, the second sci-fi themed book in the Fighting Fantasy series is much-maligned, going by the review sites linked from Wikipedia. I think it is unfair, really - I quite enjoyed the book, even if I finished it without too much difficulty.

You're an assassin (duh) sent onboard a spaceship known to house Cyrus, the evil leader of this part of the galaxy who wants to use your planet for a gruesome, genocidal experiment. Being a member of the Assassins' Guild (you can take Fighting Fantasy out of the middle ages, but you can't take the middle ages out of Fighting Fantasy) with training in 27 different kinds of martial arts (but not a single one you'd need in space), you're selected for the job.

I rolled some pretty damn fine skill, stamina, luck, armour and extra-shit scores, so decided I'd pretty much try and fight my way through. Space Assassin has a pretty cool blaster-fighting system that isn't too complex and means you're not continually stopping to eat food eight times a day, as can happen in some other FF books. It also has an inventory limit, not that I really needed to pick up anything on my journey - not a single item I retrieved came in handy at all. I ate one of the energy bars, but only in lieu of a pep pill (like provisions, but you can pop them during fights!).

Soon after arriving on board, I found a dead creature, just left by the airlock, and some dodgy wiring that almost electrocuted me. Making a mental note I was in a dystopian future, my resolve to blast my way through hardened. I threatened scientists and got away with it, brazenly attacked guards and opened random doors for fun.

The armour concept of the book made fighting ridiculously easy. I rolled an 11 initially, then used some of my extra-shit roll to add armour on, so I began with an armour rating of 17 - mean I'd have to be hit six times before I even had a chance of being injured. The enemies I came across were uniformly weak, and it was never an issue. The only time I had concern for my fighting-safety came during a hand-to-hand battle with an octopus-like thing.

So after a few rooms of things the book tells me were specifically designed to be difficult for humans to use (you'd think they'd design things specifically for themselves, but no, they're more interested in making things hard for everyone else), I came across a library with microfiche. At first I thought, 'ha! Something designed by, and for, humans!' Then I remembered what a bitch it is already to use microfiche, that any society still using it in a world of spaceships and blasters is doing it for the inconvenience factor, surely.

Anyway, all the rooms I came across were at least interesting, and my plan of shooting my way through was coming along fine, till I came across a door with a plaque announcing squirrels. I passed on that one, figuring squirrels were not what I needed to bother with. In space.

The book after this took a rather surreal turn. I came across some buttons, pressed both, and was ejected into some kind of lush grassland - no explanation was really ever given, I went for a swim (in my spacesuit because apparently wearing it meant 'zero-risk' of drowning?!), and was soon back on the ship. Must've been the future space-drugs.

But then I came across something I never recalled any FF gamebook having - a real-life logic puzzle of sorts. I had to work out which letter came next in the sequence, then turn to that letter's position in the alphabet, times 10. The sequence was OTTFFSS. I got it in about 30 seconds, I'll leave it up to you what you think it is.

But I thought that was cool, a non-dice roll-related skill puzzle that relied on real-world smarts. Okay, that's pushing it, it wasn't that hard really, but I got a bit of a buzz from it.

Mentally, the effort required was nothing compared to the next couple of encounters though. I found myself in some kind of tank battle simulator thing that had a bizarre set of rules, complete with its own rule set and adventure page sheet. I've no idea how it worked - I can only assume each 'status' position of yours was accompanied by a particular position on the gameboard by the enemy, who must've followed some kind of pattern that was too long to be recognised in the short space of time the game took. I couldn't work it out, but luck got me through, just.

The next was a Goonies or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade-style 'step on the wrong tile and die' scenario, except you had to add up the numbers of the tiles you wanted to stand on, and turn to that page. If it didn't make sense, you died. If not, you got through. Now, this page pissed me off. Firstly, because in the picture, the intro and outro to the room didn't make it clear if you had to stand on the middle tile or not - it seemed so, but wasn't entirely apparent. This meant there were about a billion zillion options, all based on luck. I'd been told earlier in the game by a friendly character to always take the middle, so I did, and it didn't work.

Instead of condemning my character to death over what I felt was something patently unfair, I worked out what the correct path was and continued. Cheating? Technically, yeah. But only in that way where there's a bug in the game you're playing and the only past it is to use a cheat code from Gamespot or something.

So I came across Cyrus, and he was a chicken. I threatened him, he begged for mercy, asked me to play cards, then ran away. I chased him, and found him wearing a giant bionic robot suit like Homer Simpson (didn't) that time, except the book called it a 'Waldo'. Yeah, Wikipedia has nothing (nor anything on why Where's Wally? is called Where's Waldo? in the US - probably an FCC thing).

Still, he was weak as hell, and I dispatched him coldly, and was met with a page-400 victory of "Congratulations." Woah. Is that it? I save the world, and all I get is, "Congratulations"? Could you imagine if, after blowing up the Death Star, all Luke got was a one-word recognition of his efforts? Actually, I don't think there's a single word spoken in that scene, and Chewie doesn't even get a medal, so yeah.

Anyway, I enjoyed Space Assassin, it was quite different, even to Starship Traveller, and dare I say it, a little more enjoyable. Perhaps a little easy? Only if you ignore the random, bizarre asides, which I suppose give the book, at least this early in the series, a certain distinctiveness. I'd no idea what to expect going in, as I don't think I had this one as a kid, but it was worth it.

And it was mercifully quicker than Talisman of Death! 4/12 I'm at now. 33% win rate. Not bad? We'll see.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

#11 - Talisman Of Death

If you were ever the kind of person to want value for money from your gamebooks, Talisman of Death is your way to go. Not because it takes a million attempts to finish (in fact, I completed this one) but because it is long. Loooong. Just when I thought I'd be nearing the end, or dead, bam and there I was, right back in it.

You're an ordinary Earth guy, at least I think you're ordinary as there's no background at all really, except that you seem to have some psychedelic dream and suddenly you're the chosen one in the world of Orb, chosen to save the world that is. As all chosen ones are these days.

You have to take the Talisman of Death (what kind of craftsman would even create a 'Talisman of Death', let alone allow it to fall into the wrong hands?)back to 'your' world, ie. Earth, to save the world of Orb. No mention is made what might happen to Earth once it contains this evil thing, but hey.

One of the differences I noted in this book is by this point, book 11, Jackson and Livingstone had finally worked out a combat system for fighting more than one opponent at a time, and it shows - almost every fight that isn't against some ridiculously formidable foe (more on that later) is against two average/weak guys. They, or the authors, obviously weren't too sure if this new system was fair though, often letting fights end well before either party was near death, or having one of the double-team pull out. They wouldn't be so kind in later books, from memory, knowing that most people end up cheating the dice anyway.

I rolled average stats with good luck, and set out on my quest, which in a few ways reminded me of an old Commodore 64 text-adventure I used to play.

Anyway, I quickly came across a bunch of travellers and told them I was on a quest against evil, which they told me was a lie. I told them I was from another planet, which they knew was the truth. Was this not a quest against evil? Whose side was I on? They gave me a ride to the local town, where they made me hand over my gears and stole the Talisman.

Phew! I was sick of running from evil spectres and whatnot who were after that thing. At one point, I was given the option of running towards some dark elves (who were probably out to get me) and running for the hills. I chose the latter, obviously.

Relieved of my sacred duties and in a medieval-esque world I'd no care for, I hit the bars on the Hamburg-esque 'Street of Seven Sins'. I fought some guys, got a holy sword and slept on a bale of hay in an inn, all without paying, and hooked up with a bunch of thieves who going by artwork were also transported from Earth, more specifically 1940s Russia.

We discussed plans for a heist (to get the Talisman back, damnit), and when I told them where it was, they killed me.

But... my spirit was re-combined with my body, and my quest began anew. I told you this book was long. All this re-combining happened in the Valley of Death, by the way, which I thought was a totally cool Coolio reference. 10 years in advance.

Anwyay, I rushed through all the earlier scenarios, re-lost the millstone of Death, and came across some theives looking to rob a jeweller. I helped them out, just to fit in and all, and one of them killed the jeweller in cold blood - and I wasn't given the option of bailing out! Talk about Grand Theft Auto all you want, but this was pretty cold...

So, fast-forwarding a little, I re-meet the thieves, and this time keep the important info to myself, for now. We regained the talisman, defeating their leader Hawkana with a heavy use of luck. I didn't used to use so muc luck in battles when I was younger, but maybe I cheated then, unlike now, haha.

And fast-forwarding a little again (I told you this book was long), I made it to the end... only to be killed by a dragon. Well, killed, and re-incarnated again. Goddamnit. By this point I was kind of just wishing the book had some balls. This time I didn't have to go too far back, and it was a matter of not doing what I did last time that killed me, some lucky rolls, and I'd defeated the dragon in battle (wasn't even a real dragon, even if it could really kill) and saved the other world, the one that gave me nothing but grief and death.

Despite the length and illogical plot, Talisman of Death was actually quite enjoyable. The sense of freedom that came with losing responsibility of looking after the talisman in the town was great - it's not often in FF gamebooks you get to just wander around a town, checking out the stores.

A good, if frustrating entry in the catalogue.