Saturday, 27 September 2008

#33 - Sky Lord

Sky Lord is the last science-fiction FF gamebook, and it's not difficult to understand why - it's pretty dang strange, and perhaps takes a few too many liberties with what a FF adventure is supposed to be.

It doesn't start out too badly though - despite a lengthy introduction/mission section, which I normally hate - the back story as at least interesting. Maybe because it begins as a cross between Star Wars (must infiltrate planet alone, destroy defences fro the inside, making possible full-scale attack) and Babylon 5 (huge races fighting, taking everyone else out in their wake), then goes off on an awesomely random tangent. An ex-human resources employee of the galactic king was caught cloning the staff in order to collect their paycheques, and was inevitably caught and fired. He then decided to get revenge by pretending to be a famous cosmetic surgeon, offering his services to the king's wife for free. She accepted, and he basically butchered her so she looked like the cat woman, and went into hiding, where he (also inevitably) began building an army of vicious killer dog-headed super warriors.

Err, what? Okay... 

So I head off on my journey to his planet, but first completely fail by choosing the wrong method of interstellar travel. I can 'time travel' or 'light travel', I choose time, and apparently enter 'the fourth dimension'. Which I thought we were already in, to be honest. My ship somehow gets covered in space weed, which I have to get out and fight off...? I think perhaps the author was battling some space weed of his own when he wrote this book.

The only way to get it off apparently is to fly into the atmosphere of a nearby planet and get rid of it Shuttle Columbia-style. I should have predicted it wouldn't go well, and sure enough, my ship was hit by lightning (how freakin' close was I flying to this planet?!), sending it rocketing down into a lake, where it sank, and without jedi powers, that's where it stayed.

Luckily though, my R2 unit was intact, and started wandering off, saying it needed to find its master. I followed, and soon came across an even larger ship, that wasn't stuck. Sweet! Unfortunately it was defended by a whole range of mutants, and after killing a bunch, the book told me I'd given up trying to steal it. Oh, really? 

So we found the R2 unit's Obi Wan, and he fixed my ship by taking it back in time so it was never hit by lightning, and obviously messing with the space-time continuum in a way this wouldn't create a paradox of any sort. 

Anyway... so  I headed off, and found myself attending a distress signal from another ship, and it turned out the staff were being eaten by orange blobs. I know this because one of the staff, in the process of being eaten, politely warned me against using my blaster weapon due to the gas leak. That one that isn't killing me already. Hmmm. So I'm next forced on a seemingly random wander through the ship, picking up random objects when all I really wanted to was get the fark out of there. Without any indication of what would be useful and what wouldn't, and only the slightest hint as to why I was picking up all this random shit, I grabbed a cricket bat (maybe there'd be zombies?) a skipping rope, an oxygen cylinder (that one actually seemed useful), a can of beer (it's Saturday night here on Earth), weed killer (again useful) and something called a 'viscous negater' (no freakin' idea). Turns out each of these items had a rating of how much it would slow down the blob should I need to escape, and the items I collected didn't rate high enough - though the beer did surprisingly well.

The blob ate me. That's about all I can say, as that's pretty much all the text said. No gory description, nothing. 

I didn't even make it close to the bad dude's planet, let alone save billions of my species. D'oh, sorry about that. 

A pretty random book, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was the sole reason FF didn't get back into science-fiction again. The Titan/Allansia books were always my favourite ones anyway, so it's no big loss in my view. 

I still can't decide whether that thing on the cover is supposed to be the title character either. If so, cool.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

#32 - Slaves of the Abyss

I never tried Slaves of the Abyss as a kid - the cover art, with a bunch of people in some kind of mult-dimensional space jail and the villian with the never-ending mohawk just seemed kind of lame. I wasn't sure what to expect playing it, and now that I have, I'm still not sure what to think.

Your character is a famous adventurer called on to find out what kind of army is advancing from the East, or amass an army to take on what's coming from the north, or stay back and prepare for all three at home in Kallahmehr. 

And you only have a limited amount of time!

Knowing this, I initially decided to stay put and work out how we could defend the city - bad choice, as this ended with a future generation of scrap merchants telling stories about my gear, found amongst the rubble of a defeated Kallahmehr. As this happened within three pages of the introduction, I justified a restart.

I headed east, thinking the devil I don't know would make for a more interesting adventure - and  have to say, it was certainly more random than I expected. I eventually found myself seeking refuge in a temple, which was meant to be friendly. Instead, these asshole priests wanted me to empty my bag, which I don't recall happening at church when I was younger (though knowing kids these days, etc etc...). I refused, they insisted. Oh alright. Turns out I was carrying a golden fist of theirs, which pissed them off, so they sent me to the cells for an hour or so, then let me go. Err, okay. 

I headed on east, and more and more villagers were giving me dirty looks and treating me rather like the priests. Gees, I'm only out to save the world and all, ungrateful bastards! I soon found an overturned cart, in which was a mask of my face! Some imposter had been going around pretending to be me, which explained everything.

When I got to the next village, everyone was really friendly, so the imposter must've been heading east also. Some old witch there declared me something barely short of the messiah, and feeling wanted for once, I went along with it. Next thing I know, some guy calling himself the Riddling Reaver appears from the sky, offering to whisk me away and out of trouble. Err, what? Okay... I went along with it, got dumped with my horse far away and told a riddle, and yeah. Umm, okay...

So another few pages and another village, I wander into a building and am almost drowned in wine by a wretch. In real life I like to drown myself in wine, thankyou very much, so I fought him off and decided to check out a different house. Slaves of the Abyss, as odd and random as it seemed, was revealing itself more and more as a 'pick the right item and you'll use it a few pages later, pick the wrong one and something horrible will happen, and yes, there's always a random choice' kind of book, so I figured another building would be fine.

Of course I wander into a wizard's place, perhaps the silliest decision in a world such as the one presented in this gamebook. There's a half-eaten ham, a desk, and some puppets. Hmmm, so which is the essential, which is the help-but-not-required, and which is the killer? I decide to avoid the puppets (too obviously evil) and check out the desk, on which I find a parchment. The text means nothing to me, but it doesn't kill me, so I decide to leave. Unfortunately, the book won't let me! Instead, I'm tempted into drinking three potions, each with gibberish names. Oh great: in five pages time I'm going to be asked if I've drunk potion X, and if not I'll die, whilst drinking potion Y will kill me instantly, right?

I never found out, as I refused to drink any of them... yet. Maybe I'll be given the option to force them down someone else's throat?

So heading on again, and it's all empty villages. The book offers me the chance to turn back. Hmmm, okay. I've crossed off hardly any of my time boxes, so what do you know, I find the advancing army - and they're just ordinary peasants! And my game's over! I'm not sure how or why, but suddenly I'm in that dang floating prison on the cover.

I had a quick peek, and it seems heading on east ended the book also. WTF?

Others have given this book good reviews, and perhaps it is once you know what it is you're meant to do in order to defeat this army. I'm not a huge fan of the long, complicated backstories in FF books, I just want to play - in a backwards kind of way, I find it easier to immerse myself in the simpler stories, as there's more imagination and less thinking 'now where was that and whose side are they on again?' every time another character or place is mentioned. 

Slaves of the Abyss seems difficult, but not irrationally so. Still, I'm pretty confused about that ending - just when everything seemed to be going so well!

But then again, for once the introduction actually says to complete this adventure, you need to do the right things at the right time - or you'll fail. At least it's honest!

Saturday, 13 September 2008

#31 - Battleblade Warrior

Despite the awesome cover (a Lizard Man riding a pterodactyl?!), I didn't go into Battleblade Warrior expecting much; perhaps because of the title, perhaps because I'd no recollection of this book, or perhaps because of the disappointing book it follows.

But what a surprise! Battleblade Warrior is a fun, interesting and well-paced read - and I'm not saying these things because I had my first victory since book #15, though that didn't hurt! There's a lightness of touch with Marc Gascoigne's writing that embraces not so much the absurd, but the inherent oddness of a world which accomodates so many different civilised species (as opposed to Earth). One of my favourite sequences in Battleblade Warrior was disguising myself as an Orc in order to avoid trouble, but finding myself in the midst of an Orc funeral - which involved ceremonially biting the deceased and partaking in Orc hooch, which by all accounts was NOT good (a loss of several stamina points, two days before my hangover and skill level recovered).

So anyway, your mission is to retrieve two holy artifacts, the Eye and Arm of Telak, in order to defeat an army of Lizard men which is threatening not only your village, but the entire world (of course). Your god comes to you in a dream, delegating the job to you.

There are a few differences with your run-of-the-mill FF gamebook - you're limited to four meals at once, and you're only allowed to eat one at a time - they've obviously been following me closely - and there's no mention of skill being limited by the initial level. Not to worry, as drinking Orc absinthe lowered mine, and it was otherwise untouched.

So heading off, I decided to try and sneak out at night, while the army beseiging my village might be otherwise occupied; a group kindly took me at my crazy-dream-word and launched a suicide attack in order to distract the Lizard Men from my sneaking. 

Tip-toeing through the Lizard Man camp, I eventually came across a stable of giant lizards, unguarded. Doing my best Obi-Wan impression, I tried to outrun my pursuers, till one of them shot my lizard with an arrow. I ran for the trees and met a man with a sabre tooth tiger and more importantly, a plan.

We decided to set a massive trap for the Lizard Men using a substance he called 'Flashpowder: Sulis Vitae from Sardath'. What he had MacGyvered was gunpowder! A group of ten Lizard Men approached, and we blew them sky high. The book told me I felt ill-at-ease with these tactics, but fuck what the book tells me, I was thrilled it worked!

So a night or two later, my friend daubs me in bad make-up and I pass through the orc funeral, as mentioned earlier. I collect more food (I can't believe I was worried about a lack of provisions when this adventure began - if I didn't have a limit, I'd now be carting a supermarket trolley's worth with me) and soon enough, a hot companion. Okay, I'm just assuming she's hot, as this is fantasy, and she's a she. 

We wander through the woods, and are captured and strung up on stakes like Jesus. Except on the fourth day, we're still there, and she's dead. I'm rescued by a trader, whom past giving me a comfy bed for the night, refuses to help me as I've nothing to trade. Bastard.

I head one, crashing in the forest, only to be awakened by a swamp monster. Shiat, my first roll-dice fight of the book, and it's against something with a skill of 10! 

Lucky dice rolls get me through easy, and I head on. Eventually I find Laskar, who tells me the Arm of Telak is a blinged-out sword, but he has no idea what the Eye of Telak looks like. Great. Oh, and he's too old to go finding them himself. Fuckin' awesome. Then he gives me a lantern and a rope, and tells me to descend into what, going by the illustration, is one fucked-up and destroyed looking place to find them, and he'll meet me on the other side.

To cut a long story short, and to leave at least some suspense for any would-be readers (or not really), I came out the other side with the sword and a smattering of jewels, any of which could be the supposed eyes. Well, one of the jewels actually came in two pieces... so I thought yeah, that's them - wedged them into the appropriate gap in the sword's hilt, and what do you know! I'm on page 400.

Page 400!

I couldn't believe it - the FF books have gotten harder and harder over the last 10 or so, for better or worse - but in perhaps the most enjoyable book since Robot Commando (remembering I don't have my childhood fave Midnight Rogue on hand), I pulled out a win. 

But this site tells me this was the only gamebook Marc Gascoigne wrote.  Really?! Damn. Highly recommended.

And not just because I rolled 12/18/10.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

#30 - Chasms of Malice

Skipping the fondly-remembered Midnight Rogue, as I don't have a copy this time around as yet, tonight I tackled Chasms of Malice - and it was no substitute. Nowhere near. 

In fact, CoM is perhaps the most disappointing FF book in the series this far in. It was random, overstuffed with background information that was not worth learning (in hindsight) and stupidly difficult. I mean, your character is a third-assistant rat skinner working in a shite restaurant somewhere, and you're expected to save Khul by defeating a bunch of ancient demon type things and retrieving a magic shield of some description? FFS. 

I'm dumped in a cave with barely an explanation what's going on, and the first thing I find is a dead rabbit. Oh great, I've been plucked from obscurity and sent on a quest to save the world, and the first thing the book throws at me is a reminder of the daily grind! 

I'm captured by an elf and thrown in some dungeon type thing where I encounter the first of seven 'Khuddum' I have to defeat - with a skill of 10 and stamina of 12! Lucky I'd rolled 11/23/9, so dispatched it without too much trouble, but jeez. Have some thought for the weaker rat-skinners out there, huh? I escape captivity, only to run into another one - this one of similar strength, or even stronger if you're missing your sword. Hmmm. I wolf down the rabbit before battle, win, and head on.

Next up I have to cross a lava stream by jumping on the correct sequence of rocks, a la Indiana Jones. I know the sequence, as some trolls were singing it earlier, follow it... and die!? That was the last straw.

No replay on this one, no way. In addition to what I saw, there are ledge battles where each has a 50% chance of death, and other reviewers have not spoken highly of the book. It's not particularly well-written, and basically just sucks.

I wish I had Midnight Rogue.