Sunday, 28 August 2016

Sky Lord playthrough

Written by Martin Allen, artwork by Tim Sell

Oh boy, a sci-fi Fighting Fantasy.

When I was a kid, the sci-fi books in this series meant one thing and one thing only - a giant warning light with the words 'AVOID' printed on them. Thus far in my blogging career, the entire sci-fi episodes of the franchise has been something of a damp squib. Will this one change that? I really don't think so, but I'm willing to give it a shot!

I had umpteen chances to purchase this book when I was a kid, and never did. Almost entirely because the cover is just simply so bland, with a strange alien thingy riding what appears to be a flying motorbike. There's a laser beam and I'd guess it is meant to indicate that the creature is firing at someone, but the angle makes this difficult to tell for sure, and the background is a simple gradiant yellow which simply screams lack of imagination. Really, with a cover like that, what kind of adventure is it selling? What lurks within?

It doesn't start off well. You play as a four-armed alien knight thing from a planet whose name looks like someone's cat walked across the keyboard. Your planet's king summons you and tells you that he needs your service, because an evil Generic Bad Guy is doing Generic Bad Things. Our villain of the month is L'Bastin, whose foul plans involve tax evasion.

Let me clarify, L'Bastin wanted to get a whole load of money because he's evil or something, but because the planet you're living on hasn't given anyone a pay raise in two hundred years, L'Bastin asks for a loan. He's turned down, and instead comes up with a plan to make himself rich. His plan is to replace his entire workforce by creatures grown in test-tubes, and keep their wages for himself.

The evil fiends other crimes include selling his flatmate's possessions at the local pawn shop, and glueing a pineapple to the queen's face. I wish I was joking here. I really do. Seriously, come back Balthus Dire, all is forgiven! Anyway, I'm promptly shipped off to the bad guy's space castle (a castle on a planet in space... some things never change, eh?) which is full of mutant cross-breed monsters of various types. So in short, I suspect, it's going to be just like any other FF book, with nothing really major to differentiate it from the fantasy genre ones. If this pans out to be the case, that'll mean that the best sci-fi one is Starship Traveller, as disturbing as that sounds... okay, let's get on with it. The book asks me if I want to start off by making my ship time-warp or light-warp to the enemy's castle.

I engage the time-warp drive, and after a few minutes of flight I'm told that I notice a 'fuzzy purple blotch' on the side of my ship. The text describes this as a space fungus, so I drop out of warp and try to get rid of it, when I'm suddenly attacked by a random space ship, which I'm able to shoot out of the sky without too much trouble. The ship leaves behind a droid robot, which I apparantly take with me, before I crash into a random planet and sink my ship in a lake.

Stumbling out of the lake, the droid starts to toddle off on its own into the distance. I follow along after it, eventually losing sight of it. I walk along a random path, and find an alien spaceship which has landed on the planet. I attempt to board it, but two mutant monsters emerge and try to eat me. I defeat them both, but then apparantly lose interest in the ship because I go in another direction entirely. I don't know why, the book simply tells you that you do this. Frankly, given how many times I've said the word 'random' at this point, I'm not bloody surprised.

I manage to find the droid and save it from another generic mutant thing, and the droid is so thankful that it takes me to see its master, who lives in a nearby cave. The droid's master tells me that the planet has been taken over by an evil sprite type thing and an army of mutants, and the droid was sent to save them all because it has some kind of mcguffin that can destroy the sprite's ship.

The cave-dwelling madman then tells me that he's just going to go and get my ship back, so he toddles off into the back of the cave. He then emerges a few moments later and tells me that he's accidently destroyed my ship instead, and stranded me on this planet. The game then ends.

Let me make the record nice and clear though, I don't dislike sci-fi. But good sci-fi is very hard to write well. I largely think that the age of really challenging sci-fi is a thing of the past now, that we've run out of Arthur C Clarkes and Philip K Dicks. Good sci-fi should make us stop and think about ourselves, question who we are and where we are going. Very few sci-fi products do that any more, the last good one I seen was Duncan Jones' movie 'Moon'. To make matters more difficult, years of big franchise sci-fi like Star Trek and Star Wars has had some real impact on the genre, and not necessarily for the better. That is, technology in Star Trek works very much by throwing random tech-sounding words together as if technology was a form of magic (which makes a fan of Clarke's style 'hard sci-fi' like me kinda squirm), leaving me feeling as if I'm standing in a cold dark room clutching my dog-eared copy of William Gibson's 'Neuromancer', hoping for better days.

But yeah, in short, I don't hate sci-fi, I just think it's very hard to do it well, and that's why many writers struggle with it. But, god help me, I decide to give it another shot.

This time, my character reaches for the light-jump, which results in nothing much more than being attacked by a different random space ship. After defeating it, though, I'm informed that there's a large space station nearby which I could go and visit. I decide to dock in it, and (after blowing up a rather unimpressive drone shuttle) I'm given the bewildering choice of whether I enter the airlock while its vertical or horizontal. There doesn't seem to be any indication as to which of these might be a 'wrong' choice, so I just pick one at random. Horizontal. No obvious difference in my choice either way. Woo. Such a feeling of progress, there.

Once inside the station, I'm given the choice as to if I want to leave the room I'm in, or look at either a plastic tap or a glass tap. I look at the glass tap, and I'm told that I then decide that I don't want to do anything so just leave the room anyway. Wow. I'm so glad that the book gave me this choice. It added so much to my adventure and WHY AM I DOING THIS? I could be re-playing City of Thieves right now, and enjoying myself.

I wander around the station for a while until I encounter a locked door, and I'm told that lockpicking is a skill I learned at space academy. Let's consider this for a moment. First up, I studied at a place called Space Academy - not the University of Plegus 3 or anything, but Space Academy. Because we're in space, don't you know. Trite. But second, Space Academy teaches lockpicking. Because every student has classes on how to pick a lock, and probably also on general burglary skills. And third, in this distant space station in the far future, locks aren't bits of computerised digital systems that are unlocked by keycards or anything, but CAN BE PICKED WITH ACTUAL LOCKPICKS I mean god why why why why why why why why why why why why....

So after I pick the lock of the door (urrrrgh) I enter a room with a set of space mopeds in one corner, a la the high-speed carts in the film Space Mutiny. "Put your helmet on, we'll be reaching speeds of three!" But no time to think about that, because there's an evil orange blob on the other side of the room. I get on the cart and drive towards the orange blob, hoping that it'll put me out of my misery. Instead I drive right over it, through the door, and wind up in the hydroponics bay.

Hydroponics bay exists purely to annoy me. I try to examine some of the plants, and I'm attacked by brambles. Brambles, and I mean 'attacked' as in they are alive and fighting me. Can you guess how many skill points a bramble has? You don't have to guess, this book tells you. I'm feeling suitably underwhelmed, so after killing the bramble, the book asks if I want to eat a strawberry. Keen to have some slight sense of pleasure in my otherwise dreary mission, I chew on a strawberry. It was poisoned.

Spitting out the poisoned strawberry (and let me just ask WHAT KIND OF HYDROPONICS BAY IS FULL OF KILLER BRAMBLES AND POISONED STRAWBERRIES?), I decide to just leave, lugging a bag of weed-killer and a shovel with me, hoping that I can find a hole to bury myself in. Sorry, am I getting too bleak here? Let me make this very clear, this is not a good book. Fighting Fantasy has done far, far better. It's even done better sci-fi books. Bleh. Right, leaving the hydroponics bay of pain, my character seems to decide that he would rather just leave the whole silly station behind. He loads himself into a shuttle and returns to his ship, without even leaving me the chance to decide if I want to or not.

The shuttle is inhabited by a survivor of the station, who is terrified of the orange blob, which has evidently ate all his friends. Like any kindly and noble space warrior, I butcher the terrified old man in cold blood. I take his box of cigars and revolver with me, because fuck it why not? And then I'm thrown into a fight with the orange blob. As a 'fight', it is actually fairly unique and innovative for this book, as I need to throw things at it, the blob then eats them and I hope that it gets full or poisoned or something. The entire innovation is kinda ruined because when I fail at this, I get a very generic 'The blob catches up and devours you' ending. Not even an imaginative description of it devouring your flesh. Feh.

This book is bad. It's a bad, bad book. It's not good. Have I made that clear enough? And you want to know why it's bad? Because it's lazy. The writing is just so lazy. It has some decent ideas though, deep down. I mean, take the very first choice, if you want to travel with time warp or light warp. That could be a pretty neat idea, a chance to really experience some strange and entirely new type of styles. Instead, the text just tells you that each holds different dangers, but doesn't give any idea what those might be. Or the death with the orange blob eating you, it's all presented in such a bland and dull manner.

I mean, let's compare this to my all-time fave FF book, Vault of the Vampire. Vault is a classic haunted castle, very little in terms of being unique. It's got nothing that really sets it apart from many FF books, but the writing is excellent. The descriptions are lavish, the monsters feel vibrant and the atmosphere jumps off the page. In this one, it all feels so bland. And that segment with the glass spiggot, where I ask to look at it, the character glances at it and then decides to walk off anyway, that's no real difference than just having the segment say 'turn to paragraph 307', which as you know is one of my real pet peeves.

In short, this book needed more. It has ideas, deep down, but it's all just performed in such a lazy manner. As if there's just no love or heart put into it. Which, strangely enough, is why I dislike The Hobbit movies. This book just reads as if someone was told to go and write it, and really didn't care if what they had at the end of the day was going to be good or not. And if they didn't care, why should I?

Next time on Fighting For Your Fantasy... Something else.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Slaves of the Abyss playthrough

Seriously, what are we looking at?
Written by Paul Mason and Steve Williams, artwork by Bob Harvey

Ah, Fighting Fantasy 32. The thirty-second book in the series. With a cover that is more bewildering than anything else. Honestly, I'm not sure what I'm even looking at here.

By this point in the series, things had kinda hit a plateux. I do think that the series picked up in the 40s with a lot more atmosphere and experimentation, but it definitely wasn't at the same heights of the earlier books. The 30s were kinda a bit 'meh' really, for the most part. I do think that's partly due to just how samey all the storylines were.

So for this particular book's storyline, Princess Caroline of some indescript backwater kingdom is afraid that a big ol' army of gribbly doom will come and stomp down her city streets and poke the town's puppies with sticks and so forth, so she asks me and  few other idiots - erm, brave heroes, to go and help defend the useless nation in the place of an actual army of anything.

I roll up a character who has a phenomenally high skill (11), and a spectacularly low stamina (16) and volounteer to go and scout out the evil army of evilness, because the other possible options for how to defend the city don't sound like much fun. While I get ready to head out on my journey, there's a big kafuffle in the castle when some character runs into the kitchen and sets himself on fire. I've no idea why, and this doesn't seem to have any impact on what's going on, so it just leaves me confused.

As we saddle up to head off on our mission, one of the other adventurers who've been charged with defending the kingdom gives me a bag of herbs which keep me awake. This seems rather pointless, until you remember that this is one of those FF books with a time system, so being able to stay alert and keep moving during the night is going to be pretty useful. During my first night out on the trail, I'm attacked by evil elves, which aren't too much of a threat.

So these priests are based on real-life, then?
Riding through the next day, I decide to stay over at a roadside temple. As soon as I step inside, a group of priests try to mug me and take all my stuff. I don't believe I just said that, so I'm going to read that section again.... Yes, the priests try to mug me. They demand all of the contents of my backpack, and when they don't get it, a group of them surround me and I'm left dodging out of their way and fleeing the temple. Y'know, I've heard about tithing, but this is ridiculous!

I continue along my way, eventually encountering a begger who tells me a tall story involving an evil jester and a wicked curse (which kinda makes me wish I was taking part in that story instead) and asks me for gold, I ignore him and press onwards into the next village. Upon arriving there, I am surrounded by hooded priests - oh god, they've caught up with me! The priests proceed to beat me unconscious, and throw me into a cell without any of my possessions except for an old statue I took from the elves that I killed a few nights ago.

I wake up in a cell, and one of the priests eventually tells me that they've been ordered to let me go. I'm not given the option to massacre their entire chav-ish order or anything, so I trudge miserably onwards until I come to another village, hopefully free from the tyrany of wandering bands of marauding clergy. The village is utterly abandoned, except for a strange man who is locked in a basement of one of the houses. Naturally this man drags me into a wine celler and tries to change the shape of my head with a vigorous series of punches, so I'm forced to run away yet again.

The Stuff of Nightmares
Seeking shelter in a nearby hut, I grab two suspicious sounding potions from a shelf, one called Arakh and one called Zazzaz. I plan to indulge my urge to taste possibly gross stuff with these potions. The hut also has some puppets in a corner, which I avoid like the plague because puppets are the scariest thing since clowns. Yeeks. Anyway, the next village I come across is similarly empty, leading me to suspect that the entire population has been abducted by aliens.

I try to press onwards, but this winds up with my character encountering an ending paragraph in which he stumbles in confusion across many featureless plains for all of eternity, causing me to have to restart the entire adventure. By the time I get back to this paragraph, I'm far less patient and quite happy to just give the entire thing a angry sigh and turn back the way I've come. Soon enough, I see the signs of the evil McEvilson army off in the distance. I'm so happy that I take a swig of the Arakh potion, only to find that it has no effect whatsoever.

I draw a bit closer to the army, sneaking nice and quietly. It's at this point that I can see that the soldiers are not ravaging monsters of evil eviltons, but blank-eyed peasants. So at very least we know what happened to the villagers. I'm so surprised that I take a swig of the Zazzaz potion, only to find that it makes me pass out and lose consciousness. When I come to, I get back onto my horse, who is promptly startled at the sight of the army, causing it to rear up and throw me off, which in turn makes me pass out and lose consciousness again.

The Shadow Over Where-You-Live!!
This time, I wake up in a giant void full of imprisoned figures, swirling in a strange un-world type of space. That's right, I'm IN THE FRONT COVER. And, yeah, the book kinda ends there. I assume that the giant floating head winded up getting a little bored and decided to have me for dinner.

This is one hell of a strange book. So, well, yeah. I'm sure there's a lot more to Slaves of the Abyss, I suspect it's a bit of a slow-burn kind of a book. I actually rather liked a lot of the atmosphere in it, which was occasionally a little "Shadow Over Innesmouth"ish. I'd give that point a recommendation, because it does play a bit of a mystery with the player.

The fantasy angle on it is a little dull, but overall I can't really say it's a poor showing. It does pose a rather nice little mystery, making you wonder just what's going on, and I'd be interested to try it out and see if we can solve it and find out just what is going on with this army of villagers and who the big giant head happens to be (hey, maybe he's William Shatner!) Give this one a shot. Just... try to do better at it than I did, eh?

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Battleblade Warrior playthrough

Written by Marc Gascoigne, artwork by Alan Langford.

This post's entry is on Battleblade Warrior, a book that I did own as a kid and don't remember anything about. I remember the cover easily enough, but none of the content. Frankly, I have a better memory of My Little Pony episodes than this book, which is oddly specific in a haunting and vaguely traumatising way. Also, my spellcheck seems to believe that Battleblade isn't a word. I suspect it may be right.

Right, let's have a look. Battleblade Warrior has a picture of a lizardman on a giant flying pterodactyl on the front, and the system works with the basic Fighting Fantasy system, no additional stats added. The background section tells the tale of your homeland under siege by the lizardmen, who are invading because that's the kind of things that lizardmen do. As prince of the kingdom, you're soon charged with going on a big ol' quest to find a special weapon, etc. We've heard it all before, but what really shines here is Marc's writing, giving little details here and there that make the intro feel genuinely unique and involving. Huge points there.

My father has long since died in the siege and my mother, the queen, is leading the war effort. One morning, after a long night of helping out with the wounded, I am met by a glowing mysterious figure dressed in glistening armour, who may or may not by my nation's patron diety, who tells me to go and pick up a powerful weapon with which we can repel the invading army. "Oh, sure thing" I say, having nothing better to do. "Couldn't you maybe just go and bring it here instead, being all powerful and everything?" I ask. The mysterious glowing figure laughs and walks off.

So the queen allows me to take a few items along, I grab my dad's bow and arrow set and a crystal orb full of swirling mist. I bid goodbye to the queen ("See you later mum") and head out on my quest. I'm given the choice of fighting my way through the siege, sneaking out, or swiping a boat and sailing out, so I choose the sneaky option, because my skill score is a mere 9.

Evidently my plan to sneak out was overseen by my mother, who decided to send an entire squadron of soldiers off on a suicide mission to distract the lizardman army, purely so that I can sneak out through a tunnel. With an amazing tactical mind like that, it's no surprise we're losing the war. I shuffle through a trench for a while, clambering over dead bodies and mud, until I hear a sound above the edge of the trench. I look up and see a lizardman riding on a triceratops. "Roar" it says, and whaps me over the head with its javelin.

I promptly kill the thing, and wonder about the idea of a lizardman riding on top of a giant lizard. Would this be like a man riding a gorilla to work in the morning? I keep thinking this, mainly to distract myself from the knowledge that I'm walking over a bunch of dead bodies, until I stumble across another lizardman standing atop the edge of the trench, laughing at his luck at finding me. I grab his leg and pull him into the trench with me, during which he falls on his sword and dies. What a shame.

By now I've snuck all the way to the enemy camp. I'm ready to head off, when I see a large set of catapults launching a variety of fiery bales at my home. I decide that this is a good time to use one of my dad's three magic arrows, and fire it at the barrel of pitch nearby. The barrel promptly explodes, somehow. I don't know how, but eh, it works. With the catapults reduced to smouldering ruins, I press onwards.

I slip through some tents in the camp, hiding behind some barrels from patrols, until I arrive at the stables. I promptly steal one of the riding lizard mounts, and charge off into the sunset. The lizardmen, of course, notice me and give chase. The chase sequence is actually pretty tense, with arrows flying and lots of tension, until I near a copse of trees. My mount is promptly shot by a man in the trees, who I confront angrily. He apologises, and makes it up to me by shooting two of the pursuing lizardmen with arrows. I'm given the option of helping open fire with my own bow at this point, but as I only have two arrows and the stranger's pet saber-toothed tiger (!) scares the rest off, I leave the six survivors to be.

The man, Lecarte, tells me of his own quest to find his father and I try to look as if I care. Sorry dude, but you shot my really cool giant lizard mount, your personal quest is your own business! He tells me that we should go to Capra, which I assume is being over-run by Cylons. Lecarte then explains that I'm thinking of Caprica, not Capra, and shakes his head in despair. Finally, to make up for killing my cool lizard-horse thing, he decides to set a trap for the lizardman.

That night, twelve lizardmen return to the trees and try to hunt us out. By that point we've set up a trap involving gunpowder that Lecarte got from Sardarth (ah, continuity, don't you love it?) which explodes in a giant fireball, roasting the screaming lizardmen alive, their flesh charring and blistering... y'know, they just don't make kids books like this any more.

We arrive in Capra, to find that nobody there is any help whatsoever. I take my leave of Lecarte, who suggests I wear a disguise for the next part of my journey, so he stands on the other side of the room and throws handfuls of mud at me. "Honest, this'll make you look like an orc" he explains. Sure enough, about a day's travel north of Capra, I stumble across an orc encampment. Good thing I was in costume, I suspect.

I slip into the orc camp, where they are having a funeral for one of their dead elders. I pay my respects to the elder in the traditional orc way, which is to take a huge bite out of the dead man's body. Following this, one of the elders realises that I'm not actually an orc after all, and whacks me over the head with a stick until I run away.

On my flight from the orc camp, I run into a messenger called Katya, who is on her own personal quest type of a thing. I'm thus far very impressed with this book's use of additional characters, so I recruit Katya to my party. She has a rather sickly horse, having ridden it all the way from her own besieged homelands without a break. When we make camp for the night, the horse sadly dies. I say sadly, because we don't get a heartbreaking scene of the horse sinking into the swamp of sadness. OH GOD ARTAX WHY DID YOU HAVE TO DIE?

So the next morning we NO ARTAX PLEASE DON'T LET THE SADNESS OF THE SWAMPS GET TO YOU PLEASE GO ON ARTAX NO DON'T DIE!! ahem, sorry, can't help myself sometimes. Yeah anyway, the next morning we continue our expedition, only to encounter yet more fantasy tropes. As we enter a desert region, we can hear a rider approaching on the road in front of us. We attempt to hide from it, but this ersatz nazgul catches us instead. It chains us to Conan's tree of woe, where we bake in the sun for a few days.

Like the typical Fighting Fantasy companion, Katya dies almost immediately. I'm lucky enough to be rescued by a travelling trader, who brings me to his camp in the middle of the desert. He offers to tell me some information on my next lead, if I give him a special item. But lacking any such item, he simply says "Well, nice to meet you" and kicks me out of his camp. I trudge through the blistering desert for a while under the hot sun, until the ground starts to get very wet and damp, and I realise I've hit swamp-lands. I promptly run into a giant swamp mutant lizard godzilla thing, which almost bites my head clean off.

Having killed the thing, I decide to climb up a nearby tree to sleep. The following day, I climb higher in order to see my route through the swamp, and catch sight of some mountains in the distance. I also manage to find some rope ladders and vine swings, which quickly alerts me to a small village set into the treetops. My luck starts to turn, however, when I find a preserved body of one of these treetop inhabitants mummified among the leaves.

The dead guy's friends then turn up and attempt to kill me, forcing me to take a leap from the treetops and flee, leaving all of my possessions behind. I trudge blindly through the swamp, until a lizardman riding a flying pterodactyl swings down from the sky and tries to poke me with its pointed stick. After a few turns of hitting me, it gets bored and flies away. By this point I'm pretty low on stamina, and I'm hoping to find a place to rest soon. Before I do so, though, I am confronted with an illusion of a gigantic tiger traipsing through the sky, which nearly frightens me to death. Having convinced myself that the gigantic tiger is just the illusion of the local jungle gods (they like to dick around with us mortals for a laugh), me and my three remaining health points stumble into a camp.

"Are you the old man I'm looking for?" I ask the man who lives in the camp. He nods. "Good" I say, and pass out.

The old man, Laskar, wakes me up in the morning to tell me to head off into a horrible dungeon of death and suffering. "But I've only got three stamina points left", I explain, "My arm is hanging off by a thread." "Walk it off" says the old man, and before I know it I'm sitting at the mouth of the dungeon, snarfing my face with provisions in the hopes that I can recover enough hit points in order to survive the next few sections of the book.

Stumbling through the first few tunnels of the dungeon, I am soon met by a pair of stone guardians who do the whole "None shall pass" schtick. I make short work of reducing them to pieces of flint, but at the cost of most of the stamina that my provisions have regained. I slip into the chamber that they were guarding, only to find that it is inhabited by a giant slug.

"I know, I'll sneak past it" says I.

"No you won't" says the giant slug, and it eats my head. Thus endeth the journey.

I genuinely enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. I was worried that it would be one of those bland, tedious books without much character of its own, but Mark's writing really helps elevate it above any risk of that. You've got a huge sense of landscape and travel here, and the many characters you encounter definitely bring the adventure to life. Take note, this is a very standard Fighting Fantasy adventure that boils down to 'go get weapon and kill enemy', but the way it's written sets it as one of the examples of the series doing it at its best.

So yeah, this book gets a very shiny and positive review from me, and I'm thrilled to have rediscovered it. This is what this blog was all about, finding those adventures that I didn't notice the first time around. I'm very, very happy with this.

Next time... I dunno, I've only got like forty more books to pick up or something, woo!!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Chasms of Malice playthrough

Written by Luke Sharp, Artwork by Russ Nicholson

Never played this adventure before, so let's dive right in. Are you ready? 

One little trick when you're writing fantasy - throw letters together and hope for the best.

Fer instance, Chasms of Malice takes place in the lands of Hgsetegs (or something similar). The evil Guiegew has stolen the powerful Shield of Tsgseggt, and as the Heir of Fgjrgnsgs you need to go and save the world by slaying the seven demons of Iseghsurw. But fear not, for the Goddess Igseugsejiise watches over you and guides your path, as you confront the foul minions of Cjrnhjisdih, Jvrguiwe and Rvnjsrnhso.

Make sensible names for things, damn it!!

Right, so this adventure starts off with you as a third-assistant rabbit skinner in the king's kitchen. One morning, you're yanked by the ear to the throne room, where the King tells you that some nasty buggers tunneled into his vaults and his magic shield has been nicked. So now you need to go save the universe. He gives you a pointy stick and has you shoved into the tunnel.

I kinda wish I was exaggerating there. In fact, I am. He gives you a cat, too. I'm not sure why, maybe the dark lord is allergic to kittens. Throughout the adventure, it serves to occasionally meow at me, claw at my coat, sometimes go off and catch fish, and generally be the object of my prayers.

I stumble through the tunnel for a while until I find a dead rabbit and some bits of wood. Eventually I come to a small bridge over a chasm, which is guarded by an especially unpleasant elf. I kill it, set up camp for lunch, and am soon attacked by a ground-hawk. Which is like a hawk, except it digs through the ground. I don't know what that is, or why such a thing even has wings in the first place, but I'm sure it will be featuring in a pokemon game at some point.

Soon, we find our way into a large cavern which contains a 'famous' tavern. Famous, no doubt, for being the only tavern set into the wall of a large cavern. A figure stumbles out of the door and falls over, I try to help him, but he tries to kill me instead so I have no option but to chop his arms and legs off. The tavern is full of orcs and trolls, but the barmaid asks me to go upstairs to meet her dad, who tells me that the Dark Lord knows of my quest and that the tunnels are full of his servants, so I should meet one of his friends in the nearby caves.

I slip out a side entrance to the tavern and head down some tunnels, dodging falling stalactites as I go. After saving some weird tunnel-dwelling git from a giant spider, I eventually find what I presume to be the barmaid's friend. He's in a small hovel full of books, and he tells me some cyphers in order to solve the coded signs that have been left throughout the dungeon. He also tells me that I'll need to find the ancient place of Gusegsghfewu so that I can temper my magic sword and so on. I note down the code for the glyphs he tells me.

Those glyphs tell me the safe direction to travel in the next tunnel, so after a quick rest for dinner I encounter a group of dwarves. Their leader casts a sleeping spell on me, and I wake up in their hovel sometime later. The dwarf gives me my sword back, tells me that they are my friends, and their home is then immediately attacked by orcs. I fight off three of them, one of which is hit by one of the dwarves poison spray arrows (the book doesn't indicate what the result of this happens to be, though, so I assume it just dies).

I follow the dwarf captain, a lady called Aspra, as she and her group flee into the tunnels. It starts to get hotter and soon we encounter a river of lava, requiring us to jump from stone to stone in order to cross. Later we set up camp near a river (of water, not lava) and Aspra tries to bore me to death by telling me her life story. I get so bored that I decide to go fishing. I don't have a fishing rod, so I try to catch one by hand, resulting in my thumb being bitten off by a fish. If I survive this, I'll tell people I lost it in battle with a rock troll.

Aspra decides to raid one of the dark lord's provision caravans. I decide that it's a good time to pray to the goddess Etuegtasg to regain my luck points, which are quite low at this point. I'm glad of this, because during the raid I leap onto a caravan and am almost chopped up by an elf. Barely surviving, we return to camp and I decide that it's time to venture into the dark lord's lands via hiding in a cart full of foul-smelling leather skins. By a process of sheer luck, I manage to only get stabbed by the dark lord's guards once while they check the cart, instead of a full possible three times.

Given that I've spent my whole life skinning rabbits in the kitchen, I decide that I really don't want to sneak into the orc's kitchen, and instead work my way through some tunnels until I get to a room full of orcs who are having fun torturing a dwarf that's chained to a table. I free the dwarf. By a process of sheer luck, I manage to only get stabed by the orcs seven times while I fight them off, instead of dying horribly right there and... this isn't so lucky after all, I realise. I hope that the dwarf I've rescued will be of some use, but he instead opts to sit in a corner and not move.

I stumble through the tunnels for a while longer until I find a bottomless pit, which I attempt to jump over. By a process of sheer luck, I manage to only tumble and fall into the bottomless pit...

This book is largely forgettable. I didn't play it as a kid, so I don't have any fond memories associated with it, and it's not left a huge impression on me as an adult. It's alright, there's nothing bad about it, but there's nothing that really stands out about it. You spend most of your time moving through tunnels and tunnels, and more tunnels, and a few more tunnels. If it wants to give you a really big surprise with some new landscape, it might give you a cavern. If you've ever trudged all your way through Blackwing Lair, you'll know the feeling.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Midnight Rogue playthrough

Written by Graeme Davis, Artwork by John Sibbick

Ah, nostalgia time. Let me talk about how I remember this book.

I don't think I played Midnight Rogue more than once or twice after I first found it, back when I was a kid. Being from a working class family, my grandparents would insist that we go to Blackpool for summer holiday each year. By the time I was 12 or 13, I was rather bored of it all. But one year, in the city's indoor market, I was able to find a copy of Midnight Rogue. I read through it in a day or two, and it still reminds me of Blackpool.

The task is simple enough. You are a trainee in the Thieve's Guild in the city of Blacksand, and in order to earn your stripes and become a fully-fledged thief, you are asked to find a large gem called the Eye of the Basilisk. Easy enough, right? Course not!

The gameplay in this adventure works the same as most FF books, with skills and stamina and no new stats. I rolled up decent enough stats, although my luck was rather low at 8. But you're given the opportunity to select from a variety of thief skills as well, from which I have selected pickpocketing, sneaking, and the ever useful spot hidden (which no game of Call of Cthulhu would be complete without).

Rannik, the head of the thieve's guild, tells me that the gem belongs to a merchant. He tells me that this particular merchant's symbol is the coin, which I'm sure would be valuable information, if it weren't for the creeping feeling that this is probably the same symbol that every merchant in the entire world would use. I mean... you're a merchant. What ELSE would you use for your personal symbol? Anyway, I head out into Port Blacksand.

I decide to start my investigation at the merchant's guild. I head out there and, on my travel, see a rustling near a patch of trees. I investigate, and am quickly attacked by a ghoul. I wonder why there's a flesh-eating ghoul just lounging around the city streets of Port Blacksand, but then I remember that I'm in Port Blacksand, a place which makes Ankh-Morpork seem cultured and polite. The ghoul is probably a citizen.

After beating the ghoul to a pulp, I work my way into an alleyway beside the merchant's guild offices and high-tail it up a drainpipe. At the top of the drainpipe, one of the building's gargoyles comes to life and tries to kill me. My sword has no effect on it, and the book asks if I'd like to try something else. Naturally I take this option, and it leads to a segment which asks if I have a grapple, a cloak, or a heavy chain. I have neither, but there is no option to choose 'none of the above'.

By the rules of this blog (no cheating, no turning back to previous segments, etc), I need to choose one of these items which I don't have. I settle for the cloak. Magically, a cloak appears on my character. He throws the cloak over the gargoyle, catching it and sending it crashing to the street below. Good to know that it wasn't just Revenge of the Vampire that suffered from lack of editing, eh?

I slip into the guild via the skylight, and manage to find a door with a coin symbol on it. But I can't get into the merchant's office, because it's locked. So I'm told that I can't do anything else here, and should go to the merchant's house instead. Feh.

The merchant lives in the rich part of town. And like all rich parts of towns, there are more police in that area, because the wealthy are the biggest thieves and crooks in the world. One group of city guards notices me, and I'm not given the option of bluffing an excuse to them as to why I'm here. Instead, I'm only given the options to trying to run, attacking them, or bribing them. I try bribing them. They aren't happy. Obviously I didn't give them enough money. They threaten to take me in, so I do what any sensible person would do in this situation - leg it.

After I lose the guards in the maze of city streets, I eventually manage to find the merchant's house. The front door is locked, so I climb up yet another gutter pipe in order to get through the window. But there are bars on all of the windows. The only way in is via the door, and I can't pick the lock.

Are you seeing a recurring theme here? Long story short - take the freakin' lockpicking ability, otherwise you're screwed. You're given the option of selecting three skills from a list, but without lockpicking as one of them, you simply can't proceed in the adventure. The book is only giving you the ILLUSION of a choice, and I suspect that this is one of those puzzles in which you need to pick the 'correct' skills to be able to complete the game, rather than the skills being different options to unlock new avenues on how you may complete the game. Failing to choose the 'correct' skill results in... what's about to happen...

The only option I have now is to try to pick, at random, a location where I think the gem is hidden. The book gives me four choices, and it's clear that one of them is the correct one. I'm not given an option to choose 'no bloody idea where it is', so I pick one, barrow hill, because it's the name of an adventure game I played on the PC a few years back. The others are either dull-sounding (a bridge or a street) or insanely dangerous (Lord Azzur's Palace), so even if this is barking totally up the wrong tree, at very least I'll be going somewhere vaguely interesting.

The book then outright TELLS me that this was the correct choice, and that although I know it's located in Barrow Hill (I don't know, I just chose at random!), I don't know WHERE in Barrow Hill it is, and sends me back to paragraph 1 to start all over again. That's what happens if you don't select lockpicking as a skill, you eventually get to a point where you're just told 'Start again'. Oh boy. I'm already starting to notice a lot of problems with this book, in case you didn't notice...

So, I tear up my character sheet and make a new one, this time with a specialist skills in Sneaking, Picking Locks and Pickpocketing. My stamina is a bit lower this time, but at very least I stand a better chance of actually being a vaguely useful thief. We start all over again, this time opting to go to a seedy area called the Noose in order to see if I can get some clues first.

The Noose is a grimy, nasty part of town and I manage to waste some time playing games in the local pub. You know the game, it's the one where you try to stab a knife between your fingers and quickly wish that you'd chose a better game to play. Either way it earns me some gold, which I use to pay one of the local beggers for some info. He has no info, but gives me a grappling hook instead. That's... kinda like asking someone to go get you a bottle of milk, and they come back with a hammer.

The adventure then takes a rather odd turn, as I venture onto a dark desert highway. I feel cool wind in my hair and smell colitas rising up through the air. Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light, and soon I had to stop for the night. I see a woman standing in a doorway of a hotel, and while I heard a mission bell ringing in the background, she lit up a candle and she showed me the way inside. As we walk through the chambers, the woman shows me a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends who dance in the courtyard, it's all quite strange. When I finally get to my room, I called up the Captain, and asked him to please bring me my wine. He said, "We haven't had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine". I confront the woman about this, all very confused, and she said "We are all just prisoners here, of our own device".

I tried to explain to her that I really had no idea what she was talking about and just wanted to leave, but instead she invited me to the master's chamber to enjoy a feast with the other guests. The feast was a bit weird though, because when the gathered guests stab it with their steely knives they just couldn't kill the beast. I'd had enough of this silliness at this point, and the last thing I remember, I was running for the door. While scrambling to find it, I bump into the night porter, who tells me that although I can check-out any time you like, I can never leave. So I stick my sword through him, kick down the door and flee back into the city. Feh. Stupid hotel. I really don't know why this was even part of the adventure, to be honest with you, it's all quite odd.

In desperation I go to see a psychic, Madame Star. She tells me that I am on a big quest to find something, and that I will need to go to somewhere of sleep and somewhere of work. So, the merchant's home and office... oh gosh, thank you. Her prediction was then followed by a heavy thumping sound, caused by my head hitting my table very hard. At some point, I need to stop basing my important life decisions on information I've bought from Mystic Meg's Psychic Charlatan Store!

So, let's make this nice and short. I go to office. Now that I have grappling hook, I hit gargoyle with it and therefore manage not to lose my precious non-existent cloak. I slip through the skylight again, but without my spot hidden skill, I manage to accidentally step on a hidden switch which opens a secret panel in the wall. Inside the panel lurks a small creature, a Jib-Jib. Essentially a Tribble with feet, the Jib-Jib threatens to scream the entire place down with its cries that can be heard for miles around. Kinda like an alarm system that you need to feed. I stick my sword in it before it can scream.

Thankfully I'm now able to get into the merchant's office, and raid his desk drawer for information. It tells me that yes, the gem is hidden in Barrow Hill. Astonishing. He has a few coins and a key hidden in the drawer, but the office also has a heavy steel door that may lead to a more interesting treasure. Naturally, I want to get it. So I pick the lock and head into the other room.

Once inside, I find a large treasure chest. It tries to eat me. Great, I've stumbled across Rincewind's Luggage. Why is this even here? Does the merchant routinely lock monsters in the spare office rooms? I start to get worried about the merchant's guild. Their alarm system is a living creature, their treasure chests are made of Sapient Pearwood, I'm half expecting that the heavy iron door to come to life and - oh crap, the door's swinging shut.

There's a small mark on the wall which, if I can read secret signs, may have told me how to escape from this room. But I don't have that skill. As a result, I am locked in the spare office room with a dead treasure chest monster, and there I am to stay until the merchant opens up the door the next morning and I get dragged out of the place by angry city guards. Yeah, suffice to say I'm not going to finish this one.

Ah, but the game doesn't end there. You see, there's a twist in the tale. Naturally, this means that the next point is a spoiler. It's also recalled entirely from memory. I did say that I had strong memory about this book, didn't I?

You see, when I was a kid, I'd cheated my way through all of these books, naturally. At the ending of this story, you do indeed uncover the gem. But it's a fake. In fact, the entire adventure was a fake, orchestrated by the Thieve's Guild. Every step of the way has been planned, plotted, and constructed. Which makes it one of the most lethal 'tests' possible. All of your guildmates turn the lights on and celebrate your accomplishments with a big party.

It's a real twist in the story, and made the book memorable as a kid. But thinking about it now, as an adult... I hate that. I mean, what if I'd have got eaten by the ghoul? "Oh, I'm sorry," Rannik the Thieve's Guild Master would say, "But you failed the test by getting your limbs ripped off by our pet ghoul. No guild membership for you." I mean... if it's a test to see if you'd make a decent member of the club, maybe it'd be an idea not to have the entry exam be lethal!

Let me tell you a story. When I was a little older, I had a copy of Ultima 7. I loved this game. As part of the game's quest, you need to infiltrate a sinister religious organisation called the Fellowship. The head of the Fellowship, L. Ron Hubbard (named Batlin in the game, but we know who he really is!) asks you, as a new recruit, to head to an abandoned dungeon and pick up some gold they'd stored there. Abandoned dungeon. And he assures you that it's totally harmless and that there's nothing dangerous at all. Once you get to the dungeon, you find that it is full of DRAGONS. One of the most dangerous enemies in the game. Just one of them can kill you, and there are whole swarms of the buggers here. If you return to Batlin with the stuff he asked for and complain that he, like the Thieve's Guild Master, had sent you off to die in a lethal death-trap of fiery and tooth-filled doom, he just says "Woops, I must have been mistaken. Oh well. Would you like a cup of tea or something?"


Overall, this book has some lovely ideas. It's got a great premise, and looks at the Fighting Fantasy genres in a whole different light. It does use the setting of Port Blacksand to its advantage, and the idea of gathering info before hitting the dungeon is great. But... it all fails in execution, for the reasons detailed in the playthrough. Which is a damn shame, and I'm very disappointed that this book was less fun to play through honestly and properly than it was to just cheat my way through. Hey, actually.... wouldn't it be a nice idea if the only way to win at this gamebook IS to cheat? That'd be some real lateral thinking problem solving there, eh?

It's certainly not on my top five list of the most disappointing things in the history of the universe (a list which consists of the video games Ultima 9, Mass Effect 3, the movies Highlander 5, Star Wars Episode 1 and The Hobbit, and the last of Stephen King's Dark Tower novels), but I don't speak for everyone. If you've finished this gamebook, let me know what you think.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Phantoms of Fear playthrough

Written by Rob Waterfield, Artwork by Ian Miller

The cover of this book is certainly noteworthy, because it shows a very vivid picture of my ex. No, seriously, I always thought that this was what the titular monsters in Spectral Stalkers should look like. This book is quite unlike Spectral Stalkers though, in that your playable character is an elf. As an elf, you have a Power stat, which you can use to cast a few spells. You also can tap into a special living realm when you dream, which basically turns the entire adventure into a drug-fuelled haze while your character sleeps on a tree branch for a while. Good thing to do while there's an evil death-god planning to destroy the world, right?

Oh yeah, and that's your quest. Go and stop the evil death-god. Somehow, I quickly come to suspect that the key to solving this adventure lies in the dreams that the character has, because the very first thing you're doing in the game is sleeping. You dream of your home forest being twisted and destroyed, and a statue of an old powerful and possibly goddess-type thing beckons you on, offering you puppies and swords. Yes, really. No, it doesn't make much sense to me either.

The dream continues until I attempt to cast a fire spell at an especially unpleasant piece of shrubbery, only to be informed that I cannot cast spells while I'm asleep, and am roughly propelled into the waking world, promptly losing two power points as I do so. From the dream, I have learned that the evil death-god has made a giant pit of nastiness in the middle of the forest, which presumably means we're going to have to find a dungeon and get some dungeon-crawling on.

Wake up!
You're informed that, as a wood elf, you are confident that you don't need to take any food with you on your journey, and toddle off into the forest with only a pointed stick for safety. Ten minutes later you're starving to death and struggling to scavenge enough berries to survive. I'm so impressed with the skill of the wood elves so far. I manage to direct him into a small bush, where he gathers some berries, eats them, and promptly falls asleep. My sleep is then interrupted on account of being attacked by a giant hawk which is attempting to peck my eyes out.

Having killed the giant hawk, the character decides to actually do something sensible and go gather enough food to continue his journey. In the process of which, he is attacked by a bear. I can only picture the image there, a little wood elf digging through a bush, collecting berries, and finding a giant twelve-foot tall grizzly bear instead. Anyway, no sooner have I collected some food, than the character trips on some poisoned plants and infects two meals worth of food with some kind of toxic tree venom.

Fresh summer berries. Take them with you next time!!
Without any real indication of where to go, I stumble cluelessly around the forest for a while, until I find a pathway leading to the west. Some distance along the pathway, I'm given a few chances to roll a test of luck, or the option to turn back. This is always a bit of a dead giveaway that there is some kind of horrible spiked trap tied to a tree or something, and no sooner have I confirmed that I want to press on in this direction am I confronted... with a horrible spiked trap tied to a tree. Because I'm not quite a total idiot, I avoid the trap, but I'm gradually losing faith in the character's preternatural woodland survival skills.

My lack of faith is immediately confirmed when the character, a wood elf, falls out of a tree. The book tells me that the character assumes that this is due to the tree's unnatural corruption, and a foreboding warning that he should sleep on the ground that night, but I am not even slightly convinced at that. My new theory is that the character is simply a very tall dwarf without a beard. I fully expect him to find a bow and arrow later on in this adventure, and accidentally shoot himself in the arse with it.

Elves. Master of the trees.
I hide under some leaves and have a dream about being beaten up by an ice monster. Upon killing it, I'm informed that I wake up feeling refreshed. The next paragraph tells me that I then rest for a while, which is confusing as I'd just finished sleeping. Now convinced that my inept beardless dwarf also has narcolepsy, I'm ready to pack up and continue on the journey when I am attacked by the strange mutated man-creature whose leaf-shelter I've slept in for the night. Slept in, I'll remind you, because my character couldn't climb a tree without falling out of it. I suspect that this is going to end up like one of those episodes of Star Trek, the kind in which the crew need to save themselves from their own stupidity.

The whole next day's journey is uneventful, it seems. But the book does give me a luck point simply for making it this far. Words are failing me at this point. Normally in these books, you're given a luck point if you kill an especially dangerous enemy or find a holy relic. In this one, I'm given a luck point simply for not tripping over my own shoelaces and hitting my head on a rock while moving from point A to point B. It's getting late at that point, so we decide to risk setting up camp in a cave on one of the nearby hills.

I choose the cave which is littered with half-gnawed bones, because that seems the safest option. Look, don't question my logic here. I have a refreshing sleep, dreaming of magic pools which remind me a lot of the first Narnia book, and when I wake the next morning I'm given the option of exploring the rest of the cave. Far in the back of the cave, we find a skeleton with its hand trapped under a boulder. When I move the boulder to one side, the skeleton springs to life and starts trying to kill me with its magic ring. I can only assume that this is not meant to be the skeleton of a long-dead Green Lantern, but after knocking the skeleton down and trapping its hand back under the boulder, it goes back to sleep.

Death holds no grip on the Green Lantern, yo.
I continue to crawl through the cave until I eventually emerge from the other side, feeling as if I somehow didn't manage to acquire any of the hidden loot that I was sure would be hidden in a dark cave. In the distance I can see the weird twisted corruption of the evil dark-god thing, which has been tainting this region of the forest. As I approach, a strange gust of wind knocks me over. I'm assuming that it is actually meant to be some kind of radiating ageas of raw tainted evil, or something equally powerful enough to almost knock a heroic warrior of good from his feet. But frankly, at this stage in the adventure, I'm beginning to suspect that the elf just fell over from a strong breeze.

Despite getting closer to the heart of darkness itself, our illustrious hero decides that now would be a good time to fall asleep by a lake. He has a dream of little forest pixies, who he dances with and talks to plants with and assorted other nonsense. The pixies ask if I want to stay with them, and I have to roll a dice in order to possess the slightest scrap of common sense. I roll a six, which means that our illustrious hero decides to spend the rest of his days dancing with the pixies, chatting with plants, and generally not destroying the evil god-monster of death and chaos.

I can't really dislike this book, despite the main character's utter ineptitude. The descriptions are vivid, especially the dreams. The artwork is extremely good, bringing the imagery of the story to haunting life. It's certainly not one of the poorer Fighting Fantasy books, but it doesn't really do a whole lot to make itself stand out from the crowd. It reminds me a lot of Portal of Evil, in many ways, so if you enjoyed that one then I'd recommend giving this one a shot.

As I'm sure everyone out there is quite aware, the UK is slap-bang in the middle of a heatwave at the moment, so I'm going to head off and try to dunk my head into a bucket of ice for a while. Catch you all next time, when we'll be exploring.. uhh... I don't know which books I have left to cover. It'll be a surprise! See you then!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Star Striders playthrough

Written by Luke Sharp, artwork by Gary Mayes.

Oh god no, not another sci-fi one! It's not a secret that I've grown to dislike the sci-fi Fighting Fantasy adventures with the rampant passion of a thousand dying suns. But god damn it, I'm going to get through this.

The book opens with a quote from the hitchhiker's guide of the galaxy explaining that a Star Strider is a skilled bounty hunter... in space! I am then immediately informed that the President has been kidnapped by the romulans - oh wait, no, sorry, that's the Gromulans. Totally different. Another evil space empire entirely. As is standard in these games, instead of sending along a giant army of death-robots, they send one lone nutcase with a gun. Jack Bauer would be proud. And now I have the mental image of Keifer Sutherland beating up Romulans.

 It's also occurred to me that this is one of the rarer "rescue mission" type of quests, as opposed to the standard "there is an evil wizard over there, go and kill him" ones.

I start out the adventure onboard a shuttle to earth, where the President is being held hostage 'somewhere'. Aboard the shuttle, the waitress robot offers me some snacks, which I accept. The food cubes (that sounds vile! What is the obsession in bad sci-fi that all food should be done in multicoloured cube form?) restores one stamina point... which is still at maximum because the adventure has just started and I've not had the chance to lose any OH GOD THIS IS GOING TO BE STUPID

The shuttle reaches a dingy old docking station and I catch a bus to Madrid. FUTURE MADRID, that is! On the way, two GromPol grab me and throw me into a box or something, it's a little unsure. I'm not actually certain what GromPol are, I assume that they are some kind of police force. Working on that assumption, the police use a strange telepathic illusion in order to scare me. This adventure has a fear rating, for some obscure reason. It barely has any impact on the adventure, and serves no real purpose other than to give me something else to roll against. In this instance, the police give me the illusion of being sealed in a small box, which is apparantly quite scary. Once they are finished, they ask me who I am and what I'm doing, and then promptly drop me back on the bus without any further concerns or worry.

If you're confused about what just happened... yeah, makes two of us!

Anyway, the bus stops and I get off in Future Madrid. The book takes the moment to tell me that the place is a mess and is only used as a stop-off for people en route to London, which I think is a bit dubious. Either way, a robot walks up to me and 'pings' me. I've no reason to want to jump at the chance to make friends with a random robot, so instead I follow it down the hallways until I find out that it's actually working for the Grom. I'm wondering if the Grom are actually the Gromulans that were mentioned in the intro to the story. Maybe they shortened the name and didn't bother to adjust the rest of the book (this is stupid).

So, with no real clue what I should spend my effort on, I just follow the robot around the ruins of the old city, until I wander into a Grom ambush. Something akin to a billion drone fighter jets descend on me, and I'm quite happy to choose the 'run like hell away' option.

I am promptly saved by a group of sewer-dwelling criminals who assume that I'm one of their friends. Immediately a big nasty chap starts punching me for no apparent reason. Naturally I hit him back, at which point everyone in the sewer-dwelling criminal gang realises that I'm a bounty hunter and murders the shit out of me. So, having no interest in dying in such a pointlessly stupid means (an instant death, I should point out), I roll up a new character (two less stamina, one more skill on this one) and make all the same decisions in order to get right back to this point in the adventure, purely so that I can let a man punch me for no good reason and without any warning. Turns out that he is planning to thieve things from the hacienda, and wants me along.

I trudge along to this and am promptly dumped alone into the hacienda with no backup or significant reason for being there other than that there might possibly maybe be a clue here. By this stage, I am hemorrhaging 'time' points, which is another of the things that this book seems intent on subjecting me to. Having very little fun with this, guys. Anyway, the book tells me to sneak across a courtyard filled with laser beams. "Throw one dice, this is where the beam is" says the book, in possibly one of the worst explained examples of writing I've yet to see. Was this published from a first draft??

Once I get inside the hacienda, I find a random robot wandering around. Quite keen to get some revenge on one of them, so I beat it to death. Turns out it was just a butler robot, but I still feel satisfied. A small kid walks out of a nearby room looking for the butler. It's a Grom kid, which means that it has those weird psychic illusion powers. When she sees me, she asks if I want to play a game. Knowing better than to refuse to play a game when a kid with crazy psychic powers wants to, I agree. She promptly tells me that her game is to pick the lock of her dad's computer terminal... sigh.. which I do through the course of a tedious maths puzzle. Not just one tedious maths puzzle - two of them! I didn't buy a book of maths puzzles! Eventually I get access and find out that the president is stored in a warehouse in sector 169A. Oh gosh, I'm sure that number won't be at all important later on!

I flee the place and get back to the bus, where I'm told to deduct a few more time points for the journey out of Madrid and further along towards my goal. The way that time is applied in this game is utterly abstract, I could lose two time points by undergoing a long bus ride, or lose two time points for leafing through a book in a shop. There's no definite guide as to what a time point is worth, they're just applied haphazardly and urgh forget it. Moving on.

We arrive in Roma, which I'm assuming is Future Rome and not simply a gypsy encampment. But knowing how stupid this book is, it could be either. I find what I assume to be a future bed & breakfast, and during the night I catch sight of someone who looks 'familiar' in another room. The next day I follow her like a crazy stalker, and eventually figure out that she's a fellow bounty hunter. Together we plan to search for info.

She suggests that I check out a local abandoned unused cinema. I wander around it for a while, and in one of the rooms I find a large angry-looking man who agrees to help me. He escorts me outside, and we are just about to head off to meet his contact when a swarm of Grom ships swoop down on us. I am asked if I want to help the big strong dude fight them, and when I say that I do, I am greeted with yet another instant-death segment where the Grom capture us both with a net and take us away. I have no interest in playing through this again, so I officially consider this book 'done'.

This adventure is a mess. The descriptions are sloppy and unstructured, without anything approaching a feeling of atmosphere. The choices you're given are often muddled and unclear, and I had quite a few choices which I was unsure what the difference between both options actually were. The entire thing feels unpolished and lazy.

This is the kind of Fighting Fantasy book you give to your kid if they have been naughty and need some kind of suitable punishment. At very least I am done with the sci-fi adventures in this series, I never need to see or hear from them again. This was just utter dreck.

Next up, I'll be tackling the last of the main series of Fighting Fantasy books, Phantoms of Fear. Until next time!