Sunday, 22 February 2009

Flight from the Dark

I'm going to try to review the book as a whole, having completed it, rather than describe my adventures in detail, though the latter will of course come into it. Spoilers are not garuanteed to be absent, though I'll try to avoid spoiling major plot points or twists as far as I can.
The book is basically a survival quest. There's some mention of "warning" the king, but based on the events on the way, it's obvious the king will know about the hordes of monsters pretty soon anyway, so essentially your goal is to escape the hordes and make it to the capital and safety.
It's fairly non-linear; the book is divided into several sections and each has at least two paths through. Generally (at least I think so, anyway) all paths converge between sections, giving you a short mandatory section.
There are quite a lot of insta-death paragraphs. However, the vast majority are clued to some degree, and serve merely to punish you for being stupid- there's none of the East-Death/ West-Safety sort of thing that really annoys me in some other gamebooks. 
It does appear to be possible to get right through without fighting anything, though I personally got involved in two fights in my successful run (I did complete it fairly, well almost- see note later, eventually), against a Giak riding a wolf, and against a ruffian in a shop. 
The scope is not very epic, since you're just trying to survive, but that's not exactly a problem. Later books, I recall, are significantly more epic.
There also isn't much of a plot, and the first section of the book feels like you're just randomly wandering through a wood (mainly because you are). I think it is possible to wander around in circles in this section if you pay no attention to compass directions, but you'd have to be fairly un-alert to do this. 
I have essentially two main problems with the book, one relatively minor, one more severe.
The first is that the best route to take from a plot point of view has you meeting a young wizard very early on, who gives you quite a bit of nice exposition. Unfortunately, you end up severely punished for going this way, having to face a very difficult fight, immediately followed by some mandatory Endurance loss, an avoidable insta-death, and another moderately hard combat. Neither of the fights is avoidable, and one of them (entirely illogically from a plot point of view, too) punishes you wish insta-death for taking what, to my mind, is the most sensible course of action prior to it (the best result, on the other hand, is obtained from taking the course of action that appears to be clearly stupid). If you rolled badly for initial Combat Score, you're likely dead if you choose this path.
The alternative path, which avoids the young wizard, is, by contrast pretty safe. If you play sensibly, and ideally have Tracking and/or Sixth Sense, you should easily get through the first section without any fights or danger. 
My second, and more serious complaint is this:
There is a mandatory paragraph (i.e. all routes lead to it, at least I think so) that gives you a choice. One of the options is clearly sensible; the other difficult to justify. This leads to a second paragraph where the same is true. Picking the two sensible options leads you into an extremely hard fight against a Gourgaz. Basically, if you rolled average combat score, you are very likely dead. If you rolled low, you have no chance at all. Even worse, the text apparently gives you an option to avoid the fight, but taking this very sensible course of action leads to a totally unfair insta-kill.
This is a shame, because past this section I have no complaints with the book at all. The last two sections are very well-constructed, both of them rewarding you for making sensible decisions, and feeling tense and exciting, without randomly killing you for no good reason.
Right, that about sums it all up, I think. The book is fairly short (in terms of completion time) simply because it's so non-linear for most of its run. It took me five attempts to complete, and oddly, the time I completed it was the time I rolled a 0 for combat score (giving me 10, meaning most fights were a serious threat). I took Mindblast and Weaponskill to try to compensate. I died once to the Gourgaz, twice to making a stupid move, once to taking the young-wizard route with a poor combat score. 
My disciplines on my successful run were:
Healing Tracking Camoflage Mindblast Weaponskill-Broadsword
Healing, I should point out, is very good, because the books very rarely give you an opportunity to recover wounds by any other means. However, it's not quite as good as I played it as, because I read the description carelessly and failed to note that it works only on wounds suffered in combat. This, by the way, is something I never noticed playing the series as a teenager, either, so I think it could have been stressed more obviously. 
I never found a broadsword, sadly. 

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