Thursday, 1 April 2010

Combat Heroes 1 - White Warlord

So, aside from the few I haven't got copies of yet, I'm out of FF books (and it's been 20 years since I tried a round Advanced FF with a bunch of highly uninterested intermediate school friends, so you can forget that!).

But a workmate dumped me with a few gamebooks from his personal collection he wanted done, so hey - why not?

I think though just grabbing one off the pile at random was a bad idea.

Firstly, White Warlord does not require dice. That was my first clue I was throwing myself in the deep end. The second? The paragraphs don't have any text.

Err, what?

This book is like a first-person-shooter, except without the shooting, and in book form. I know that sounds... retarded, but I'll try to explain.

So, pretend it's the mid-'80s, and two-player first-person-shooters don't exist yet, or they do, but suck. But things sucking or not existing never stopped nerds in the '80s, thus the Combat Heroes series was born.

Thing is, to have two players going against each other, two books would be needed, much like two controllers are needed these days. And much like console makers nowadays only ever ship one controller with the console, forcing you to buy a second one if you want to play two-player, Joe Dever realised not everyone would have both books (or a friend to play with) - so included a solo game in each.

Thing is, the solo game has no combat, at all, let alone any heroism. In White Warlord, the solo game, your arch enemy captures you and throws you in a dungeon. To win the game, you have to escape the dungeon, which you can only do so by collecting a bunch of trinkets in a particular order, and not be killed by traps.

And that's it. Hmmm. It's like Deathtrap Dungeon, without the plot.

So after two pages of instructions, skipping the 20 or so pages of instructions for the two-player game (thank god - it looked more like a technical manual than anything), I'm thrown right into it, on page 7.

The game itself is largely illustrations of what you can see directly in front of you, with a four-pointed compass showing possible directions to go in. If an action is available, there's a secondary set of paragraphs of text telling you what happens.

At first, I found it disorienting, despite trying to keep a map. I'm so used to N-S-E-W, that when I'm suddenly confronted with directions based on which way I'm facing - a no-brainer when playing on the PC or PlayStation - I've no idea which way I'm going. Even after getting the hang of it, almost every illustration that doesn't have a picture of an axe swinging at you looks pretty much the same. It might as well have been the infamous Warlock of Firetop Mountain maze - all text, no obvious way out.

After wandering around and diminishing my stamina, I mean endurance, to a single point, I had some luck - I found my way back to where I started, and went the other way. Almost immediately I'd found the first trinket of 10, then a second. Then I was killed by a swinging axe.

The traps were so brutal, and my luck in picking the right random pages so bad, I kind of wish I had dice to decide my fate for me.

I imagine this book would have been O for awesome if I'd sat down with a friend in 1988 and played it. Nowadays, it just came over as the most clunky way you could ever hope to present a one-on-one fight to the death in a maze, ever. The two-player instructions took 10 times as many pages as the single-player instructions, and that about sums it up.

Though, at least it would have lived up to the title Combat Heroes!

If you played this book a lot though, you'd get real good at flipping pages. Ninety percent of what you're doing is flipping pages. If you were playing the exact same story on a PC or console, it'd be 15 minutes of gameplay, including mapping, failed attempts and learning, to clock it.

So um, yeah. Might have been great in its time, but there's a reason people still get into FF, and I'd never heard of Combat Heroes till now. I trust Dever's Lone Wolf books are better!