Review: Fighting Fantasy / Author: Ian Livingstone / Publisher: Tin Man Games / Format: iOS (reviewed), Android / Price: £3.99 / Release Date: Out Now
The Fighting Fantasy books get an upgrade, in more ways than one. Ian Livingstone's Blood of the Zombies marks the series' 30th anniversary with an all-new adventure. Available in trusty paperback form for the purists, and mobile for the 21st Century Fighting Fantasy fan, Blood of the Zombies may have a little added polish, but it's essentially the same gamebook experience we all know and love/hate.
Most gamebook fans will have grown up and found other outlets for their sword n' sorcery flights of fancy, but it's not quite the same, is it? Even the infamously frustrating videogame Demon's Souls can't hope to compete with an Ian Livingstone book in terms of gameplay induced fury. There's nothing quite as soul-destroying as having your arse kicked by a book. It's like regular reading, except you probably won't ever finish it, the narrator is very smug and the protagonist (that'll be YOU) is an idiot. I picked up most of the 59 books in the series, and finished two of them. Playing a Fighting Fantasy book is the literary equivalent of playing Resident Evil without a memory card. One foul-up, and it's back to the start for you.
The Fighting Fantasy books can now be found on iOS, and remain as infuriating as ever. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Deathtrap Dungeon and City of Thieves (a precursor to Liberty City) are amongst the titles available, built-in die and grisly illustrations included. Blood of the Zombies joins their ranks, shambling to the party with its new toys in tow.
YOU have been kidnapped, chained up and locked away in the basement of Goraya Castle, bullied and abused by a thug named Otto. Should you manage to escape (I fell at that first hurdle) you find yourself under attack from hordes of zombies and the evil henchmen of the villainous Gingrich Yurr. You must find away to escape the castle, survive the zombies and stop Yurr before it's too late. But this isn't quite the Fighting Fantasy you remember – this time you have guns. It's something of a shock to the system to be tackling an Ian Livingstone novel with a flak jacket and pump-action shotgun instead of a sword and shield, but you'll soon get into the swing of things. It's a streamlined system, doing away with your SKILL and LUCK, leaving you with only STAMINA to keep the ravenous zombies at bay. That, and the occasional submachine gun. By the later stages of the book, you'll be battling truly enormous swathes of zombies at once. Best hope your initial STAMINA roll goes well, then.
There are a few nifty tricks to make gameplay less infuriating – three difficulty settings allow the reader an easier ride, while a helpful bookmarking system saves progress at any point. Somehow though, it feels like 'cheating' to accept any help. I don't need your pity, Fighting Fantasy. Well, maybe a little. The story isn't particularly original and nor is the gameplay (will you turn right or left? Do you wish to open the box? Run away or FIGHT?) but it's fast paced and fun enough – a page turner in every sense of the word (apart from the fact it literally doesn't have pages). It looks good too, with some grisly illustrations, dynamic combat mechanics (well, as dynamic as dice can get) and cute sound effects.
Ultimately, fans of the old stories should enjoy Blood of the Zombies. It delivers an authentic Fighting Fantasy experience while updating the gameplay and style in its own way. The older books remain superior, but it's nice that there's still a place for a little Choose Your Own Adventure, even in this Next Gen, app obsessed world.