Game Review: Judge Dredd - Countdown Sector 106 / Format: iOS / Version: 1.0 / Size 101MB / Price: £2.99 / Developer: Tin Man Games / Release Date: Out Now
An odd by-product of smart-phones and tablets: the resurgence of the humble gamebook. Before I was allowed my first videogaming console, I would eat up Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's Fighting Fantasy books; transported into a fantasy world where anything was possible, with only a pair of dice and a pencil to guide me on my journey. As the digital revolution caught me in its grip, I left the Fighting Fantasy books behind. Yet a fondness remained, only to be rekindled by the books' reappearance via iPhone. Countdown Sector 106 follows the new Fighting Fantasy template while adding a few nifty tricks of its own.
Sector 106 puts the reader in the boots of future lawman Judge Dredd (two sizes too small, keeping him permanently ticked off), tasked with patrolling the eponymous crime-ridden area. Rather than delivering a tight, plot-driven story, Sector 106 is like the literary equivalent of a free-roaming videogame. As Dredd, you'll patrol the streets of Mega City One, bringing perps to justice by any means necessary. Dredd has a lot of tools at his disposal, and the reader has the option to use all of these in any one fight: do you ride in blasting away on your bike cannon? Fire off a warning shot with your lawgiver? Or wade in with your daystick for a more hands-on approach? The game will have you living by the mantra 'WWJDD'. If in doubt: the most violent option.
It's a more authentic Mega City experience than Judge Dredd vs Zombies, which is highly enjoyable but doesn't much feel like a Judge Dredd game. In fact, Countdown Sector 106 is a lot like Dredd vs Death for the Playstation 2, except with words. As you explore Sector 106, you'll have the chance to meet all manner of Mega City's denizens, from Fatties to Juves. Its living, breathing Mega City One is like Ian Livingstone's City Of Thieves. It looks fantastic, with a stylish, responsive design making the story an easy read. It's well illustrated too, with the art looking as though it's been shorn straight from the pages of 2000AD. The whole experience is reminiscent of the 'choose your own adventure' style comics the magazine used to occasionally do with Dredd and Slaine back in their black and white days. As with the new Fighting Fantasy books for iPhone, its dice rolls are represented in a set of digital dice, tumbling about with a satisfying clatter.
Where it differs from the Fighting Fantasy books is in an adjustable difficulty setting (still bloody hard, even playing on 'medium'), the option to save your progress with a bookmarking system and in a number of achievements collected along the way. It rewards re-playability in a way that most gamebooks don't. It's also possible to read the book with your own music still playing in the background – a nice touch, allowing me to listen to Drokk: Music Inspired By Mega-City One as I apprehended (clubbed into submission) a gang of Juves with my trusty daystick.
While the format may have been updated, the gamebook experience remains intact. There are few things more frustrating in life than a gamebook's Game Over page. The lack of focus means that the story is less gripping than it could have been (there's a 'bigger picture' building in the background, but is ultimately disposable) and the Dredd of Sector 106 doesn't feel like quite the same man as the Dredd of the comics. There's always that sneaking feeling that you're going a bit soft on your perps - the real Dredd would waste little time in arresting the lot, evidence or not. There's disappointingly little opportunity for fascism.
Sector 106 is a fun addition to the growing legion of 'choose your own adventure' books now available for smartphones and tablets. By Grud, its good.
Judge Dredd: Countdown Sector 106 is available from itunes - HERE