Puffin Books, £3.50, ISBN 0-14-032475-5
Chasms of Malice has it all: ridiculous story line, near-broken game design, and high boredom factor.
The story first. You are a former assistant rabbit skinner, plucked from the kitchen of the palace of Gorak by the wizard Astragal to locate a missing True Shield. You see, the kingdom of Gorak is threatened by the loss of the True Shield. Some traitor has destroyed the Great Seal that held Orghuz the Dark Lord and his Khuddam army captive. Now, if the Shield is broken, the Khuddam will increase exponentially from seven to 49 to… um, what’s 49 x 49 again? At any rate, forget the nonsense. Just go and kill things.
For a wizard wanting to see you save the kingdom from a great danger, Astragal is pretty generous. He doesn’t teach you any spells and he doesn’t give you any powerful weapon or armor either. He does give you a cat that won’t save you from the dozens of death scenes awaiting you in the Chasms of Malice.
This is a subterranean dungeon crawl, but the author writes as if he’s making an office report. Descriptions are lacking, the NPCs you encounter are flat and colorless, and the villains are one-dimensional bores. Worse, you will find yourself lost in endless wandering through mazes after mazes, making turns at random and trying not to pull your hair out in boredom, because you can’t get out of the maze until you get lucky and stumble upon the true way out. There is no decent clue to help you get out of the maze, it’s just making turns at random and hoping for the best. Round that up with the dreadfully boring final confrontation with Orghuz and you’d be wondering why Luke Sharp is wasting your time by showing off his rules lawyering skills instead of actually writing a playable gamebook.
And this one is tough as well as it is boring. We have battles where you only need to go through one combat round, with the one getting the lowest scores dying with no hope of preventing the ignoble end. Making the wrong turn and missing out on items or NPC clues will also lead to death. On top of that, there are sudden deaths galore waiting behind wrong doors, wrong turns, and wrong decisions. These sudden deaths are mostly all random, so it’s not as if you can avoid them by paying attention to the clues in the campaign.
Chasms of Malice is more like the a chasm of interminable boredom. Why is Mr Sharp wasting everyone’s time like this?