Scholastic, $3.99, ISBN 0-590-93489-9
You’d think Escape from Camp Run-for-Your Life would be a riff on those Friday the 13th movies and other slasher flicks, but RL Stine is clearly in the mood to subvert expectations with this one.
Well, you are off to summer camp! Even better, you are going to Camp Pendleton, which your Uncle Ed claims is the best ever as it has the best equipment and coaches. Only, once you arrive, the camp’s name seems to have switched to Camp Running Leaf. You are met by Coach Rex, who seems nice… until Uncle Ed departs and he switches on his sinister camp master mode. He offers you a choice of two activities, pick one: an overnight hike into the woods for fossil hunting, or participation in the athletic tournament called “Selection”.
Pick the former and you are thrown into a survival horror romp with zombies, complete with possible endings in which you are gnawed by other zombies or killed by naughty wildlife. The whole thing is more The X-Files meets The Walking Dead. Pick the latter and you will be tossed into your own Phantasm story, only with extra dangers and scary blue eggs. At any rate, there are only a handful of ways in which you can find an arguably good, or at least halfway decent, happy ending, and this is perhaps one of the biggest disappointments of this one: the happy endings feel uninspired, while the terrible ones are far more interesting. This is a gamebook that offers the most fun when you die, which probably explains why in this one you can actually get a good ending after abandoning your friend.
The choices here are far less LOL random than those in most of the previous entries in this line, which is nice, although admittedly the story arcs present here aren’t the most interesting. The zombie in the woods thing is really uninspired and boring. Phantasm School Camp is more interesting, but in the end it boils down to a series of chases and cartoon hurdle runs. Hence, despite the overall sense of coherence and direction in this one, it’s not a very exciting gamebook to play.
Ultimately, Escape from Camp Run-for-Your-Life is well structured and, on paper, one of the better entries in the Give Yourself Goosebumps series so far. However, it could also be more interesting.