Red Fox, £4.99, ISBN 0-09-935890-5
Your name is Silent Wolf. An initiate of the Order of the Kai, you are training to become an elite warrior lord skilled in both martial and psychic arts in the service of the Sun God. Alas, when the campaign opens, you are out gathering firewood, a punishment for chasing after clouds during your classes, when the forces of evil from the neighboring Darklands descend and wipe out your comrades in one fell swoop.
I know, a whole bunch of warriors, trained in martial arts and in possession of sixth sense, all wiped out – it’s quite embarrassing, if you think about it, but hey, it gives you a chance to go from zero to hero. Because you are now burning with revenge, you need an appropriate name that channels all that emo hot air. So now you are Lone Wolf and you will avenge your fallen tutors and comrades. But first, because we are talking about a medieval-era setting with not even a pigeon carrier system (I guess the telepathic Kai Lords were killed before they could send out a mental SOS), you have to rush to the capital city of Holmgard to warn King Ulnar V of the danger awaiting the kingdom of Sommerlund.
Flight from the Dark is the first gamebook in the epic series called – what else? – Lone Wolf. You don’t need any dice for this one, because there is a “Random Number Table” at the back which you are supposed to close your eyes and stab a finger at, with the number your finger ends up at being the score you get in that particular “roll”. Of course, the table is not exactly random as eventually you will get a good idea of where the good numbers are, heh, but I’m sure you will never cheat in such a manner. In addition, you start out with five Kai skills, which you pick from a pool of ten. Given that you will be running around in the woods in this particular stage of the epic campaign, the Kai skills you should pick are a no-brainer if you ask me. Some skills, like Healing and Sixth Sense, stand out from their descriptions alone as a cut above the rest when it comes to ensuring your survivability. The rest of the system consists of standard gamebook elements, nothing too complicated.
The strength of the Lone Wolf gameplay system is that it is clean, comprehensive, and easy. It also allows full customization as, often, having different combination of Kai skills can result in different outcomes in the various story paths you end up taking. Flight From The Dark is a perfect introduction to the system as it is not a difficult campaign at all. You can actually play the coward and avoid most combat encounters if your starting stats are miserable while managing to reach the finish line with your head still intact on your neck.
However, while this gamebook may be the perfect introduction to the gameplay system, it is unfortunately not a very interesting campaign. From someone who grew up in those parts of the woods, Lone Wolf sure is surprisingly clueless about the directions he is supposed to go in the sprawling paths of the woods covering the wide areas between the Kai Monastery and Holmgard. To be fair to Joe Dever, he is surprisingly magnanimous here: instead of forcing you to pick up necessary items or vomiting blood trying to find the one true way to success, this gamebook instead offers several ways to get to Holmgard safely, which only adds to the replay value of this gamebook. Therefore, you can take any twist and turn you like without worrying that you are headed for sudden death or, worse, a nightmare of constant looping where you come back to the same location again and again until you want to throw the gamebook out the window. You can die, but that’s mostly because you are unlucky and don’t peek while making that important jab at the Random Number Table.
I must confess that I’m not the biggest fan of Mr Dever’s simplistic prose. When he tries to create drama with more florid turns of phrases, his efforts come off purple instead most of the time. Nonetheless, his writing is serviceable here as there is a decent atmosphere of claustrophobia and urgency permeating the pages as you keep charging toward Holmgard. There are some scenes that stand out, such as an encounter with a future ally down the road of the series and a combat scene at the bridge involving your first encounter with the fearsome lizard-like minions of your enemies, but on the whole the campaign feels like a standard patchwork of combat encounters. Do take a trip down the Graveyard of the Ancients if you have the choice, by the way. You may die, but it’s definitely the most memorable moment in the whole gamebook. You will be missing out on the only location worth remembering here if you wuss out.
The best thing I can say about Flight from the Dark is its generous concession to non-linearity that allows you to explore various twists and turns with relish. But there is no denying, however, that this gamebook is easily one of the weaker entries in this classic series. That is not saying that this is an awful gamebook, oh no. Just think of it as a sign that the party is only beginning.