Profile Books, $4.99
No, don’t call the lawyers. Dave Morris isn’t passing off Mary Shelley’s classic tale as his. This Frankenstein is a beautifully rendered and designed gamebook app adaptation of the story. Or, to put it simply: this is a Choose Your Own Adventure version of the story. Okay, that sounds awful. You really shouldn’t think that this is another cheap attempt to cash-in on stories written by long dead people in the “Abraham Lincoln slays zombies and romances Jane Eyre the steampunk BDSM queen” vein, because this is a sublimely written work that demonstrates the author’s ability to deftly create magic with his words.
You know the story, I’m sure. In this interactive version of the story, with one exception, you are the voice in Victor Frankenstein’s head. The exception is in Part Two, when you get to play the monster. The plot is largely faithful to Mary Shelley’s story, so if you are familiar with that story, this one doesn’t contain much surprises. What you do get to control, as a gamebook player, is the minute nuances of the characterization of Victor and the monster. As a voice in Victor’s head, you can be his conscience or an enabler of his Mad Scientist ways. As the monster, you can choose to be a tragic martyr or a creature driven to hate and violence by the circumstances that befall you.
Frankenstein is an oddity of sorts. As an interactive novel, this is a pleasure to read. Mr Morris creates an atmospheric and intriguing immersion effect – reading this book is like actively taking part in a magnificent tale of pathos, hubris, misguided intentions, and the way life can give you a middle finger so often that you are driven over the edge in order to get your own back. It is easy to imagine young kids being drawn into this material and inspired to read the original material, and that’s good.
The narrative is gorgeous and lush, a pleasant surprise from the rather basic and serviceable narrative Mr Morris typically used for his previous gamebook efforts. As a bonus, the narrative actually complements the tone and style of the original material nicely. This is not some defiantly contemporary adaptation of the source material, instead one that tries to stay true to the source material.
As a gamebook, though, this one is a bit lacking. Because the plot is pretty much set in stone, you are allowed to make choices that are primarily cosmetic in nature, allowing you to deviate slightly from the determined course. When an option presents itself to deviate from the course, choosing it will see the character vetoing your choice and forcing you to go along with the script. Basically, you get to mess around with the personalities of the principal characters a bit – for example, you can play it out as if Victor is genuinely in love with Elizabeth or is just playing along as he bides for his chance to go after the monster – but the course is set. What happens in the original material will happen here, no matter what your choices are. No, you can’t make peace with the monster, and no, you cannot save those that cannot be saved in the original material.
Frankenstein, therefore, is a beautiful vicarious experience, allowing you to be part of one of the most enduring and deservedly praised modern horror or science-fiction (depending on who you ask) classic stories. But it is also a limited gamebook – it’s a very enjoyable one, but the choices it offers make little to no impact on the story. The final score reflects this duality. It’s a five oogie interactive book, but a three oogie gamebook. Average these two scores, and Frankenstein gets four oogies at the end of the day.
Oh, and this one comes with some nice extras: the original story by Mary Shelley, which is always a pleasure to read, and a gallery of beautifully macabre pictures that inspired the artwork in this gamebook.