by Joe Dever, fantasy (2013)
Forge Reply, $4.99, ISBN N/A
Blood On The Snow is the first act of the newly reimagined Lone Wolf series for the new generation. Which is to say, you'd be playing this on your Android, iPhone, or iPad instead of turning the pages and stabbing a pencil at a random number table. This is the first act of a planned longer adventure arc, so be prepared for it to end on a "to be continued" note.
Now, you are Lone Wolf, but it's hard to reconcile this one with the previous generation incarnation of the fellow. For one, you have to choose some Kai skills, and you have the Sommerswerd, so this puts the adventure to some time after you trashed Darklord Zagarna and before you discover the Book of the Magnakai. But you are also described as a "liege lord" of this cozy area of Sommerlund, despite being described as barely more than a boy. Since when did Kai lords become liege lords?
Mind you, gone is the green motif characteristic of the old Lone Wolf. Here, your Lone Wolf dresses up like an Assassin's Creed cosplayer. The outfit is actually pretty good, but that face, yikes. At any rate, just think of this as a rebooted, retconned Lone Wolf, and you'll be fine.
You travel to the mining settlement of Rockstarn, to find out what is happening there. Naturally, the whole place is overrun by Giaks and their bosses the Drakkar, and it is up to you to do some ass-whooping to show everyone who the boss around here is. And that's basically the plot of this particular arc. If there is a super boss waiting in the wings, or a dire plot waiting to be discovered, you won't find that here. The whole thing chalks up to about one hour and thirty minutes of gameplay, according to the data of my saved game, so for $4.99, this one is pretty decent value for money.
Calling this a gamebook is rather misleading, though. Gamebook usually allows you to make some choices, but here, your decisions don't make much of a difference as the campaign railroads you into following a certain path regardless of your choices.
Clearly, in this case diversity of options is sacrificed for fancy effects. There is an animated map here, some beautifully rendered cutscenes (with usually one point of animation) that are nicely complemented by Joe Dever's voiceover, and those battle scenes. Oh yes, those battle scenes. This campaign lets you choose some Kai skills to complement your combat prowess, but that's all there is to customization.
You have access to a melee weapon and a ranged weapon, alongside the Sommerswerd (which isn't very useful here as it needs to be leveled up to do its thing, and you only get it to level 2 by the end of this act) and, of course, your Kai skills. Instead of rolling animated dice, you pick your attack option and then you would be asked to move your finger or stylus on the screen - either to follow along an arrow, to tap and fill up a gauge, or to hit a bullseye in correct timing. Success means a hit, failure means a miss. You would soon discover that even a single miss can be very painful on your health bar, so get those finger joints cracking!
The battle sequence is animated like that of a video game, and Lone Wolf has some pretty cool "too macho for words" choreography here. However, there are only a certain number of battle poses, so the whole thing loses its novelty fast, and this isn't a good thing as there are many, many, many combat encounters here.
Which brings us to the next point: there isn't much of a plot here. Every other turn of the virtual page leads to a combat sequence, and since the monsters are always Giak wretches and a few Drakkar officers thrown in here and there, things become monotonous pretty quickly once you look past the flash and the dazzle of this beautifully put together interactive gamebook. In fact, the plot is pretty much a standard survival horror cliché, just replace zombies with Giaks: you will have to search through deserted corpse-littered buildings to look for items, and you will have to defend your companion as she needs time to fix the elevator - yes, elevator, and in Magnamund too, how nice - while the zombies, er, Giaks just keep coming.
In this case, comparisons to Dead Space or Resident Evil are never a good thing, as this isn't a video game and therefore ends up coming off like some poor man's budget version of those games. And it's not like there is a The Last Of Us sort of story here to tug the heart strings while keeping the adrenaline going. Instead, it's a "Wait, another three Giaks to kill? Oh... let's just get it over with... again!" kind of tediousness.
Oh, and like so many interactive gamebooks that offer so many skills only to make most of them useless due to the sheer number of combat encounters, this one suffers from the "pick the right skills and cruise through... pick any other skills and you will weep" syndrome. Here's a hint: pick healing - you will be glad you did when you realize that health potions are scarce while combat encounters involving two or three opponents are everywhere - and ignore skills that offer situational benefits. Go for pure unadulterated raw damage - this works every time, every situation. In this campaign, finesse is overrated - brawn all the way, please. Healing and Mind Blast are awesome - if you don't have them, well, Kai and Ishir laugh at your foolishness.
While the interface isn't intuitive - it takes a few stabs at the screen to access the inventory - you will soon catch on easily. The difficulty level here isn't high. It takes ten minutes into the campaign to realize that raw damage with Healing is the way to go, and at this point all the opportunities for crafting and what not are not necessary at all. Maybe later, all those wonderful situational skills would be useful, but for now, the incessant combat encounters make any build other than pure DPS with Healing obsolete.
At any rate, Blood On The Snow is certainly a pretty diversion, but it's all style with little substance.
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