Tin Man Games, $3.99
Ooh, a campaign set in what seems like a quasi-steampunk fantasy world! Your character gets to use pistols in addition to the standard melee weapons typically of campaigns of this nature, so what can go wrong? Well, let’s take a look at the story first.
You are part of a group dedicated to take down the current Emperor of the Empire of the Five Cities. It may take some getting used to, to have your character describe his buddies as a “terrorist group”, considering the stigma associated to that phrase these days, but perhaps Jamie Wallis and Gary Chalk are feeling their inner Gun Dogs when they whipped up this baby. Anyway, you are captured at the beginning of this campaign and are pressed into service as a Gun Dog. A Gun Dog is basically the person sent to carry out missions that have little chances of success. Since you don’t want to die, it’s a life of a Gun Dog for you now. Your first mission to head over to an outpost where its boss, a relative of the Emperor, had stopped reporting back for some time. This doesn’t seem like a suicide mission at first, but you will soon learn otherwise.
It’s a suicide mission, alright, because every single thing you do requires a dice roll, and far too often a failed roll means instant death. Or pick a random option that turns out to be wrong, and oops, dead. It’s quite embarrassing, actually. Here you are, supposedly a capable gunman and what not, and yet, a single wrong pick of an option will see you getting killed by some stupid swamp toad thing. On one hand, this explains why you are captured at the start of the campaign (you’re hopeless), but on the other hand, this leads to some seriously boring and tedious game play. You will find yourself reading the same passages again and again as you make your back to the same place where you died, get lucky and move forward another two or three passages, die again, and repeat and rinse the whole process.
Combat balance here is vastly improved from previous Tin Man Games gamebooks that have been reviewed here. The combat encounters are fair, and there are no implausibly stupid nonsense like an ordinary rat killing you outright in three deadly nibbles. However, with unlucky dice rolls or picking a wrong option often leading to instant deaths, things are just a little bit improved overall. You will still find yourself rolling the dice and going over the same passages again and again until the sound of those dice rolling may create a Pavlovian instinct to cringe and whimper.
The illustrations and interface are all gorgeous, as is the music. It’s quite disappointing, though. to see that Gary Chalk’s male characters with bulging crotches – which featured prominently in the Lone Wolf gamebooks that he illustrated years ago – are missing, as it’s very possible that these protrusions would look amazing in color.
However, all this fancy stuff doesn’t hide the fact that this campaign sees your character wandering around without any clue as to where to go and for what purpose. So you will wander around, generally nodding your head as you get to this place or kill that thing or get killed or something, but you don’t really have any idea what you are actually doing. It’s a shame, really. The setting seems interesting, but much of the campaign focuses so much on getting successful dice rolls that only the most anal rules lawyer would find something to celebrate here.
Actually, much of the tediousness can be avoided if you play on the most easy difficulty, which allows you to have liberal amounts of heal, the ability to move back to previous passages if you sneeze and fail yet another dice roll, and more. But since when is “best played on easy mode” a recommendation for a gamebook? Wanting more challenge here means having to grit your teeth and roll more dice, however, so it’s not like playing at higher difficulty is rewarding as much as it is an exercise in sadomasochism.
Gary Chalk’s Gun Dogs is gorgeous to behold, but as a gamebook, it doesn’t have much fuel to run on.