Beaver Books, £3.99, ISBN 0-09-964221-2
Highway Holocaust is the first gamebook in Joe Dever’s Mad Max-inspired post-apocalyptic futuristic series Freeway Warrior.
You are Cal Phoenix – a rather short fellow with an unattractive scowl on your face, judging from the cover art – who is trying to get by in year 2020 when the world has been changed forever by a nuclear holocaust. A nasty syndicate called the Hijack, Assassination and Violent Opposition Consortium (HAVOC) caused all this mess, probably because they are tired of how people kept laughing at their silly name. Now the survivors are fighting to live and rule the wastelands. You are tad special in that you, your Uncle, and your Aunt lived in an underground bunker for eight years following the nuclear holocaust, and now, you have finally reached the surface. Eventually all of you meet up with some survivors in Dallas Colony One – DC1 for short. In this campaign, there is some news that there may be some survivors in Big Spring, 300 miles from DC1. The folks there have plenty of food and water, but very little fuel. DC1 has plenty of fuel but the food and water supplies are running low.
Therefore, plans are made for the folks in DC1 to travel to Big Spring with the much needed fuel, and together, everyone will head on to Tucson, where eventually all of you will make your way to… where else? California, which apparently had been spared of much devastation. Of course, that is the future. For now, it’s all about heading to Big Spring without losing a limb or two to ruffians and dangerous creatures waiting along the way.
The gameplay system is similar to that of the Lone Wolf series – you have a Random Number Table to use in making your rolls during combat encounters and saving throws. The skill system is a bit different, though. You start out with 3 points in each of the following Survivor Skills: driving, shooting, field craft (this is your ability to survive in the wild), stealth, and perception (a combination of your intelligence and mental alertness). You have an extra 4 points to allocate as you wish on any of these skills. If you have a good idea what you will be doing in this campaign – protecting your comrades and friends from an endless slew of bandits – it’s hard to go wrong with skill point allocation. Also, apart from the usual backpack inventory, you have to keep track of your ammo, water supply, and medi-kit stock.
The setting is not particularly interesting, as this is a generic dystopian world like any other. Some of the enemies’ names are quite amusing, though, such as Emteevee the Maverick thug. Also, there is a very competent female sidekick here, Kate, which is a nice change from the male-dominated setting of Magnamund. Of course she gets abducted by the bad guys in the end, but for the most part, she kicks butt and that’s awesome.
This is a very linear campaign, as you are immediately plunged into action territory from the get go, and be careful: you can die from random picking of numbers even early in the campaign. You and some comrades basically have to protect the bus that carries the remaining folks of DC-1 as all of you travel to Big Spring, and yes, the bus is going to be the biggest nuisance in this story. You will be attacked by bandits who, apparently, can get their hands on all the fuel and ammo they need to just keep coming back like an angry Energizer bunny hoard. Nonetheless, this is a playable campaign, as long as you don’t expect too much logic from the proceeding, and the difficulty is average. (Then again, with the Random Number Table, it’s really hard to lose a saving throw once you know where to generally stab your finger at, heh.)
As the first gamebook in a series, Highway Holocaust serves its purpose well. It’s a decent introduction for new players with enough challenge to keep players familiar with the Lone Wolf series entertained to a degree. Let’s see how things will roll in subsequent gamebooks.