Puffin, £3.99, ISBN 0-14-090408-5
The Cyber Warriors is the first gamebook in a series that is based on the old Sega game Eternal Champions, only this one allows you to play the tenth Champion, the baddest of the bad, and pit your might against the villainous Overlord. If you can overlook the cheesy set-up and names, you may find that this one is an enjoyable, if linear campaign.
In the future, the computer program Overlord has almost succeeded in conquering humanity and replacing them with CyberClones – half-men, half-machine types that obey its every bidding. Who knows why a computer program, which is supposedly devoid of human desires for power, wants to take over the world, but I guess we need an excuse for a story to take place and this one is as good as any. The being known as the Eternal Champion decides to help out the poor humans, so he selects nine of the best candidates out there, taken from various time in history, train them in martial arts and then some, and sends them back to their time so that they can make changes for the better and prevent the rise of Overlord. The computer program isn’t going to sit there and wait for them to succeed, so it creates nine CyberChampions – mechanical clones of those Champions, and sends them back in time to hunt down and kill those Champions. The Eternal Champion on his part won’t let that happen, so he trains a tenth Champion – you – to stop those CyberChampions. Is your head spinning yet?
The gameplay in this series is very similar to that in the The Way of the Tiger series, which Jamie Thomson co-wrote with Mark Smith. The combat system is similar, requiring you to pick your action before you roll a die to see whether you or your opponent succeed in landing that blow. Instead of merely ninjitsu, you can also choose to specialize in one of six other available schools of martial art – Muay Thai Kickboxing, Savate, Aikido, Kung Fu, Karate, and Jujutsu. You can also choose from one out of three default skills to supplement your mastery of kicking rear ends. Don’t worry about your choices – this campaign is very forgiving and you won’t die if you happen to have the wrong skill or martial art mastery in the wrong circumstances. You also have your standard scores for combat modifiers and such.
In this campaign, you are required to go back to the time period that the Champion belongs to and assist that Champion in dealing with the CyberChampion. You only need to take down three CyberChampion, though, and along the way, you will realize that, while it is fine to jump into the fray in any order, your life becomes easier if you follow a certain order. Also, some options will allow you to tackle certain subplots – one Champion has been captured, for example, and if you search for him in his time period, you will get the quest to release him when you eventually storm Overlord’s HQ. Some scenarios are fun – the rumble in Prohibition Chicago, the ninja tango in modern day Japan, and the caveman showdown are particularly memorable – while others are standard whack-whack-whack types, but there are enough here to allow you to play this campaign at least three times.
The difficulty level is moderate – unless you are really unlucky in your die rolls, you should be able to breeze through this one in the first run. There are no cruel sudden deaths just because you deviate from the script, and the campaign allows plenty of leeway and flexibility in choosing your character’s build and skills. There is no such thing as a “wrong” build here – you’ll most likely survive even if you don’t have an item or a skill to give you an easy way out in a particular scenario. The flexibility of the campaign doesn’t mean that it is boring, though. This one has a strong storytelling element despite its emphasis on combat encounters, and the nine Champions you encounter are memorable in their own ways. Even the Grand Champion has his moments of quirky humor, and the campaign sometimes pokes sly fun at its more ridiculous moments.
The science fiction elements of The Cyber Warriors will seem quaintly dated and even comical today, but it’s at the same time a most entertaining campaign to play. As a plus, it won’t raise your blood pressure and it may even tempt you to play it several times just to explore all the options available to your character. Only one thing – how come Sumo isn’t available as an option despite it being part of the Eternal Champion’s repertoire. Playing a time-traveling head-butting fatty will be so cool.