Red Fox, £4.99, ISBN 0-09-967710-5
The Darke Crusade is the fifteenth gamebook in the Lone Wolf series. The bad news is, there doesn’t seem to be any grand plot arc so far. In this one, just like in the previous two gamebooks, you as Lone Wolf will have the thankless responsibility of single-handedly wiping out yet another remnant of the Darkland troops causing trouble for everyone. This goes to show that you may have saved the world from the Darklords, but that doesn’t mean you are free to retire and bask on the adoration of lesser mortals for the rest of your life. There are always vermins to exterminate and somehow, all your allies are always too busy to lend a hand.
In this campaign, it’s all about the Drakkarim, those evil humanoids that serve as soldiers and muscle power for the armies of the now-dead Darklords. You are told by an envoy from the far kingdom of Lencia that the Drakkarim boss, Magnaarn the High Warlord of Nyras, is seeking the Doomstone of Darke, an “artifact of legendary evil”. King Sarnac of Lencia asks for your aid, and really, it’s not like you can refuse. So off you go, to destroy Magnaarn and ensure that the Doomstone of Darke doesn’t fall into the hands of evil creatures.
The Darke Crusade is a linear campaign of average difficulty – the usual bad numbers leading to dire consequences aside – but it is as long as it is because Mr Dever has decided to give you a traveling companion that is actually more useless than Paido. Seriously, if you dislike Paido for being a liability, you will loathe Captain Prarg here as he keeps getting captured by the enemies, lands himself into danger in the wilderness, and generally behaves like a useless anchor around your neck. You will be making detours to rescue him so often that you will wish that Mr Dever has allowed you to leave Prarg to his fate. Okay, so in the end he rescues you once, but that gesture seems like a token attempt on the author’s part to justify the general existence of that useless character. But he soon reverts to his useless liability self, so there’s that.
Apart from the annoying contrivance that is the presence of the useless Captain Prarg, this campaign could have easily been a four-oogie material. There are some great skirmish scenes here, plenty of dramatic moments involving desperate heroes turning the tide against the enemy in a battle against the odds, and a solid villain in Magnaarn. If anything, this one is almost up to the standard of the best gamebooks in this series. Almost, that is. There is always Captain Prarg stinking up the proceeding by fainting, getting captured, falling into thin ice, and more. Don’t you wish Joe Dever has kept to his old habit of killing off Lone Wolf’s companions?