Scholastic, £6.99, ISBN 978-1-407181-29-5
It is easy to roll up your eyes at the constant reissuing of the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series, but you also have to hand it to the line founders: at least they are trying to make these gamebooks accessible to young kids, instead of tossing their blood and sweat to hacks like Megara Entertainment, whose entire business model revolves around begging people for money via Kickstarter or whatever, only to then go around and charge a ridiculously high price for the fully funded gamebooks. Does it matter that a gamebook is in hardcover if it costs €20? Who is going to buy that? Nostalgic adults with money to burn, I suppose, but how many of those are there out there anyway? Enough to sustain a career revival? One can only wonder.
So, kudos to Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. They are fighting to make gamebooks relevant and accessible, which is why it is a worthy cause to purchase some copies every time the reissued line comes out.
Unfortunately, Ian Livingstone just has to keep writing the new titles in each reissue of the line, and yikes, The Port of Peril. Playing this one is like reading the splatbook of a well-developed setting, going ooh, only to then play some campaigns in that setting and cringe when you realize that the campaign is yet another linear and limited hack-and-slash, ooh did you get the right items among your random stashing of everything you find, you better hope so fam affair that fails to take any advantage of the richness of the setting. Titan is a pretty decent setting, all things considered. Sure, it lacks the scope and grandeur of, say, the Forgotten Realms or Golarion, but there is enough to make it a fun place to roll a die or two. Still, it may as well be a paper mache world if this gamebook is anything to go by.
You are a “seasoned adventurer” but alas, your most recent treasure hunting led to zilch. Having little funds left, you are reduced to slumming in the town of Chalice, hoping to find some jobs among the wealthy folks here to get by. You must be terrible or maybe it’s some body odor problem, who knows, but for some reason nobody wants to hire you, so you have to sleep in alleys and look through garbage for foods. Isn’t this insulting? You are handy with a sword, you have among your possessions “a length of rope”, “an oil lantern”, “an animal-skin water flask”, and “a goblet bearing a unicorn-head motif”, among a few more things, and yet you can’t break into someone’s house or sell things for money. Mind you, later on you will have no problems whatsoever breaking into people’s places, so it’s not like you are scrupulous people, so… anyway, gamebook for kids, so maybe things don’t have to be logical. Let’s move on.
You manage to pick up a treasure map dropped by two drunks, so ooh, here is a reason for you to live. Never mind that you have been playing a homeless bum over the last few weeks, all of a sudden you begin to find ways to get gold or trade your backpack items for more stuff so really, what the… gamebook for kids. Take a deep breath and remember: gamebook for kids.
This campaign will eventually lead up to some grand plot involving evil wizards and such, but unfortunately, it starts out so poorly that you may be tempted to bail right away. You are required to purchase or trade your items for what seems like random things without any clue as to whether you will be doing the right thing or not, and then you have to wander around Chalice, again by making random choices. You are asked to walk down one of three streets, for example, but you are just given the street names. There is no description as to what may be in those streets to help you decide. So yes, randomness seems to be the name of the game here.
The whole pick a random choice motive persists throughout most of the campaign, even when things heat up, and as a result, The Port of Peril is unsatisfying to play. Mr Livingstone never makes the effort to flesh out the details of his setting. Instead, he includes plenty of Easter egg references, as if everyone picking up this gamebook is already familiar with other ones in this line. This is the introductory gamebook to the newest reissued line, right? Whose idea is it that such a gamebook should have such sparse details about the setting?
You also get an annoying companion. Mr Livingstone’s companion characters are often annoying and, worse, you can’t kill them or shake them off. While this time it’s thankfully not a talkative idiot dwarf, it’s another kind of irritation: the spunky, manic pixie girl type who is always “on”, constantly getting out of any problem without breaking a sweat because she’s so awesome, hee-hee-hee, and she will never stop telling you how awesome she is, hee-hee-hee. She also hijacks your choices by talking or deciding for you now and then, because you can never have too many reasons to loathe this thing and want to ram your sword down her throat. You will bump into two familiar wizards to “help” you, but “help” in this case translates into them ordering you around like their unpaid servant, so yay.
Perhaps it is a blessing that The Port of Peril is relatively simple to finish… provided you are lucky and have randomly picked the right items that are necessary to complete the quest, and that you are lucky enough to avoid some random death traps here and there. Good luck in getting some joy out of doing so, though, as this one is just bland through and through to the point of being nondescript.