Magnet Books, £1.75, ISBN 0-416-52530-X
From the same folks who were involved in the tabletop RPG game of The Call of Cthulhu, Where the Shadows Stalk is the first gamebook in the Forbidden Gateway series. More Lovecraftian horror than high fantasy, Where the Shadows Stalk is a memorable and wonderfully scary campaign… if you can overlook the near-broken gameplay.
You will need to roll die in the gameplay system. There is nothing too complicated here – any gamebook player will be familiar with the deal. However, unlike high fantasy gamebooks, this one doesn’t play like a dungeon crawl for munchkins. There is no abundance of special items or treasures to collect, and any special item you locate has situational uses. Think Silent Hill instead of The World of Warcraft. Another feature worth nothing is the presence of Mentality points. You lose Mentality points when you come across particularly unnerving scenes, and should your score falls to zero, that means you have gone cuckoo.
You play a gentleman in London who specializes in paranormal investigations. One fine day, an old friend in Wales summons you to her via a desperate call for help. There are mysterious happenings in the vicinity. A deadly fog has covered the area and nightmarish monsters stalk the region. You will have to discover the source of the evil and destroy it.
There are plenty of monsters here, all of them a most refreshing change from the usual orcs and vampires. The best thing about this gamebook is its fresh setting. Combining Welsh mythology and HP Lovecraft’s obsession with tentacles from another dimension, this one succeeds very well in evoking a suffocating atmosphere of terror and helplessness. My favorite scene is one where you encounter the members of the Hunt.
You are not a powerful warrior with superhuman abilities here – you have to make do and survive with a limited arsenal of weapons. In other words, you are merely a frail human, and it shows. This is because the monsters here are all overpowered compared to you. I’d suggest avoiding combat encounters whenever possible because you are nearly always underpowered compared to the opponents you face. Also, there are plenty of sudden deaths here. Playing Where the Shadows Stalk can be a frustrating and at times, seemingly impossible experience.
But with the very interesting story line and the fascinating setting, I find it just as impossible to give up on this campaign. Okay, so I have to cheat occasionally, but the pay-off is worth the stain on my honor. If you want something different from the usual hack-and-slash dungeon crawls typical in gamebooks, go Where the Shadows Stalk and enjoy.