The Game: An Assassin in Orlandes
The Device: Droid X
The Price: $4.99 for iOS, Android, and PC
The Basics: Is it a book? Yes. Is it a game? Well, yes. But is it an RPG? Kind of! Doubtlessly familiar to anyone who grew up on Choose Your Own Adventure books but owing more to roleplaying books like Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy series, Tin Man Games’ Gamebook series lets you play as the main character of your very own story. Over the last two years the Aussie developer has been steadily releasing new books for iOS, and now they’re available on Android and for the PC as well.
This first installment, Assassin in Orlandes, introduces the city of Orlandes and sticks you in the role of a man who’s not having a good day. He’s getting drunk at some pit of a bar after breaking up with his woman and leaves the place in various states, depending on your actions, only to see a man being assaulted. Or maybe you won’t actually see him- maybe you’ll come across a corpse and rummage through his pockets, only to be accosted by guards. Maybe you fight off the would-be assassin, or run after him if you manage to see him. Right from the start you’re given a bounty of choices and whatever you pick you’ll soon be thrust into a dark and satisfying story.
The Review: Start up the book and you’ll first name a character and roll dice to create his stats, made easy with the physics-based dice. The higher the number you roll the better your Vitality and Fitness stats (more on that one later), so you’ll want to roll well. Thankfully whenever you roll dice in this game you can jostle your device before they completely settle to send them realistically scattering up in the air again and possibly give you better numbers.
The story is really well-written — it’s no modern classic by any means but the prose is quite good, giving you great descriptions of the areas and the various beasts you’ll inevitably face. While it’s a medieval fantasy setting that features every creature from giant spiders to goblyns, it manages to dodge most of the usual elves n’ dwarves/swords n’ sorcery tropes, which lets you get settled into the main character much more easily. The game aspect comes along with all of the choices you can make. Nearly every section of the book (which generally runs a few pages), will give you a decision at the end that can change the course of the story completely, or even lead to your untimely death. Forget about flipping to the right page, as you’ll simply click on the icon you want and it will take you where you need to go. Occasionally you’ll have to perform some athletic feat or dodge which will force a Fitness check on you, where you’ll roll two dice and hope to get under your Fitness score. Lose and expect something bad to happen.
Combat is frequent and pretty simple, as it’s all automated. Depending on the kind of weapon and armor you’re carrying you’ll roll a certain number of dice. The better equipment lets you roll more dice (up to six) and you’ll automatically equip the best things you come across, so don’t worry about fiddling around with an inventory. You’ll always attack first and your opponent will defend, and whoever has the dice with the highest number wins. Ties make you check the next highest die for both of you and match two of those up, which shows you why having more dice is always important. If you haven’t killed your opponent after one attack he’ll attack you, and back and forth. Occasionally you’ll face multiple opponents who all attack you one after the other, while you can only target the first in the bunch. It’s simple and mostly mindless, quickly rolled and finished and letting you get right back into the story.
As you progress you can put bookmarks down to save your progress, but you only have a limited amount depending on the difficulty level. It’s quite unnerving to get far into the story and have no bookmarks left, knowing that the wrong decision could end your game just like that. The game has many in-game Achievements to attain, some of which are pretty fun. One that took me a bit to find was “Off the Beaten Trail”, which you get after visiting a strange man somewhere in the world. Another, “Defeatist”, seems nearly impossible to attain, because you have to end the book in every single way you can. That’s a whole lot of death. A cheat mode that’s unlocked if you get the ultimate ending will help swing the dice the right (or wrong) way, though.
There’s a lot to love here. Nice illustrations highlight important moments of the story, while the music fits the theme perfectly. An Assassin in Orlandes is very well produced and written, but one drawback can certainly be the price. Five bucks isn’t a lot of money for a book but these Gamebooks are short stories that can be completed in a couple of hours. While there are dozens of branching paths you’re probably going to want to give the story a rest before going back into it. You will certainly want to do that, though, and it’s fun to go back to the story and see how many ways it could have ended. On my second playthrough I found a huge section of the game that I’d previously missed completely and there’s still lots for me to find. I can’t wait to do so.
After making waves with this series, Tin Man Games attracted original Fighting Fantasy author Jonathan Green to write a few books for them, and they’ve also managed to secure the rights for digital versions of the original Fighting Fantasy series. This summer they’ll also be unleashing a Gamebook featuring Judge Dredd on the world, so there’s no better time to start checking them out.
The Final Grade: B+ [Author’s note: Gamebook Adventures 2: Siege of the Necromancer is currently $2.99 on Google Play, and the first chapter of the sci-fi themed Gamebook Adventures 8: Infinite Universe is free on the App Store. Since these are all standalone stories you know what to do!]