Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lost Games: Devil's Flight by Gaetano Abbondanza

Devil’s Flight is my second-only entry into the reviewing genre of gamebook playthroughs, and the world (or at least the internet) has changed since those heady days of playing through Bodies on the Docks. Back then, I was aware of only one site doing playthroughs of those old Fighting Fantasy books, and that was the excellently-named Fighting Dantasy. Yeah, I wish I’d thought of that title (though my name isn’t Dan). Back then,as far as I knew there wasn’t much interest in gamebooks on the net, or anywhere else either. I pictured Dan as a tortured, lone genius, working tirelessly to keep the gamebook flame alight with no help from an uncaring world.

How things have changed. The shadowy world of nerdy 80’s page-turning has really blossomed on the net in recent years, with Fighting Fantasy making a comeback in the real dead-tree book world, companies like Tin Man making gamebooks for digital devices, and a veritable cottage industry of blogs where players chronicle their playthroughs of the books. For the record, my favourites are Turn to 400 (side-splittingly hilarious and frighteningly thorough, but updates are less frequent than Halley’s comet) and Fighting for Your Fantasy (not as thorough, but updates are as reliable as a Prussian wind-up clock).

As you may remember, I take a slightly different approach to playthroughs: I intend to plough through a few amateur adventures from the Fighting Fantasy Project instead of the published books. This nifty site allows you to play original gamebooks with the computer controlling all your stats and dice rolls. No keeping your thumb between the pages and no fudging dice rolls, then!


Within a few paragraphs it becomes clear that Devil’s Flight is going to be my most favourite of all things: a sci-fi Ghost Ship story! With visions of Event Horizon, Pandorum and Dead Space competing for attention in my head, I roll up my metaphorical sleeves and get stuck in.

It's a bit like this.

So it’s the future, and I’m an ‘astro-biologist’ who’s just finished a long, lonely shift charting some Dawkins-foresaken backwater world. I’m looking forward to my vacation: some sun and sand on the Planet of Pleasure or some such thing. But, wouldn’t you know it, my reveries of lazy days to come are interrupted by a call from my commander. He lets me know that there’s a ship in the area that’s just come back from some slightly shady mission, and now they’re not responding to any communications. Uh-oh. If you’ve guessed that mine is the only ship close enough to investigate, then award yourself a no-prize. And if you guessed that before you can say ‘game over man’, I’ll be up to my neck in spooky dark space-corridors and horrific monsters, then go to the top of the class.

My Stats

My regular stats are generated by the computer: skill of 10 and stamina of 20. I also get to choose how to distribute points for a bunch of extra stats. I choose to give myself high stats for perception and targeting, figuring that I’ll need to be able to see creeping uglies coming up behind me, and be able to blast them real good too. I’m not so hot on dexterity and cybernetics; presumably I’m a clumsy astro-biologist who’d trip over in an antigrav chamber and can’t work his future-smartphone.

Starting Off

My commander gives me a bit more info about the ship, including its name: The Djevelin. He says this after a spooky pause to indicate that this is an ominous name, but his effort is wasted because I don’t know what the word means. Sorry, ‘Djevelin’ has absolutely zero spooky connotations for me (not yet, anyway. I’ll be singing a different tune later). He tells me that I’ll be literally dropping in for coffee, making sure everything’s ok, and punching the clock on my way home. Hmm.

I blast off towards the Djevelin, and find it to be much bigger than most ships of its class. A ‘greeter’ craft appears to bring me in, but it doesn’t seem to want me to go to the docking bay. I decide not to follow it, largely because this is a ghost ship scenario and the craft won’t answer my communications. Hell, it’s probably stuffed full of monsters and unsold Supernova DVDs.

It's also a bit like this.
 I dock and immediately see that there’s a spooky dead person hanging out at a console. Walking towards them, I spot trouble nearby with my super-perception skills: someone about to shoot at me from above! I chase him through a fast-closing door, defying my innate clumsiness and making it through unscathed. When I try to slap some sense into him, the guy refuses to believe that I’m not some sort of shape-shifting horror. Well, that’s a good sign. He then attacks me with a metal rod, but I easily cream him with my superior astro-biologist skills.

After I beat some sense into him, he’s in more of a mood to talk. Before he can tell me much though, he begins to do a movie-cough, letting me know that death is near, so I give him one of my precious stim-packs so I can hear the rest of the story. Apparently the Djevelin picked up some aliens from a moon. They seemed pretty sound at first, but in fact they were not really. They were quite nasty. He warns me not to go back to my ship, gives me his steel rod (lot of good it did him) and passes out.

I walk further into the ship, and a voice tells me that I have to be ‘scanned’. Fearing some sort of automated response if I don’t, I obligingly get into a lift that takes me to a reception area to be scanned. Instead, sensing my lack of techno-prowess, the scanning machine goes nuts and tries to kill me. I lose a ton of stamina points and gain fear points to boot because I saw a spooky alien-face in the lift during the affair.

I patch myself up with some med-packs and follow a sign to the Deep Sleep Chambers, because I love sci-films about cryosleep. There’s a whole bunch of weirdos frozen in the tubes, but I choose to wake up a man dressed in a uniform. Maybe he’s someone who can help! He wakes up and proves himself to be pretty smart: after the creepy aliens revealed themselves to be hostile, he disabled the life-support systems and crawled into a cryo-tube to wait for them to die (instead, they reactivated the life-support and carried o terrorising the ship).

Sadly, a crazed crew-member with a melting face appears and kills my new friend just after he delivers a steaming wad of exposition. I waste him with my awesome targeting skills, but the chamber fills with gas so I climb into a cryo-tube…. which malfunctions, failing to wake me up after an hour like I programmed it. Dammit; my adventure ends here.

Actually quite a good movie, this.

I had rather a lot of fun with Devil’s Flight. As I mentioned, I love the genre, and Abbondanza does a great job of evoking that sense of fear and claustrophobia that is particular to it. On repeat plays, I found myself becoming increasingly tense and cautious as I prowled deeper and deeper into the bowels of the ship. If I made reference to certain movies and games above, I meant it as a compliment. It’s a smorgasbord of fairly clichéd themes, without anything particularly original, but it’s intelligently-written and absorbing. It’s probably the best haunted-house spaceship gamebook you’re going to read for free on a website, so that’s gotta mean something. There’s enough detail that the game’s universe feels fleshed-out and lived-in, and I wouldn’t mind exploring a bit more of it (or at least a bit more of the Djevelin.)

Recommended. Play it here.

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