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Donde acechan las sombras (Spanish)
L'Horreur dans la vallée (French)
Ondskans gruvor (Swedish)
Il regno dell'ombra (Italian)
Heap, Jonathan (interior)
|Strange and alien creatures are haunting a peaceful village in Wales. As a paranormal investigator, you are called upon to find the source of evil and expel the creatures to the Outer Darkness they came from before the world is destroyed.
Although this first book has great story elements, its greatest flaws are related to gameplay. Let's start with the good part: the story.
There is a lot to like in this gamebook. The Lovecraftian creatures and the dark modern-day setting make it a welcome change of pace from the all-too-frequent sword and sorcery fare found in many gamebooks. There are also elements lifted from other horror subgenres, such as mutant zombies like those in George Romero films, or a battle with poltergeists and evil spirits in a boundary plane between the world of the dead and the world of the living. There is some investigation work to do, but unlike the Call of Cthulhu game, this book is more about combat than about investigation. The amount of modern and magical weapons and items you can use against the creatures in this book is impressive, and adds an interesting strategic element to gameplay (in almost all combats you have to choose from a variety of weapons and items). The book is well written and exciting, with the horror elements not only being genuinely creepy, but also integrating themselves seamlessly with the action sequences.
Unfortunately, the book suffers from serious design flaws. One is that nearly all the opponents you'll face have very high stats (some of them unfairly high). As a result, only characters with high stats have a chance of surviving. Another flaw is that there are several (unavoidable) points in the adventure where you must succeed in a skill check or suffer instant death. As a result of these two flaws, I found myself having to restart the adventure again and again, often dying several times at the same point, and suffering instant death many times near the end of the adventure. This book is definitely not for the easily frustrated (though it's not as insanely difficult as Crypt of the Sorcerer either).
The key to success in this adventure is not so much to win battles or to find information or items, but simply to find your way to the next location while sustaining as little damage as possible. As a result, I found it best to avoid danger (especially combat) as much as I could. Unfortunately, there are many paths which lead to combat with strong creatures, and only after fighting them does your character realize they guard nothing of use to the completion of the adventure. As a result, exploring only adds to the frustration, since much of this adventure consists of guessing whether the exit lies behind tough monster A or tough monster B, and having to die several times only to realize you should have fought the other monster... well, it just stinks. Some tough monsters are unavoidable, as are situations where a single failed dice roll means instant death.
At the end of this book, you are offered the option to improve your character stats before the next adventure. This involves a rather random and convoluted procedure, where chances are good you'll have your stats reduced rather than increased. Besides, I found it pointless, since a character can only survive this adventure if his/her stats are already high, so I gave it a pass.
Despite its difficulty, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It's an exciting and interesting gamebook in its own right, and since the second book in this series is excellent, I was satisfied to carry on my character to it. I must admit that I haven't managed to destroy the alien spaceship at the end (it can be done, but it is far more difficult to do than simply make it flee, which is what I did, and both outcomes lead to the same ending anyway). Unfortunately, the high difficulty of the adventure discouraged me from trying to reach the final encounters yet again so I could die dozens of times trying to find the correct paths to destroy the ship. It would have been more interesting if this goal required strategy and not masochism to reach, but fortunately you can just settle for the less difficult outcome with the same level of satisfaction.
Overall, this is quite a good book, though fewer instant death die rolls and pointless dangerous paths would have made it much better.
|Paragraph 110: replace "Turn to 160" with "Turn to 347".
|Thanks to Nicholas Campbell for the cover scan and Guillermo Paredes for the plot summary.
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