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Item - Pick-a-Path Apocalypse Book 1

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Series: Pick-a-Path Apocalypse — no. 1
Author: Wenck, Ray
Illustrator: Bertrand, Tyler (cover)
Date: 2017
ISBN: 0996830839 / 9780996830836
Length: 209 pages
Number of Endings: 18
User Summary: You are a normal person living in a suburb. A mysterious disease appears to have killed everyone in the world, including your family. At the time the adventure begins you are alone at home, deciding whether you should abandon all hope or strike out in search of supplies and/or other survivors to help you.
Guillermo's Thoughts:

Despite the fact that this book was put out by a publishing imprint, it has all the marks of a self-published product. As the pictures shown here suggest, the publication quality is minimal. The book is also in serious need of professional editing, not just because it has plenty of grammar, spelling, and typographical mistakes (including a few incorrect "turn to" instructions), but also because of major continuity problems that crop up throughout the entire text. Way too often, the text mentions characters who haven't appeared or events that haven't happened. These errors are present all the way through to the most successful ending, where it's possible to be reunited with a character you haven't met (or that you killed previously) if you took certain paths in advance. The Ghost Tower in the AD&D Adventure Gamebooks series looks pretty clean compared to this book, which is already saying something.

There are a variety of pathways to take through the book, but barring a number of premature failure endings, the story follows the same general direction no matter what the reader does, with the actual conclusion only being determined at the final scene. I wish the book would feel more challenging - there is so much combat action and inventory gathering that one wonders why the author did not make this a full-system gamebook like those in the Freeway Warrior series. While the book is rife with chase and combat scenes, the reader actually has to try hard in order to be killed. Having to keep track of weapons, tools, and supplies (as is the case in other gamebooks) would have also been a nice touch.

The above doesn't mean the book is a total loss gameplay-wise, though. I actually like the fact that the outcomes of encounters hinge on the player's decisions (unlike your typical British gamebook, where they are often only resolved using dice). An interactive design of this sort coupled with a higher challenge level would undoubtedly have done more to win me over.

The book makes up somewhat for its imperfect gameplay by having great atmosphere and storytelling. The author manages to convey a bleak postapocalyptic world without resorting to Mad Max cliches, and without using any science fiction elements (unlike for example Can You Survive in a Dystopia? in the You Choose: Interactive Doomsday Adventures series). Differently from a lot of the more commercial gamebooks out there, this is clearly a labour of love, with the author actually managing to convey what the reader's life would be like if a major epidemic where to devastate the world around him or her. In this book it is also possible to choose to do things that would usually not be allowed in a more 'mainstream' gamebook (such as committing suicide, killing a child, or abandoning your companion). These choices do not improve the interactive experience in any meaningful way, but the fact that they stood out to me suggests that I'm still waiting for gamebook writers to be more audacious when creating their stories.

I also enjoyed the fact that while there is one ending that can be considered 'optimal' (from my perspective, at least), the book seems to be deliberately morally ambiguous about its different possibilities. Unlike many gamebooks which force the reader to look for the 'perfect' conclusion, this one seems to suggest that there are no really 'bad' endings as long as the reader manages to survive. Whether you agree or not with the moral implications of this design, this is a provocative message which I have very seldom seen represented in interactive literature before.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and recommend it despite its shortcomings. The author has potential to write great interactive works; it's a matter of whether he can improve the game design shown here, and whether he can enlist a better proofreader.

More reviews by Guillermo

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