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Item - Shinderg's Tomb


Series: Proteus — no. 3
Author: Barron, Richard
Illustrators: De Leuw, Dave (cover and interior)
Harrod, Gary (interior)
Hunter, Alan (interior)
Pickering, John (interior)
Date: 1985
Ed's Thoughts: I've owned Proteus 3 since it was published, yet it wasn't until I was researching this review that I finally managed to motivate myself to play it through to the end. Even more alarmingly, when I gave up on it back in the 1980s, I hadn't even reached the worst part. If you wanted to maintain Proteus' poor reputation among gamebook fans, this is the issue you'd use to do so.

Anyway, the plot. It is 2058 AD, though you could be forgiven for forgetting that, as mid-21st century Earth looks so much like a generic fantasy world. With Geo-Humanity threatened by the armies of Zartog (with a name like that his parents must have wanted him to grow up into an evil dictator), the last surviving member of the Inter-Sector Brotherhood (that's you) must travel to each of the zones of the world to collect the four quarters of the Key of Peace. Guided by a rubbish poem spoken by Shinderg, 'Supreme God of the New World', you must visit each sector in the right order, confronting stupidly-named foes and inane riddles before the drawn-out climax. This time Proteus has partially abandoned its cheap copy of the Fighting Fantasy rules in favour of a system so inspired that they never used it again. Forget Dexterity and Courage - all you need is Strength. And the Geo-Secular Powers of Flight and Invisibility. And four Low-Order Powers selected from a list of nine, some of which appear to serve no function within the game. Your ratings for Strength and the GSPs are determined by rolling 1d6 (or possibly 2d6 - Proteus had a nasty habit of using 'dice' to indicate both singular and plural, and the wording in the rules is vague enough to allow either interpretation) and adding 10. To use a GSP, roll 2d6 and subtract the total from the rating. Once the rating falls below 1, you are no longer able to use that power. So far, so blah, but then we get to combat. It's just like FF combat, only without Skill. Odds are, even if you survive the first unavoidable fight, you'll lose well over half your Strength, and there are no rations or healing potions to bring it up to a healthy level before your next fight. There are a couple of small power-ups to be found, but you're expected to be near death by the final confrontation. This aspect is what put me off back in the 1980s.

Shinderg's poem is a reasonably helpful guide to the correct order of play, once you've figured out that 'search your heart' means 'look at your character biography for a hint.' Even so, the choice of where to seek the third quarter is based entirely on guesswork, and you're harshly penalised if you get it wrong. The third zone includes a lot of tiresome wandering along paths, trying to guess which way to go (or having your way determined by the flip of a coin if you go too far off track), but that's nothing compared to the tedious maze in the fourth zone. You are forced to go round and round in circles to get the keys that will lead you out, because the same areas contain different things depending on the direction from which you approach them and whether or not you've been through a particular junction more than once. The first time you leave the cavern, you encounter a monster, but you might have to follow the same path again to get one of the keys you need. The maze also contains several Instant Deaths, most of them split across two paragraphs, which can prevent you from simply turning back to the previous section and taking another option if you're the sort of person who does that when arbitrarily killed. Considering the most likely response to a choice between 'somewhere I've been before that contained nothing of interest' and 'unexplored territory,' you're liable to encounter most of the Instant Deaths before you find the way out.

Talking of Instant Deaths, there's another one elsewhere so obnoxiously counter-intuitive that I'm going to give a spoiler for it. Anyone desperate to complete Shinderg's Tomb unassisted should ignore the rest of this paragraph. And get a life. Anyway, this Idiotic Demise: you are heading towards the northern sector (using a secret passage that leads all the way under an ocean), when the passage forks. Now do you go north, in the direction you're supposed to be heading, or do you turn south and start back towards the zone you've just left? North, towards your goal? Ha ha, you fall into a pit and DIE. Instead of the usual logic puzzles there are a couple of uninspired riddles you have to solve, one of them using poetry almost as bad as Shinderg's.

Despite spanning four continents and including that abysmal maze, this adventure is even more padded than TToT. The build-up to the final encounter goes something like this:

196: You head for the great halls. Go to 197.
197: The slab in front of the halls opens. Go to 198.
198: There is a stairway beneath the slab. You go down it. Go to 199.
199: Something happens and you get to make a Decision!!!

Similar unnecessary splitting of sections can be found in many other parts of the adventure, too.

Still, Shinderg's Tomb is not entirely without merit. Some of the artwork is excellent. All right, so John Pickering's two-headed creature enables him to consolidate his hold on the title of Proteus' Worst Artist, but his Headleggers, while bearing little resemblance to the creatures described in the text, are quite fun. The real masterpieces, though, are by Gary Harrod. Particularly praiseworthy are his repulsive Palestrian Gorg and his intricately detailed Genie God. They almost compensate for the rottenness of the adventure they accompany.

There's also the occasional concept that could have been developed into something good if it weren't stuck in this mess. The eastern zone's nomadic forest could have made for a fascinating sequence rather than being a throw-away reference, and I like the vague implication that you're something like Moorcock's Eternal Champion, being reborn into a different body in each successive issue of the magazine. Nevertheless, a dung heap remains a dung heap even if there are a couple of gems hidden within the festering mound. I remember the last time I beat a gamebook at which I'd never previously succeeded despite owning it for years. The book in question was Forbidden Gateway 1, and I still remember the mounting excitement as I drew close to the climax. With Shinderg's Tomb, all I felt as the end drew near was the desperate hope that I wouldn't go wrong and have to replay the blasted thing AGAIN.

More reviews by Ed

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