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Item - The Water Spider

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Online Full Text: Internet Archive
Series: Webs of Intrigue — no. 2
Translated Into: Wodny pajÄ…k (Polish)
Authors: Davies, Wilfred
Waterfield, Robin
Illustrator: Barter, Malcolm
Date: 1988
Length: 300 sections
User Summary: A large shipment of gold has disappeared on its way from Cape Town to Southampton, and you are hired to investigate.
Guillermo's Thoughts:

Does anybody nowadays want to read and comment on an obscure diceless interactive book set in the real world from two decades ago? Perhaps we should be writing instead about important subjects of today (such as High School Musical; I mean, it must be a very important topic, judging by the number of press articles and grownup blogs dedicated to it). Nonetheless, I would suggest that for the time being we go against the current and pay close attention to Webs of Intrigue, Penguin's most obscure gamebook series, which certainly provides a worthwhile interactive experience.

When I first approached this book, I was worried that the authors would have produced something which, while changing the plots and locations, would have resembled the first book in the series (The Money Spider) too closely in terms of gameplay. How wrong was I. While the first book did indeed provide a decent challenge level, with the second title, the authors set out to devise a much more complex and difficult adventure than is the case with its predecessor. Indeed, its involved and error-free design only raises my opinion about the level of craftmanship that the eighties generation of gamebook writers put into their work (especially considering the broken crap that passes for much of interactive fiction today). In other words, if the British made computers today the way they made gamebooks back then, they would be giving Apple a run for its money*.

Philosophical reflections aside, I found the book to be quite an entertaining read. It's clear the authors do enjoy travelling, and while they don't stray far from the minimalist writing style of Fighting Fantasy, they make some laudable efforts to provide descriptions of people and landscapes. The adventure covers a wider geographical scope than The Money Spider did, with the reader getting to explore several locations in Africa as well as Europe. On the other hand, I can't say I sympathize with the player character much. Both adventures involve crimes which are committed in order to help struggling communities, thus making the reader feel like a CENSORED for completing them successfully. Not that I advocate breaking the law to solve anybody's problems, but taking into account Robin Waterfield's background as a Classics professor, and the economic woes that had recently afflicted the UK, would it have been too much to ask of gamebooks to actually give one the chance to correct social injustice instead of playing the ugly policeman? And finally no, the main series villain is not captured in this installment either.

Malcolm Barter's artwork, once again, does not include anything that will make you fall to your knees in awe. Art collectors should stick to his outstanding work in The Forest of Doom.

If you can ignore the authors' unwillingness to compromise and focus on the detective aspects of the story, you'll find this to be an engaging gameplay experience. There are many more opportunities to go astray and arrive at dead-ends (thus wasting time and ultimately failing) than there were in the first book. Furthermore, the mystery is harder to piece together, there is a greater emphasis on doing things in the correct order, and finding the turn that will lead to a correct clue will sometimes feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. If you feel you can't stand the challenge level of the average Paul Mason book, you haven't seen anything yet: this book's complexity will most likely keep players stumped and backtracking for a long time, and it certainly took me more than a few days to complete. It's definitely not for the impatient, but if you persevere, you'll find it to be a satisfying experience.

All in all, while neither book in this series is as wonderfully elaborate as the Virtual Reality series (what is?), they both manage to be as satisfying as any Fighting Fantasy book. They should definitely be brought back from obscurity.

(* We Mexicans don't make anything, except for very beautiful women. Stick that tongue out.)

More reviews by Guillermo

Special Thanks:Thanks to Guillermo Paredes for the plot summary and cover scans.
Users Who Own This Item: Ardennes, dArtagnan, Eamonn McCusker, Ed, Erikwinslow, jdreller, juski, knginatl, Malthus Dire, mir1812, mlvoss, Sheridan77, Sir Olli, sireeyore, Vampireman, waktool (UK 1st), Yalius
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