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Item - The Vortex

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Series: Legendary Journeys — no. 1
Platforms: ePub
Author: Cook, Randy A.
Illustrators: Miller, Cynthia Celeste (cover)
Cook, Randy A. (interior)
Date: December, 2011
ISBN: 0615575617 / 9780615575612
Length: 302 pages
Number of Endings: 2 (not counting deaths, which loop directly back into the story)
User Summary: You must explore an ancient alien city in order to avert a terrible disaster.
Demian's Thoughts:

I've finally broken down and bought an e-reader. I've resisted for ages because I don't really like reading from screens, but the e-ink displays finally look good enough for my purposes. Needless to say, I'm very happy with the new toy, and I was very pleased when I had the opportunity to test it out on a brand new gamebook.

The Vortex is written by Randy Cook, and though it is his first gamebook, he's an experienced interactive fiction author, having written text adventure computer games in the past. The text adventure influence is obvious here: each section of the story is captioned with a location name in classic IF style, and like many computer adventure games, the emphasis is on moving from location to location and carefully examining everything.

Obviously, there are some significant differences between a text adventure and a basic e-book; computer games tend to do fancy things that paper books can't possibly emulate, while The Vortex is designed to work on all major e-book platforms, which means it doesn't have any computer-aided bells or whistles. No random number generation, no inventory management, no special tracking of game state -- just hyperlinks from section to section and the occasional illustration. That's not a complaint -- this is a gamebook site, so the fact that this is functionally equivalent to a print book is a point in its favor.

Outside of the text adventure influences, perhaps the closest gamebook analog I can think of is the Escape from Tenopia series. Like the Escape books, The Vortex drops the reader into a science fiction setting from which they must escape, provides a structure where eventual success is inevitable but challenging to find, and livens up the text with occasional nice visual touches. The big difference is in atmosphere; while the Escape books provide a populous and varied environment to explore, The Vortex's abandoned city is a little less colorful but provides a more consistent tone, livened up with a few situations offering a great sense of urgency (one sequence with a visualization of an oxygen meter at the top of every page is particularly memorable).

Overall, I had a great time with this book, though it won't necessarily appeal to everyone. I personally enjoy an adventure that I can complete without getting horribly frustrated, and this provided me with about two hours of painless fun, but for a veteran Fighting Fantasy junkie, the challenge level here may feel too low -- it's mostly a matter of persistence, with occasional bits of memory and visualization coming into play. Additionally, the plot, while well-matched to the interactive format and falling within the always-enjoyable "exploring an alien environment" subgenre, is rather thin, taking a back seat to the interaction -- again, this didn't bother me, but readers looking for a story-oriented experience may be disappointed.

All in all, this is a promising debut, offering a basic but enjoyable game experience with a classic feel and an appealing visual presentation. It's worth a look, especially if you're craving a bite-sized dose of adventure game flavor on a super-portable platform. I'm definitely looking forward to the next entry in the series!

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Special Thanks:Thanks to the author for providing a review copy.

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