Sunday, 15 July 2012

Freeway Fighter playthrough

Written by Ian Livingstone, Artwork by Kevin Bulmer

Fighting Fantasy 40,000 - In the grim
darkness of the far future,
there is only cars!
I've been reading 'Dracula the Un-Dead' recently, an 'official sequel' to the classic original Dracula novel, written by one of Bram Stoker's descendants, and a book so painfully mind-numbingly awful that it's getting physically painful to read through. As a result, I'm going to totally change gear and play something not even remotely fantasy-ish.

Cast your mind back to a time when Mel Gibson wasn't someone that a movie producer would avoid like leprosy. Seems difficult to imagine, doesn't it? We're talking 1985, a mere 4 years after 'Mad Max 2' hit cinemas. A post-apocalyptic world which didn't involve zombies? Sure, it happened. What it did involve, though, were biker gangs and juiced-up cars.

Life is weird, sometimes. Let's get on with it.

"Dracula the Un-Dead"
It's a bad book.
A very, very bad book
This FF book never appealed to me. It still doesn't. Nothing about this type of sci-fi appeals to me, it's just not my bag. I didn't bother with this as a kid, and under other circumstances I wouldn't bother with it now. But I've been wrong about first impressions on this blog before, so I'm going to give it a damn good shot.

Right, so according to the backstory of this book, a mysterious virus kills off most of the world's population, leaving the survivors struggling for survival among the world's resources... which you'd kinda expect, given how few people there are, would be kinda abundant. Apparently people would kill over a tin of beans, which is just strange if there's only 15% of the population left trying to acquire all the tins of beans in the planet, there'd surely be plenty to go around... why am I over-thinking this? There's worse things to worry about. Like the way that this virus is meant to happen in TEN YEARS AND ONE WEEK FROM NOW!!

Scared yet? You should be, because I'm one of the survivors, and I've been asked to drive across the country to pick up some petrol (or 'gas') from another settlement of survivors. And to help in my travels, I've been given a Dodge Interceptor car. With mounted machine guns. And rocket launchers. Y'know, I've spent most of the last week reading about Mina Harker fighting vampires with a katana sword, and that was less dumb than this idea. Why does the car need rocket launchers?

In some post-apocalypses, you don't need
cars. You just need a skill score of 12.
Anyway, this copy of the book was previously owned by someone called "D Adalis" (thanks for writing your name in it) who called his/her character "D Loader". I'm going also name my character, I will not call him 'Mad Max' though. Instead in a truly inspired creative move, I will call him 'Slightly peeved-off Kevin'.

Slightly Peeved-Off Kevin has a nice skill of 12, a luck of 9, and a stamina of 30. Yes, 30. The book tells me to add 24 to his stamina roll. My guess is that Kevin has recently retired from being the star of Deus Ex or something, and now has bullet-resistant skin. On the other hand, this could mean that there's going to be a LOT of combat in this game. Oh boy... My car also has its own stats, with an 8 in firepower an a 32 in arour plating. And rockets, did I mention those? Yeah... Right, let's drive.

A short way from my home base, I'm driving along when I hear sounds of gunfire. I pull over to investigate, and I'm confronted with a man wielding a shotgun who insists that I recently shot his wife and kids. I try to explain to him that I didn't, and wind up pointing my gun at him. If this was 'The Walking Dead', I'd expect things would end in a far more gruesome manner, but this time the man relents and apologises.

Armed with rocket launchers, as strong as wet cardboard
I give the chap some directions back to my home base, where he can go and rest up for a while, and in exchange he tells me to avoid the petrol station further down the road, where it seems that a gang simply rob you blind. Naturally I take his advice, and when I later see the petrol station (and a particularly fetching woman in a t-shirt modelling the petrol pump), I drive right past. Keep your wicked false promise of petrol, you wicked sirens of the highways!

The book then tells me that I'm tearing down the road at several kilometres an hour... wait, kilometres? From the language of the title (Freeway, isn't that an American word), I expected my car would be running on miles, not kilometres. I wonder for a while about the post-apocalyptic embrace of the metric system... oh wait, no time to think about it, a red chevy is shooting at me.

The combat system for firearms in this book is just painful. It determines damage by dice roll, not a standard set amount, which means that in any one round you can do a massive amount of damage, or barely do any at all. I manage to eventually blow up the chevy, but not without my own car's armour rating plummeting down to a 3. A three. From a 32 down to a 3 in a single round of combat. Oh lovely.

Beans - more precious than grenades
Y'know, I don't want to be one of those "I hate everything, grrr angry" type of internet reviewers, but there's really no way to hide the fact that I've not been enjoying this book so far, and that one single combat encounter shows pretty much why. I will now need to find somewhere to get my car fixed, before I accidentally crash into a stray sheep and die in the resulting fiery car explosion.

I examine the wreck, and when I get back into my car, I get a radio message from home base telling me that they have been attacked by a gang of bikers (boy, I'm sure glad I gave those directions to my home base to that suspicious chap from earlier, I'm sure he's not at all related to this at all!) and they have now kidnapped one of the town's leaders. I shrug my shoulders - this kind of stuff happens - and press on. Eventually the highway is blocked with abandoned and wrecked cars, causing me to take a diversion.

The diversion leads to a river, with a bridge. However the bridge is partly open, so if I want to get over it, I'll have to get the car to jump the gap. That should be easy enough, given that my car has a 'stamina' of only 3 left and no way to heal it back up, which I take to mean that the only thing stopping the car from falling apart is the duct tape I've wrapped around it.

Are we still talking about it? Can't
we just get Beyond Thunderdome?
I manage to make the jump and avoid crashing into an overturned truck on the opposite side of the bridge, through the good fortune of having rolled a skill of 12. Before I can even start to celebrate, I see a biker waving for assistance, as it seems his bike's been damaged. I stop the car and get out to help him, at which point he chucks a grenade at my face. Okay, people kill for tins of beans, but they have enough grenades to just throw at people willy-nilly? And gun ammo, too. Why don't people ever think about how rare gun ammo would be in this type of situation? Seriously, next time you're planning for a zombie holocaust, think about how  tricky it'd be if you didn't have easy access to vast amounts of ammo.

Eh, never mind that, the book decides to give me one of those 'fight two enemies at the same time' combat sequences I do so hate. In fact, I suspect this may be the first of those. I really hate these kinds of combat, they feel far too cluttered and unstructured to work well for me. I manage to kill both bikers without too much trouble, probably because I'm not in my car any more.

I search through the abandoned vehicles of one of the recent car pile-ups, only to eventually stumble upon a crowbar. I hope to find some petrol cans somewhere among the abandoned cars, but the book tells me that I 'suddenly feel' paranoid about my car and asks if I should run back to it. Afraid that some sneaky bugger has made off with the last of its armour plating (I can't think why, because the damn stuff is obviously made of tin foil), I hurry back to my car, only to find that it is quite fine.

I drive off, and am suitably punished for my paranoia only a few segments later when I do indeed run out of pertol right in the middle of the grasslands. And thus was the end of Slightly Peeved-Off Kevin. His gravestone will read "Rest in Peace Slightly Peeved-Off Kevin, too paranoid to step ten paces away from his broken car in case someone nicked the hubcaps, now eaten by a mutant kangaroo in a field somewhere."

Why's it always down under that makes these kind
of sci-fi things? I think they're plotting something. Beware
people - the Australian future of kangaroos and kids who
draw silly patterns on their faces! It's coming, I tells ya!!
I just didn't care for this book at all. The setting isn't interesting, the combat feels far too random (entirely due to the 'roll a dice to determine how much damage you do' mechanic used, to the best of my knowledge, in this book only) and you end up feeling as if you're attached by the hip to the damn car. It's just not much fun, I'm afraid.

Having said that, if I compare it to the other book I've read this week (in which Dracula actually says to Mina Harker's son "I am your father" without even the slightest trace of self-parody), this is definitely the better book. So well done Freeway Fighter, you're more enjoyable than the worst Dracula book in the universe.

On the bright side, I have been able to get my hands on a few other books lately, which I'll update on in a later post. Sadly, Return of the Vampire is not among them - that one seems to go for a pretty penny! Stick around folks.


  1. Bummer. The petrol thing annoyed me too. I think most of the book revolves around getting petrol for your car. You can't just drive to the town and drive back which demonstrates a lack of planning on your employers' part (although since they need petrol, I guess there's a good reason for the shortage). I remember that you have to take part in a race for a can of petrol (now that I've typed that, I realise that there's a certain pointlessness in trying to get petrol by driving your car a lot).

    1. A race for a can of petrol? That should make up for all the petrol you wasted on taking part in a race for the can of petrol!

  2. And with good reason! "Return of the Vampire" is one of the best of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks-as long as you account for the two editing glitches. The first and most important is this one: Should you reach page 276, you should pay eight gold pieces to purchase the horse (some suggest instead paying all of your gold except one piece; either way will work).

    1. I remember enjoying it a lot when I was a kid, most of all being able to journey across a long distance and going through lots of different areas as part of it. In general those are things that I enjoy in FF books.

  3. My only hope is that we do not enter a scenario whereby we have to fight over who wins/gets a copy of Revenge of the Vampire. Should that happen, I propose an honourable duel of some sort, preferably not one involving a race for petrol. I was so hoping you'd change my viewpoint on Freeway Fighter, but sadly you have not; I still think it's shit. Ah well, must be the whole sci-fi thing. (Not that Freeway qualifies as a true sci-fi FF)

    1. I hoped it'd change my mind too. Shame it didn't.

  4. I seem to remember quite liking Freeway Fighter, although it was rather unfair and had a severe case of one-true-path syndrome. Maybe my playthrough for my blog will change my mind for the worse...

  5. I'm a bit late on this one, having only just found the blog, but I think the reason for the book was the popularity at the same time of Games Workshop's Battlecars (and later Battlebikes). Unfortunately as good as that game was (many many school lunchtimes wasted), it didn't translate into a gamebook.

    1. It's never too late to comment on one of my posts :) I always thought that the Mad Max films were responsible for this type of book, good that I get to learn new things like this :)

  6. I did enjoy this book, but for me it was a precursor to a lifelong obsession with Car Wars.

    There is a definite ripping, I mean being inspired by Mad Max. You wear a leather jacket, you drive an "interceptor", bikies rule the highways (should ask them where they get the petrol) and you end up driving a petrol tanker in the climactic ending. Add to it the Tina Turner/Aunt Entity-like woman on the front cover and all you're missing is Mad Max's shotgun and dead wife.

    Later on you meet a hot blonde called Amber (she reminds me of Virginia Hey in Mad Max) and somehow she goes from wearing overalls and a shirt to just a bra. Didn't know interceptors were good for parking.......

    1. Also, Amber manages to change her hairstyle and get a butterfly tattoo on her cheek in the process.

      Actually she's more of a liability than an asset. She possibly draws the attention of a Doom Dogs patrol, possibly loses some glucose tablets through a hole in her pocket (puh-leez!!) (both of these drain your luck), kicks a stone in your raid on the Doom Dogs' camp (more luck lost), and adds nothing to the battle with the station wagon.

      At least she takes out the two Doom Dogs in the firefight and makes an okay cheerleader if you fight with the Animal (should have packed some pom poms in the trunk for her), but if you wrestle the Animal after the firefight she swings a spanner like a door in a hurricane.....good luck!!

    2. Actually that's just a female Doom Dog. (If you elect to fight the Animal instead it explicitly states that 2 of them are women.) Also you can see someone else in the vehicle, and I don't think FF ever showed a picture of YOU. (Except maybe Crimson Tide showing a picture of YOU from Black Vein Prophecy)

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  8. I think I enjoyed this book a lot more than you did, but it was a long time ago so maybe I didn't and just think I did. I think I enjoyed the post apocalyptic setting, which was a nice change from Goblins'n'stuff, and the slightly less 'morally ambiguous' scenarion, doin' good instead of the Racially Aggravated Home Invasion, Robbery & Murder plots the early fantasy books were predicated on ...

    Also, I think I had the hots for Amber, as I was a teenage boy at the time and I didn't think she would notice my acne, being a black and white image on a page. And yes, I did notice her costume change and think, "What's gawn on here?!" Such, such were the joys ...

    I disagree about the variable damage system - I find the predictability of FF combat a bit dull. I used to operate Needlessly Complicated Rules giving bonus damage based on Attack Strength, to make it more, you know, Needlessly Complicated. For there is no simple joy that I can resist sucking all the pleasure out of by adding Needless complication.

    Well done on noticing the kilometre slip up - British writers trying to describe the US and inevitably tripping up.

  9. I did read somewhere (on wiki, I think) that the cover used for the later reprints of "Freeway Fighter" for the Wizard series was the same one that was used for the original Battle Cars?

    1. For some reason I associate it with the Games Workshop board game 'Dark Future'. I think it may have been reused there, or a work from the same artist was used. Anyhoo, Dark Future was a pretty good game, as I recall. It also had a ludicrously detailed background, which was completely useless to the game, but has led some to suspect that an RPG was planned.

  10. I liked the feel of the desert highway despite there being few friends along it. Much like Joe Dever's Freeway Warrior series(which came after this), I felt like '70s, road-trip music would make a good background for this story e.g "Running on Empty", "Take It Easy", "Roll On Down the Highway"(BTO) etc.