Sunday, 3 April 2016

Freeway Fighter playthrough

Fighting Fantasy 40,000 - In the grim
darkness of the far future,
there is only cars!
Written by Ian Livingstone, Artwork by Kevin Bulmer

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 JUST OVER FIVE YEARS 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.

Beans - more precious than grenades
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.

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!


(If you've enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Justin MacCormack's two bestselling collections of horror stories - "Return to 'Return to Oz'", "Cthulhu Doesn't Dance" and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie". His newest novel, "Twilight of the Faerie", is available now)

2 comments:

  1. If it's a virus, why is everything a barren wasteland? I mean, I know why: it's because of Mad Max, but that was supposed to be a post-nuclear world; are we to believe that this virus also turned the world of Freeway Fighter into a desert, or is it just coincidence, and the world outside the book is full of lush greenery?

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  2. The first of those tiresome 'fight two enemies at the same time' combats is actually in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. There's one at section 140, against a couple of skeletons. And it's one of the more tiresome variants straight off - the version where you have to roll a separate Attack Strength against each opponent.

    I'm pretty sure that Freeway Fighter is the earliest FF book that I have never won by the rules. Partly because it's not entertaining enough to make me want to try it that often.

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