In the 80s and early 90s, I read an awful lot of gamebooks. The very first one I read, ‘You Are A Shark’, was part of the Choose Your Own Adventure line – and it absolutely blew my mind. In an era where video game technology was unaffordable for me at home – and not quite there sometimes, in terms of the tech available – having a say in where a narrative would end up, and in a way that really did fire the imagination, was intoxicating to say the least. I read all of the Choose Your Own Adventure books I could get my hands on after that – and it wasn’t long before I discovered Fighting Fantasy books. This was another mindblowing development for me – dice, stats and combat? Sign me up! Again – and making full use of the local library – I read as many of these as I could get my hands on.
The library was responsible for bringing many, many other series to my attention too. Slightly more mature and campaign-driven Fighting Fantasy offshoot Sorcery! for example, but also the amazing Lone Wolf books by Joe Dever, the more visual puzzle-based Be An Interplanetary Spy series, the oddly basic Dungeons & Dragons Endless Quest books (perhaps they thought having Fighting Fantasy style stats and dice battles would end up competing with their RPG line?) and even Nintendo Adventure Books, amongst many, many others.
In any case, let’s just say I have experience with gamebooks. More recently, I’ve enjoyed playing through digital ones, too – the Tin Man Games series are particularly good; they’ve even recreated Final Fantasy gamebooks from the classic series, as well as adapting newer books in the range (and even an original Judge Dredd digital gamebook, which is superb!).
It’s a digital gamebook we have here on Switch, with the cumbersomely titled Omen Exitio: Plague (which I think means ‘an omen of destruction: plague’ in Latin – though feel free to correct me on that). It’s surprisingly robust in terms of game mechanics, featuring a variety of stats and a narrative that gives a lot of choice in terms of how you progress; I must add the caveat that I’m not sure how much of this is a true branching narrative at this stage and how much is simply the illusion of choice, given that I’m only on my first playthrough – but even if it is the latter, there’s enough variety in terms of how you can improve your stats that outcomes do seem to vary as you go.
As you’d probably expect, there’s an awful lot of text; I found it vastly preferable to play in handheld mode, to ensure a comfortable reading distance. You’re dropped into the game with little explanation of the mechanics, but it’s thankfully really easy to grasp. Particularly at the beginning, narrative options will have a specific outcome and can improve your stats; for example, choosing one option may improve your Agility and therefore give you a higher chance of success when attempting a related task later on. When choosing from the available options in the story, you’re also told which stat (if any) will be affected by your choice. It’s brilliant to have this knowledge in advance, rather than blindly choosing and being disappointed with the outcome.
Everything is played and viewed from a book; the narrative itself and your notes being displayed on different pages – it’s a really clever way of handling the gameplay and other options visually.
Without spoiling the plot – and it is well worth going into this as blindly as possible, in narrative terms – you’ll be playing a character who uncovers a very Lovecraftian conspiracy in the late 19th century. The narrative itself does feel like it takes a while to progress, but this gives you time to build up your stats and – despite the feeling at first that you’re being dropped in at the deep end, with no guidance – also serves as a sort of character-generation stage, prior to the main story kicking off.
The music, coupled with the visuals, serves up a very creepy atmosphere. Though it’s not the most excitingly visual game, it does the job in feeling like a classic gamebook and the writing – as well as the classically-styled illustrations – does the job in terms of sparking the imagination.
For those of you looking for a change of pace and a different type of horror game, I’d highly recommend Omen Exitio: Plague; it’s definitely an acquired taste and not for everyone, but those of you attuned to the specific charms of classic gamebooks – not to mention the cosmically apocalyptic concepts of HP Lovecraft – will find a lot to like here.
Many thanks to Forever Entertainment for providing the Omen Exitio: Plague code for review purposes.
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