The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. It’s time to don our capes as we have an Appointment with F.E.A.R.
In 1982, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, founders of Games Workshop, released the book ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’. Intended as an introduction to tabletop role-playing games of the era, the book’s choose-your-own-adventure format mixed with simple dice-based combat proved massively successful, giving rise to a full series of books – Fighting Fantasy. With over 65 books in the series by a legion of authors and illustrators, the series’ legacy continues to this day. Come along with us as Cybe and co play through each one – with no prior knowledge, no hints or walkthroughs and no cheating!
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Never had this one as a kid. In fact, it didn’t much appeal to me as the cover makes it look like a sci-fi adventure, and I wasn’t much into sci-fi. I was quite familiar with the cover though, because it featured in the Fighting Fantasy poster book, which was a lovely collection of high-quality prints of the covers. Also included were Daggers of Darkness, which featured the evil viking man jet-skiing on two tigers. But it turned out in the end that this isn’t full-on sci-fi – it’s a comic book superhero adventure! If anyone is interested, I’m reading Green Lantern these days, mostly.
I never owned it as a kid, purely because other ones appealed to me a whole lot more. And I’ve never really been into superhero comics until the last few years. I’m one of those kids who cut his teenage teeth on Sandman, y’see. In fact, remember that Sandman poster that Darlene had in the sit-con ‘Roseanne’? I had the very same one. Currently, I happily read Batman, Green Lantern and a few others. Because Green Lantern is boss, man.
This book is a little different from most FF books in that you’re given an identity right off the bat – you are Jean Lafayette, aka The Silver Crusader. The mission in this adventure is to uncover the meeting of the terrorist organisation FEAR (the Federation of Euro-American Rebels) and defeat their villainous leader, the Titanium Cyborg. We get to choose from four possible super-powers, and because I’m not feeling too imaginative tonight, I go for super-strength. The ability to hit things really hard, with my fists.
Even before the adventure begins, we’re given a full background on the character, who was the result of genetic experimentation to create the perfect superhero. Which has evidently failed, because I wind up as the Silver Crusader instead of Batman. But even so, I am superhero enough to be given a couple of useful clues and sent out to save the city.
And so it’s morning in the city, and I’m given a few possible courses of action. I can continue walking down the street on the way to work. Or, off in the distance I can hear a police car speeding down the road, and I have the option to follow and help out there. Or, there’s a third option. A man and a woman are arguing in the middle of the road because the woman’s dog has left a pile of poo in the middle of the street. Obviously, this is the option that requires the attention of the Silver Crusader! I give the woman a firm talking-to about good manners, and use my super strength to throw the dog into the sun… no, I head to the police car.
The car is parked at a crime scene, where it seems a businessman has been murdered. I change into my Silver Crusader gear and investigate the area. I find a gold medallion, possibly belonging to the victim, and decide to take it to a local jewellers to see if he can tell me anything about it. Instead they try to offer to buy it from me, so I hit a dead end in my investigation. Shortly thereafter, I receive a call on my superhero wrist watch communicator thingy that tells me there’s some nefarious goings on at a local chemical plant.
It seems that the people who’ve been performing studies here have been breeding dangerous radioactive dogs, and they’ve now got loose and… sorry, why were they doing this in the first place? “Hey Bill, know what this alsatian dog needs? More radioactivity in its teeth!” I just… Oh who cares. I go and beat up some puppies. This game has a system where you can defeat an enemy if you reduce their stamina to 2 or less, which does make combat work quicker.
As I’m standing outside the plant, signing autographs and generally enjoying people’s adulation and worship (y’know, like any superhero should), I’m called to help a shoplifter who has been robbed. I chase down the robber and find that it’s just a kid who swiped a chocolate bar. Urgh, so this is the life of a superhero? I can’t help but think that Aquaman has a better deal at the moment… He’s surrounded by fish most of the day, but at least he doesn’t have to clean up dog mess.
I sulk off back to my one-bedroom flat, eat a lukewarm microwave lasagne and watch reruns of Home & Away all night. The next morning, I get an urgent call to head to the local dairy, where a chain-saw wielding murderer is on a killing spree. En route though, I encounter a stray cat and I’m given the option of instead taking the cat to an animal shelter. Or stop a chainsaw wielding murderer. Or help a stray cat. I… this is so weird… It does kinda showcase us Brit’s excessive obsession with animals that these two incidents are even thought to be comparable, though. I ignore the cat (or possibly just punch it into the middle of the sun) and beat down on the criminal.
Finally I decide to go to work. But I’m going to be late, oh no. Never mind the fact that I didn’t actually turn up to work at all yesterday, and I decide that the best way to handle this will be to waste even more time by buying my boss a present to apologise for being late. So I head to the local shops and, expecting to find a note on my desk telling me that I’m fired, try to decide if my boss would like a copy of Trivial Pursuit. While I’m shopping (as opposed to going to work), four bikers come into the shop and start causing trouble. When the shop assistant confronts them, they turn into fire. Because the book needed a weirder thing to happen, so it gave us four Human Torches trying to set fire to the local board game shop.
I manage to beat up all four of them, but I’m rather injured by the end of it and there’s no way to recover stamina at this point. The game tells me that I’m still late for work, so I assume that I just forget my idea to buy my boss Hungry Hungry Hippos as an apology, and sprint for the subway train in order to get to the office, figuring that this will get me to the office nice and quick. Naturally, I wind up chasing a pickpocket halfway down the subway train instead. By the time I get to the office, my boss screams at me and sends me home without pay. So I decide to cheer myself up by going to the local amusement park. What? Anything unusual about that?
So I decide that the best thing for the Silver Crusader to do is play on the dodgem cars. I drive around for a while, my cape flapping behind me, cackling like a madman… it strikes me that this is a rather strange adventure. Sadly when a kid falls off one of the cars and gets injured, I decide to finish playing around and leave the theme park. Instead, I decide to go to see the smash broadway musical ‘Rats’ which is currently showing in town. This is how superheroes spend their afternoons, ladies and gentlemen.
Naturally, I can’t go anywhere without some crime happening, because I’m a giant magnet for this kind of thing. The star of the show is almost kidnapped by a supervillain called The Serpent, and I’m able to find them and beat the silly bugger down. He tells me of a plan to assassinate the president, which is something that is so utterly shocking and deadly that I head right home and go to bed. The next morning I get up, go in to work, and am a little confused as to why there’s no big crimes happening on that day.
I go down to the police station to ask them where all the crime is, because the only other option is to go and visit my ageing old aunt instead (no, I don’t know why I’d do this either). I get to the station and talk to one of the officers, who tells me that there was a prison break earlier, and although I really would like to go and round up some of these super-villains, there’s something far more important I need to look into – a man has turned up at a local hospital with some really weird hands.
I go to the hospital, and I’m told that the man has died, presumably from weirdhanditis. I head down to the morgue to investigate the body, but IT’S GONE!! I’m so shaken up by this shocking and frankly rather confusing turn of events that the book asks me if I want to go and visit my aunt again. Given that the only other option would be to go and see Georgie Boy and the Vulture Club in concert (possibly singing their hit song Karma Colour-Changing-Lizard), I rush to see my aunt as if my life depended on it.
I catch the bus over to my aunt’s neighbourhood, and am promptly mugged by a bunch of thugs. I decide that I’d rather like to beat the living snot out of them for the insult. In doing so, though, one of them manages to look at my driver’s licence, and realises the true identity of the Silver Crusader. Soon, my secret identity is public knowledge, and the book tells me that I have to retire from my life of superhero-ishness. Given that I pretty much just spent my time wasting the afternoon shopping and going to theme parks, I doubt anyone will really notice.
I’ll give kudos to this, the book does point out that the superhero keeps his identity secret in order to protect not himself, but those who are close to him. I mean, remember what happened when Spiderman revealed his identity…. It lead to his aunt being put in hospital, and Spidey making a deal with the devil in order to save her life in exchange for his marriage to Mary-Jane. Which was weird. Not quite as weird as his current “Hey, I’m a ghost now, and my arch nemesis is Spider-man. We’re like Randall and Hopkirk, only with tights!” storyline, but still damn weird. Anyway. This book is weird too. I’ve laughed more at it than any FF book I’ve read in a long while. It feels very crazy and quite wild. I’m not sure if I was even close to winning or how well I was doing at all. I certainly managed to beat up a lot of criminals and had a lot of very silly encounters. I doubt I’ll leave the same kind of legacy at Batman did, though.
Yeah, overall I rather enjoyed this book. It’s definitely not the kind of book I’d have thought I’d enjoy, and it has some very random moments which seem to come out of nowhere and offered some very twisted and unusual sense of humour. I’d say this one is worth trying out.
Cause of death: Outed as a superhero to the world