Friday, 19 September 2014

Video Game Review: Choice of the Deathless

I don’t normally play games, and so don’t review them often, but I saw last week that Max Gladstone had a text based game set in the world of his Craft Sequence novels and - since the game was really cheap ($2.99) - I bought myself a copy.

If you’re familiar with choose your own adventure novels you’ll understand how this particular text based game works.  There’s no music or illustrations, just words on a page and options for you to choose between.

You start the game in the middle of a fight.  There’s no context, but you’re quickly given a series of flash backs that allow you to build your character, its background, and play several years of your life that ultimately land you back at the opening fight.

You’re employed by the law firm Varkath Nebuchadnezzar Stone, examining contracts, working with and battling demons, opposing a goddess, and making decisions that not only shape your life, but what ending you get in the game.  

If you’re one of those people who read choose your own adventure novels by holding the pages with various fingers so you could quickly flip back and try the other option, you’ll find yourself playing the game several times, because there’s no going back, so if you want to check out the other options you have to play again.  There are a number of different options and I played the game 3 time with quite a few left unchosen.  

There are 32 achievements to unlock, the first of which is “Die: It’s easier than you expect.”  You can’t get them all in one play through as the various endings all land you a different achievement.  And based on your choices, some endings aren’t available to you and are greyed out when you get there.

There’s some great writing, like this paragraph describing a meal in the demon dimension:

“Dinner turns out to be something best described as a steak if they made steaks out of sex and hope and joy, accompanied by a red wine with notes of autumn childhood happiness and a light finish of your first kiss.”

I made my husband - who plays a lot more games than I do and who hasn’t read the books -  play it through to see what comments he’d have about the story and gameplay.  First up, he said it wasn’t hard to understand the story, even without the background the books give of the world, though he did feel a bit blindsided by some of the situations as there’s no lead in to the various story pieces (so, for example, the scenes with demons don’t mention that gods are interactable beings).  He did have some minor complaints about the game play.  He wished there were customizable options so he could change the text style to white on black instead of black on white, as he finds that easier to read on a computer screen.  He also wished there were keyboard shortcuts so he could have tabbed through the options rather than scrolling down and clicking on them with a mouse.  He also wished the game marked what previous choices you made so you’d have an easier time trying the other options (since you won’t necessarily remember what you picked between game plays).  His final point was one I shared, which is that you can’t save your stats by character.  Once you reset the game, your stats for the previous game are gone so there’s no way to compare your results.

The game takes between an hour and a half and two hours to play, which is good value considering the cost of it on Steam.  It’s available there for all major operating systems as well as at the Apple app store, Google Play and the Kindle.  You can find all the buy options here as well as play a demo.  Steam also has a trailer for the game.

If you liked the books you’ll love this game.  If you haven’t read the books but love choose your own adventures and/or the idea of being a lawyer who deals in magic, then give it a try.


Paul Weimer said...

Its a lot of fun, but I would have thought readers of the books would have an advantage.

Your husband proves me wrong!

Jessica Strider said...

I think reading the books does give you an advantage, but not having read them doesn't mean you won't be able to follow the action and enjoy the game.

Angela said...

I did this backwards then! :) I played the game because it sounded interesting and then spent way too much of the next two days running through it over and over trying to see all the endings. I then went and got the first book.

And I haven't really looked back since.