‘Gamebooks’ in the style of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books have been making a quiet comeback recently with the digital re-release of old titles like The Forest of Doom and a series of new releases. An Assassin in Orlandes falls into the latter category, as a new piece of interactive fiction written by S.P. Osborne that stays true to the original feel of the genre.
As the title suggests, the tale unfolds in the city of Orlandes, where soon enough you become witness to an assassination and it’s from this point that the story branches out in earnest. Either seek out answers or show ambivalence, but sooner or later the assassination becomes personal and you’re grasping for any clues you can get. The mystery wends its way through the streets before taking you out of the city, out of comfort and into ever-increasing danger.
Danger. That’s a thing. A very real thing. In true gamebook fashion, expect to die a lot, but don’t be put off because of it. It’s always a little frustrating when dice rolls send you to an early grave, but it’s part of the charm, part of the element of surprise that sees you falling to your death, contracting the plague, or getting eaten by a cannibalistic old man from your nightmares.
Besides, dice rolls are important. Not only are they the only things slapping you back to reality if you try to take on an opponent too strong, but they motivate you to scour through the game for the best equipment you can find, making a mental map of their locations in the game and working out what you need to do to get them. All of your items, of course, are listed in an inventory and potions can be used at any time. The inventory also records important information in case you forget it later on (although it fails to do so with information a monk gives you about the path of bandits).
Combat is straightforward and you always get to attack first. The enemy will roll to defend and (unless you kill them in one roll), will attack you. You get the chance to defend as well and combat continues until you kill the enemy or (more likely) you meet your grisly end. Don’t be fooled by a great number of dice, though – it’s the highest value that determines success, not their cumulative sum. The latter is only used to calculate damage in the case of a hit. All damage is taken away from your vitality, or hitpoints, which are determined by a dice roll at the beginning of the game.
At any point during combat you can roll a fitness check to influence your chances of success. This stat is also determined at the beginning of the game and you succeed a check if you roll lower than its value. If you succeed, you add one to your highest dice roll. If you fail, you subtract one. If you start out with a high fitness score this may seem like a great trick to use, but your fitness score decreases by one point every time you use it during a fight, making it harder to pass successive checks. Worse, if your score starts out too low you can’t wear some of the better armours in the game.
Fitness checks are also scattered outside combat. You roll them to avoid illness, jump pits, hide from enemies and dodge traps, with the result of a failure usually meaning death. Thankfully, your fitness score always resets outside combat (unlike your vitality), so using rolls during combat doesn’t affect your ability to escape man-hunting boulders.
If the endless deaths and constant dying get you down, you can of course change the difficulty settings. In classic mode, you have three bookmarks you can set and return to throughout the entire book and that’s it. In casual mode you can create and use as many bookmarks as you want, heal yourself any time you want and choose any option you want (although the last two abilities aren’t obvious enough to be too tempting).
Classic mode is more of a challenge, but since you’ll be reloading the game several times anyway, casual mode will make the game more immediately interesting, negating the need to re-read early passages and skipping straight back to the relevant points. It’s advisable not to use the free healing tool, though, as An Assassin in Orlandes feels like it has just the right number of healing opportunities to be both fair and challenging.
Aside from all the death, all the arrests and all the various endings that get you nowhere, there are a bunch of main endings as well. Reaching the first will give you a massive sense of achievement, but then you’ll inevitably want to see how it could turn out different or you’ll want to go back and find some of the early-game items that suddenly become important at the end. So it’s a big tick in the box for replayability, especially with Steam achievements.
All of this is packaged neatly into an electronic storybook with an easy-to-navigate interface, customisable fonts and atmospheric illustrations and music. And, if the setting described in the game just isn’t enough for you, there’s a big fat book of lore hidden in the extras menu.
With such an intriguing story that’s just begging for you to play it until you reach the end – and then try again – it’s hard to find anything to criticise in An Assassin in Orlandes. It’s a solid game that’s well worth diving into. There are twists, there are turns and, for the small price of £3.99, what’s stopping you?
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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