The Fighting Fantasy books were a series of interactive reading experiences (or a gamebook) first published when gaming as we know it was in its early adolescence. Published in the early 1980’s, they have constantly remained in the public consciousness ever since. The Forest of Doom is the third book in the series and now, thanks to Tin Man Games, it has been recreated in videogame format.
Developer: Tin Man Games
Release: October 30th 2014
Some of the younger readers may be unclear on what exactly a gamebook is. While difficult to pin down by a single definition, it can be explained by a number of modern gaming characteristics, but in what was originally a print format. It’s a sort of choose your own quest type of experience, and as it is a book, the choices you make will require you to jump around to particular pages. In a certain sense, you might consider it the grandfather of non-linear games such as Mass Effect and the Witcher series. Before you play, you are tasked with rolling a die in order to determine certain stats like luck, skill and stamina, and then it’s straight into the narrative. There are three modes of difficulty; Free Read, which the game cheekily describes as being for “old school cheaters”, Adventure, the truest to the original book and the option to go with if you intend to experience the game the way nature intended, and Hardcore Adventure, which will pummel you unapologetically if you’re careless.
There are two things the player will need to realise before they play the Forest of Doom: it is a word-for-word conversion of the original text, and as such you are literally playing a book. This means reading, and a lot of it. You click on the pages to turn them and every once and a while you need to make a choice that will impact on how the narrative progresses. While the story itself isn’t exactly deep, the words that comprise it are delightfully rich and descriptive and are accompanied by some simply cracking artwork. You can bypass a number of the story events based on the choices you make, but that’s really quite a shame as the quality of Livingstone’s wordplay packs each page with memorable prose. The game’s presentation is topped off with a whimsical orchestral soundtrack that feels just present enough to give the sense as though it were peeping over your shoulders as you play
The main sticking point with the Forest of Doom lies in its replay value, greatly hindered by the lack of direct agency from the player. Once you’ve exhausted all the different paths that you can explore within the narrative, there’s very little incentive to come back, and even then it won’t take long for you to see all that there is to see. The lack of agency beyond turning pages and clicking on different options makes the changes in difficulty setting feel more phoned in than anything else. There’s nothing cinematic to engage the player either, as this is essentially a port of a book and very little else. The beauty of the book incarnation was its portability, so it could be enjoyed anytime, anywhere. It was also a modestly social experience as friends could easily take the journey together. No such luck, unfortunately, if you are planning to lug a PC around to get your fix, though an iOS version does exist.
The Forest of Doom feels suited for a particular niche. It’s nice to see something as vintage as the gamebook formula lavishly restored like this, but it feels a bit too limited in its design to achieve mass appeal. It certainly isn’t something that you desperately need to break the bank to go out and purchase; if you’re curious, check out the significantly cheaper iOS version.