Thursday, 16 August 2012

Blood of the Zombies – Fighting Fantasy returns

The joys of being a man-child are boundless, or so a recent foray into my Dad’s loft would indicate. All my cool stuff from when I was a child lies hidden away up there like a treasure trove just waiting for someone to dive in (think Scroodge McDuck and his money pit in the Duck Tales opening credits). Whilst my Action Force figures have been snapped in half by some unknown hand (except Snake Eyes of course, proving once and for all you don’t fuck with a ninja), the whole adventure of sneaking a peak through the gaps of a variety of cello-taped boxes made for some giddy excitement. There was my Amiga 600 and a horde of games just waiting to see the light of day again; an old Scaletrix track about the length of the A127; a worn Blood Bowl board which has reminded me that spending £50 for a brand new one is well worth it; some old Dark Horse ‘Aliens’ comics; and, most importantly, castle freaking LEGO!

I was also fortunate enough to find my old collection of Fighting Fantasy Books. Remember those? Adventures typically set in the far flung lands of Allansia where you were the hero, which meant frequent dice rolling and choosing your own path to complement the dizzying descriptions of despicable beasts and terrifying terrors. Of course, by frequent dice rolling I mean automatically setting your stamina to 24 and skill level to 12; and by choosing your own path I mean keeping hold of the previous page from which you’ve turned so you can quickly continue on the right path just in case moving that curious brick at the bottom of that wall results in instant death from sharp spiky things.


Still, despite their often linear method of progression, Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson were rightly held aloft by young teens who did not know any better as geniuses for the fantasy universe they had created. Jackson in particular produced some of the more unique entries in the series. House of Hell was the first book that moved away from Allansia and instead took centre stage in the modern world. It was more survival horror than fantasy and remains the inspiration for my own book which owes a fair few nods in the direction of House of Hell. Still, it was no Creature of Havoc, probably the high-point in the whole fighting fantasy series. Playing a creature who cannot speak (you grunt throughout), the journey to finding your true nature is marvellous and the finale features a great unexpected reveal that will keep you smiling for days.

Zharradan Marr - total bastard! 

So the news that a new Fighting Fantasy book has just been released to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the release ofThe Warlock of Firetop Mountain (the first Fighting Fantasy book in the series for those lacking an inner child) is very much welcome. Disappointingly, Jackson has not been involved so the more direct and less challenging approach of Livingstone is expected; however, Blood of the Zombies at least seems to bring the franchise bang up-to-date with modern geek sensibilities. World War Z showed that zombie literature can be dynamic and thoughtful-provoking (particularly where the zombie is used to exacerbate the ills of man being a bastard to fellow man), and whilst such an expectation is not warranted here the least Blood of the Zombies could provide the adventurer with is a combat system that revels in fighting off hordes of the unliving with baseball bats and golf clubs whilst trying to survive a zombie uprising at Ikea, Croydon. So what have we got? You wake chained up in a cell in a Romanian castle with some deranged mad doctor infecting people with zombie blood for chuckles. A little bit B-movie, a little bit cheesy. Ikea, Croydon would make for a far better scenario.

Still, it remains a new Fighting Fantasy book, and hopefully this is just the beginning of a few new titles appearing in the series. An Evil Dead 2 inspired effort would be marvellous, so get working on it Ian (or better yet, Steve). Until then, I’m going to venture over to Amazon and wallow in some fruitful nostalgia; even if the Blood of the Zombies plot does on the surface appear to be ever so shit…

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