Appointment with F.E.A.R.
for Gamebook

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Mr Creosote:
Company: Puffin Books
Year: 1985
Genre: RPG
Theme: Cartoon & Comic / Misc. Fantasy / Fighting / Humour / Police & Gangsters / Text-based
Language: English
Licence: Commercial
Views: 209
Review by Mr Creosote (2024-03-30)
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Nowadays, of course, superheroes are everywhere. Though comicbooks are still a nerdy niche. In 1985, that niche was all the genre had. Its resurgence with “edgier” publications was actually already on the way, but had not entered the public mindset yet. The Superman movie franchise had gone into a total dead end with its fourth incarnation. And in that medium, Tim Burton's Batman was still far. Though gamebooks, in spite of their amazing sales, were a nerd phenomenon as well. Steve Jackson was just the guy to try such a thing out in his Fighting Fantasy line.

Superhero comics being a quintessential North American genre, Jackson of course was a Brit. Like, in traditional comicbooks at the time, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Dave Gibbons, Jamie Delano and Brian Bolland, who were by that time in the process of turning this genre upside down. Jackson, using his business instinct, commissioned Bolland to draw the cover of Appointment with F.E.A.R.. Not Bolland's best work, but sill – it's a Bolland cover! Giving the book immediate appeal.

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Jackson puts the player into the shoes of a fairly generic superhero going by the name of “Silver Crusader”. A pastiche of various well-known superheroes published by other companies, the player can even choose his main superpower. Want to go for your basic Superman style super strength and flight? Or would you rather have Batman style gadgets at your disposal? Can you shoot energy blasts from your fingertips? Or will you go for Jackson's favourite, Psi powers? Depending on this initial choice, the upcoming adventure will change drastically.

The objective, in any case, is always the same, however. A villaneous group going by the name of F.E.A.R., their leader sporting a suspiciously Russian sounding name, is planning to take over the world. The Crusader needs to find out time and place of F.E.A.R.'s secret meeting and bust it. But time is short and leads are scarce.

And, even more importantly, there is a lot going on in Titan City. In theory, the protagonist should go about his Peter Parker style day job, though there is hardly ever any time for it. Or to visit his aunt. Wherever the protagonist goes, there is crime all around. A bankrobbery. A pickpocket on the subway. A kidnapping. A dog pooping on the sidewalk. Stopping such crimes and apprehending the wrongdoers is rewarded by “hero points”. Though to win, identifying the relevant events which will reveal clues about the secret F.E.A.R. meeting is key.

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Those, however, are different depending on the initial player choice of which superhero to be. As in Scorpion Swamp, the same events can be just window dressing on the first playthrough, but turn essential on subsequent ones. Jackson makes heavy use of the mechanic introduced in House of Hell: he does not reveal the deeper relevance of some scenes explicitly in the text by asking “do you know...”, but rather provides clues with instructions to add, subtract or multiply certain numbers from the current one when you want to use a certain piece of information. Up to the player to identify when that time might be. Though then, in a few places, Jackson lost his courage and wrote sentences such as “Now you need to return to xyz unless you have another idea where you might go.

It makes the world quite fluid and adaptive. The high frequency of events happening in quick succession and at the same time is mind-boggling. This book contains enough material for five! Most of it is inspired by contemporary pop culture and historical events. You can visit the musical Rats, go to a Georgie Boy and the Vulture Club concert, buy a copy of The Wizard of Firetop Mountain in the bookstore… prevent the Kennedy assassination, go graverobbing etc. The downside of these 100 beats per minute being that no real theme, no stringent plot ever comes to pass. The appropriately cheesy, self-aware writing and the breathless action make up for it.

Each solution is, admittedly, rather random. There is no logical way to approach it. Yet looking for it, exploring all those small vignettes, is excellent entertainment. If you have a knack for comedy. This one is a far cry from grim tales such as Deathtrap Dungeon. Not just in theme and tone, Jackson once again shows his boredom with the fighting part of Fighting Fantasy by making it a super rare occurrence. This book is about quick decision-making and collecting clues to perform unexpected, non-listed choices in key moments. Too bad this never got a full-sized follow-up.

Comments (1) [Post comment]

Mr Creosote:
Appointment with F.E.A.R. took me a longer time than usual. With more sections than your normal book and no less than four mutually exclusive paths inside, plus a mechanic which makes parts of the solution impossible to brute-force, it is no wonder in retrospect. The surprising thing about it: I felt entertained the whole time!
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