Down Among the Dead Men is an intriguing proposition.
It's not as open as 80 Days though, and there's a lack of interaction that takes Down Among the Dead Men much closer to the book-end of the gamebook equation.
It's still a rollicking good story of swashbuckling pirates, cannibalistic natives, and rum-drenched souses, but most of the swashing, buckling, and rum-drinking is out of your hands.
It's not a revolution, but it's still a good read, and some neat ideas mean there's reason to go back and read it again a couple of times before you're done.
You play a pirate who ends up in the clutches of the Skarvench, who's basically the worst pirate that ever did piracy. After a hasty escape it's up to you to foil a dastardly plot involving the Queen of England, a solar eclipse, and a flying ship.
It's all wonderfully well written, and there's a snap to some of the scenes of peril that gets you flicking through the pages at speed.
The game is well presented as well. It doesn't quite have the flair of Inkle's other work, but it does more to keep your attention than paper and ink.
You make choices as you read through the game, but there's no dice-rolling or screen tapping. The routes you pick always have consequences, but there are no hit points or games of chance at the end of them.What a world
In fact it's the choices you make at the start of the story that have the most effect. You can pick what sort of pirate you are. You can be an adventurer, a mariner, a buccaneer, or a swashbuckler. Each of the classes brings something different to the story.
You can decide to be a man or a woman in disguise, and pick whether you make it through the world with strength and willpower, or by using magic and cunning.
Perhaps the most interesting choice involves the sort of world you live in. You can choose a fair world where the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. Or a providential world, where every story has a happy ending.
If you're feeling masochistic you can choose a cruel world, where life is hard and pirates are more likely to shoot you in the face.
It's interesting to go back and see how things play out differently in the different worlds, but while the different classes are fun they sometimes feel a little bit like window dressing rather than anything substantial.Choose or die
Still, Down Among the Dead Men is a solid gamebook. It's not as impressive as Inkle's other work, but that can be forgiven due to the fact that it should have been out long before them.
There's fun to be had with this tale of magic and parrots, but once you've read it through a couple of times it's unlikely that you'll be coming back for more.