“…one of the more compelling interactive storytelling experiences which I have played to date.”
Fighting Fantasy was a staple of the childhood of many gamers; myself among them. Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s hugely popular Choose Your Own Adventure book series are a cultural cornerstone of role playing games. It must have been hugely exciting, then, for the team at Branching Narrative to be able to bring Deathtrap Dungeon, one of Livingstone’s earlier adventures, to this new and immersive medium.
Branching Narrative’s adaptation of Deathtrap Dungeon takes the form of an interactive video adventure, somewhat akin to the recent and popular Netflix hit, Bandersnatch. Read in the delightful and enticing tones of Eddie Marsan, Branching Narrative have gone out of their way to make the experience of their game represent excellent value for money, as well as providing a relatively unique experience of diving into a spoken-word adventure epic. Marsan reads the story and guides you through the setup stages with intensity and gusto, creating a great sense of anticipation from the off. He never lets up on the atmosphere and passion of the storytelling element, either, and makes the adventure feel as though it is both powerful and uniquely aimed at you personally throughout. In the position of the narrator, Marsan performs admirably and would be difficult to substitute in the role.
Most of Deathtrap Dungeon is enacted through this medium of verbal storytelling, with a few visual elements of note which I will mention later. The story itself, which is certainly the headline feature of Deathtrap Dungeon just as it always has been, is as compelling now as it was in my early teenage years. The suspense of the unknown obstacles waiting around corner and the tension which overarches every decision you make are amplified by the expert storytelling through which they are conveyed here. As a fantasy adventure, the game allows you to embody a character as if it were yourself; something unique to this model of storytelling. You are consistently led by the implication that you are the master of your fate, of course, but the setting itself never truly allows you to feel in control. This sense of being in the dangerous and daring fantasy story and not simply witnessing its events is supported by an atmosphere that few games of this style pull off successfully. Here, though, we witness this style at its best. Occasionally, especially as the story begins, the HUD and instructional elements can detract from the immersion of the experience somewhat, but it is acceptable in that these elements are necessary for the player to understand the rules of play. Indeed, the only real downside to the way in which this intense story is told in this incarnation is the lack of accessibility options; most notably a lack of subtitles.
The video adventure of Deathtrap Dungeon contains a low-profile HUD along its peripheries, which displays your current Skill, Strength and Luck attributes as well as key inventory information such as provisions, potions and equipment. This appears something akin to an older game, but is fit for purpose and unobtrusive. The graphical elements make it fairly clear what each element displays, and instruction is given regarding this before the main adventure begins. My key criticisms of the HUD are twofold, though. The first is that, with so many different elements being displayed on screen at once, it would be possible to forget what some symbols represent between play sessions without some textual indication. Secondly, the font used for the numerical values of each element is cause for some confusion. “11”, for example, appears at first to read “II”, which could be misconstrued as “2” in Roman Numerals. It is a small issue, but one which does have the potential to confuse or mislead the player.
Other visuals in the game are used sparingly, with Matt Spall of Branching Narrative explaining during a recent interview that the best graphics are those of your imagination. When visuals are activated, though, they are largely very good and pay great tribute to the source material of the story. Original artwork from the game book is used, alongside high quality logos and transitions in the early game. Animations are lacking at times, though, such as when dice are being rolled. Although the image is sharp, it doesn’t look or feel real. Indeed, the animations would not feel alien in a game from 20 years ago. Whilst this is an imperfect feature of the game, it is not game breaking. Despite the visuals, these elements serve their purpose and facilitate the main event which is the storyline itself.
A final notable mention must go to the audio elements of the game. These are regularly supportive of the storytelling, bar a few miss hits here and there. Suspense-filled background music supports the changing tones of the story beat by beat, consistently creating an engaging and emotive sense of atmosphere around the present scenario. Sound effects are often use to good effect, however at times these feel reminiscent of a much older game and come across as somewhat generic. Despite these few mishits, however, audio is used appropriately and only when needed in Deathtrap Dungeon, and generally stimulates the intended responses in the player.
For me, the best way to play Deathtrap Dungeon remains, as it always has done, to play through the story in its original written form. That being said, this is one of the more compelling interactive storytelling experiences which I have played to date. A combination of staying true to the source material, employing an outstanding narrator to guide you and using visual and audio elements sparingly but appropriately along the way present a fairly consistent and immersive package for the play to experience and enjoy. There are a few, minor mishits and some forgotten features which could boost the game’s appeal further, but in general this is a good way to experience Deathtrap Dungeon for players less inclined to read the book itself. For those with the inclination though, it is hard to recommend this or perhaps any incarnation of the game above the original medium in which it was produced…
Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Adventure is available on PC through Steam.
Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Adventure is published and developed by Branching Narrative Ltd
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Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Adventure
Branching Narrative’s Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Adventure, is a new take on the classic Fighting Fantasy gamebook by Ian Livingstone. The game showcases the company’s new Interactive Fiction engine and stars British actor Eddie Marsan (Ray Donovan, The Gentlemen, Deadpool 2), who acts as narrator and guide in this high-quality interactive video production that faithfully recreates the beloved fantasy book.
Product Currency: GBP
Product Price: 7.99