Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Great Gamebooks of Yesteryear: Heart of Ice.

An absolute classic of interactive fiction from a long out-of-print series called Virtual Reality, penned by Dave Morris of Fabled Lands fame, and apparently due an upcoming re-release. It jettisons dice rolls and finicky rules in favour of a fluid and accessible game-play system that keeps the engaging and frequently haunting story front-and-centre at all times.

Morris cleverly spurns generic fantasy settings or cookie-cutter far-future dystopias in favour of a reasonably original spin on the notion of a dying earth. In the Heart of Ice setting, a berserk supercomputer, its vast intellect driven to madness by a cocktail of viruses, has seized control of the planetary network of weather satellites and inflicted an environmental disaster on the suffering world beneath it. The brilliant simplicity of this idea is that Morris can play around with having familiar settings altered by completely outrageous climates, while having an excuse not to obey any kind of environmental realism. Around the end of the 23rd century, Southern France is a swamp, Italy is a perpetual winter wonderland and the Sahara is a frozen waste. The descriptions of the Pyramids and the Sphinx looming over an endless snowfield are instantly evocative in a way that no fantasy castle in a Fighting Fantasyesque original setting could be.  

The story is a straightforward quest for an artefact that will supposedly turn the wielder into a demi-god and heal the stricken world, allowing humanity’s fading remnant to revive. The strange mixture of oddball characters with uncertain agendas, exotic technological gadgets, real-world locations turned to exotic wildernesses and alternative endings shaped by the player’s choices makes Heart of Ice more than a run-of-the-mill gamebook experience.