As a preface I want to say that the Smith / Thomson combo is equal, in my opinion, with Steve Jackson (UK) as my favourite gamebook writer(s) (literally) ever.
In particular, their world-building was (is) second to none. The fantastically depicted world of Orb features in Talisman of Death (Fighting Fantasy) along with the Way of the Tiger and Duel Master series. Characters such as Tyutchev and Cassandra were memorably wicked.
Also, these writers’ Falcon books were really the only science fiction gamebooks to gain any meaningful praise or traction.
Having said this, I have to say that Inferno, as a gamebook, isn’t really up to snuff. I appreciate that there were other outside factors in play at the time, but this gamebook, both for a 12-year-old, and now, was (is) a real disappointment. In no real order :
- So many of the paragraphs are devoted to paths that are not only unnecessary, but seem designed to be undesirable and to make your path more difficult. The obvious example is bringing Foxglove with you into the Rift. At no stage (to my knowledge) does bringing along Foxglove actually make your quest easier in any way whatsoever. So, even if you bring her along for your ‘first’ attempt (which seems screamingly wrong in the first place) why on earth would you do it on any repeat performance?
- As I made a running gag, unless you actively seek out fights, there is a crippling lack of actual dice rolls or fights in the book. I made what, I thought, were fairly straightforward decisions throughout the book, and didn’t have to fight a single combat through to conclusion. The only fight was against Tyutchev, and this only lasted three rounds before outside factors brought it to a halt.
- The book was clearly not finished properly. As fans of the series know, there were a series of obvious editing and continuity errors, involving whether Foxglove or the four stooges were with you and also concerning your journey between the various tiers.
- Capturing Cassandra near the start of the book, with no indication that this might be a bad idea, resulted in failure literally at the penultimate paragraph of the whole book. Sure, this results in a shock to first-time players, but was a bitter disappointment to readers who, like all the other books, expected to be rewarded for smart play.
- As has been recounted on many occasions, the book’s hybrid cliffhanger / ending was not only frustrating, but also confusing. For years, there was a legitimate confusion as to whether another book was intended, or if the words ‘The End’ meant that Avenger was doomed to snuggle in a spider’s web for eternity.
- Avenger’s ninja skills were barely touched upon during the book. I think, in the path which I have detailed in these posts, I was queried only once or twice as to whether I possessed a particular skill.
- The interesting politics / wargame ideas from the last two books were sadly lacking, with this book depicting a far more predictable ‘dungeon crawl’.
In any event, it was good news for everybody when David Walters got the commission to finish the series, and I hope that this incarnation of Avenger, battle-hardened by not being killed since Book 3, will be up to the challenge!