Very rarely do you ready yourself for a new book with a pencil in hand. But back in the early 1990s in a stuffy school library, that’s what little old me used to do with relative frequency. I used to love the Choose Your Own Adventure books where, as the reader, you are the protagonist of the story and decide the hero’s outcome based on your decisions and the roll of the dice. Deathtrap Dungeon – alongside The Warlock of Firetop Mountain – is arguably the most well-known of its kind from author Ian Livingstone. Now, Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Experience hopes to scratch that nostalgia itch in a slightly different way.
You are *insert hero name here* and you have decided to take on Baron Sukumvit’s Deathtrap Dungeon – a dark, perilous labyrinth with only one exit. No one has ever made it out alive, and with one eye on the glory and fame of victory, and the other on the hefty monetary reward, you set off into the gloom alongside five other warriors. Your task is to overcome the various traps, enemies and obstacles standing between you and what no other adventurer has ever accomplished.
As interactive narratives go, Deathtrap Dungeon is perhaps one of the most straightforward. Your decisions don’t so much change the direction the story takes, more so which parts of the dungeon you explore, and more importantly how long you survive. For those new to the genre, you begin by rolling a die to determine three stats; Skill, Stamina, and Luck. Skill is a measure of your dexterity and finesse, and affects your strength in combat. Your Stamina is your life force which must stay above zero for you to continue, and finally your Luck is a measure of your fortune, which can be critical in such an unfortunate place.
The decisions you take affect things in the same way, but instead of turning to different pages in a book, your choices are presented onscreen for you to select. The most noticeable difference this time around is the appearance of Eddie Marsan, who narrates the whole adventure in recorded FMV sequences. Sitting in his red leather-bound chair, Marsan does a great job, delivering lines with a sense of purpose and atmosphere without falling into cliche or camp over-exuberance. His performance is one of subtle grandeur, like a competent Dungeon Master, confidently presiding over his D&D experience.
There are considerations as well on how to tailor the game to as many audiences as possible. Save states are recorded with little disc icons on the dungeon map. Should you die or want to reverse a decision, you can click on one of these to reload yourself back into the adventure at that point and continue. It’s the video game equivalent, of keeping your finger at a page as you have a peek at the outcome of your decision. I know I used to do it back in the day, and I certainly needed to make use of it this time around too. Purists can obviously still start again, but it means everyone can enjoy the experience as they see fit. Similarly, as you roll the dice for Skill, Stamina and Luck, you get an option to re-roll until you’re happy. So again, if you want an easier ride, you can re-roll indefinitely for higher stats. Again, sheepishly, I’ve also done this as a boy too. And it’s nice for this flexibility, even if some would consider it cheating, do be an option.
There are some other nice additions too, such as the dungeon map slowly revealing as you explore it, providing some clarity, as you yourself get confused where you are in relation to where you’ve been. True, you’re still restricted to exploring, by the book, as it were, but it’s still nice to see where you’ve been. In places, Marsan’s face is overlaid with artwork taken straight from the original text to show you visually the room you’re in or a character of interest you’ve just met. It’s a nice touch that adds to the almost retro feel of proceedings. Optional subtitles also mean you never miss a story beat, and the story has been well transcribed and is easy to follow.
There are a couple of niggles, not least the lack of a pause button to stop Marsan mid-flow. Given all the narrative is spoken, being unable to pause means any distraction means you might miss some exposition which is either important or at the very least is helping set the scene. Even in book form you can pause or re-read sections after a distraction so this feels like a point where the video medium is at a slight disadvantage. Conversely being able to skip dialogue is a neat touch for those re-entering the dungeon for another playthrough or those who have loaded in after an untimely death and just want to get back to their last decision. The other odd choice is that the map doesn’t save across multiple playthroughs. So you can’t discover the entire dungeon by exploring different routes. Or more accurately, you can, but the map will never be complete. This feels like a bit of a shame, and it surely could have been an option to toggle on or off to suit different player needs.
The biggest plus point, or indeed its biggest flaw is that this is just Deathtrap Dungeon. An adventure taken verbatim from its source material, albeit delivered delightfully by Marsan. If the prospect of reading the book hasn’t appealed up until now, this adaptation is unlikely to change your mind. What this is though is a faithful depiction of a classic fantasy tale, with some nice touches and thought gone into the execution. Fans of the books will lap this up, and even overlook the incredibly specific win criteria to actually emerge victorious. And what it does demonstrate is how this type of novel can be carefully and lovingly recreated and feel up to date. Yes it has its faults, yes it’s a story you’ve likely heard before, but boy did it feel good scratching that familiar itch after such a long time.
Faithful adaptation of classic material
Eddie Marsan is an excellent narrator
Allows you to play your way
Lack of pause option
No additional extras