iPhone Review: Siege of the Necromancer

Written by Joe Martin

August 16, 2010 | 13:13

Tags: #gamebooks #ipad-games #iphone-review #ipod-touch #rpg

Companies: #indie

As an adaptation of the old Gamebook model, Siege of the Necromancer gets a lot of things right. It lays itself quickly and clearly, providing bookmarks and cheat modes for those who want to just sprint through with no risk of death, but also boasts an achievement board and unlockable art gallery to encourage replays. The RPG rules are simple and to the point, the automated dice rolls quick and no-nonsense. It looks good too, with configurable fonts and nice little sound effects to enhance the mood.

Despite being a new series from an unknown developer, Siege is heavy on the nostalgia too. The basic starting point of a man returning home to his family to find the town overrun by goblins is immediately evocative of a hundred Fighting Fantasy and Choose Your Own Adventure books – a feeling that only increases as you journey through the later chapters. Picking a route through Myr Castle was especially reminiscent of classics like The Legend of Zagor, for example.

Unfortunately, while Siege of the Necromancer definitely gets these broader issues right, it's all too often spoiled by poor writing that speaks of authors desperate to put their fingerprints on what should have been unapologetically based in the tropes of the Fantasy genre. Small tweaks to spelling and jargon, such as changing Goblins to Goblyns, Ogres to Ogryns and Gold to Pestados, feel like differences for differences sake.
It's an issue that's only compounded by playing on an iPhone too, which is capable of doing much more than just displaying descriptive text. The writing has to work harder to get the same effect, because in the back of your mind you're partly thinking that this could have been done as an action RPG.

As an aside, that's something we hated in Dragon Age: Origins too. If a Bann is the same as a Baron then why not just call him a Baron and save yourself the effort of thinking up a slightly different word, eh?

iPhone Review: Siege of the Necromancer
Gamebook Adventures: Siege of the Necromancer

Siege of the Necromancer's writing stumbles in a few other places too, especially when it comes the layout of some paths. The advantage of a digital gamebook is theoretically that the player has much greater room to customise the experience and can enjoy a larger world, but Siege renders both of these null. On the whole the paths through the game are a lot more linear than they could be. Rarely does it feel like you're in charge of the experience, rather you're being funnelled by the author; Gamebook Adventures is a direct analogue to old gamebooks, rather than using the strengths of the new platform to enhance that format.

Overall though, the main problem with the text is that it's often incredibly basic, rarely injecting any of the flavour or description you'd expect of a game that's built almost entirely of the written word. The characters and locations are seriously lacking in identity, with Tin Man Games putting function before form when it comes to almost every passage. Basic editorial errors, like repeated phrases in close proximity and confused physical descriptions mar the adventure.

It's somewhat baffling to see that so much polish has been applied to every section of the game except the text itself, but the advantage of that is that at least there's a lot to distract you and that reading through the game involves minimal concentration. Instant death scenarios are relatively few too, which is a definite plus for anyone who uses up their bookmarks too early. It's just a shame that the writing doesn't measure up to the same high-standard as the rest of the game.

Verdict: Let down by stilted, amateur-level writing, Siege of the Necromancer will disappoint anyone hoping for a truly interactive novel, but remains worth a look for any old Fighting Fantasy or CYOA die-hards.

Gamebook Adventures: Siege of the Necromancer is available for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad for $5.99/£2.99 from the AppStore
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