Down Among the Dead Men Review
Recently, I came across an old box of books that I brought out for my eight year old son. Included in there were some of the classic "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, which took me back to a simpler day. Addictive for a gamer, this style of book gave you more control, while your imagination could run wild analyzing the text you read, instead of simply ingesting the data coming out of your television. Lately, there's been a resurgence in these kinds of stories on smartphones, primarily thorugh a company known as inkle. I've reviewed their take on the classic Sorcery! Series, and another tale comes along now with Down Among the Dead Men.
Departing from the traditional medieval tropes found in Sorcery!, you instead find yourself as an unwilling deckhand on a pirate ship. Where it goes from there is anybody's guess. Down Among the Dead Men takes a more direct approach to the "CyoA" bookstyle. While Sorcery! has a map based control making you feel more in control, DatDM gives you story based choices and options, and that's about it. It feels more direct in it's approach to the storytelling, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what kind of book you feel like reading. You also get a bevy of options near the beginning to flesh out your character, and the options are so diverse, you can play through with quite a few characters of differing gender, origin, intent, profession, and attitude. It makes the book different every time.
The fonts and options feel identical to Sorcery!, and the minute noises here and there draw you in as if you are reading a good book and your imagination is running wild. While mobile games are usually...well...mobile, this kind of gameplay lends itself to sitting in your home, a fire flickering in the background. The story lends itself to being completed in one solid reading session, as opposed to Sorcery which usually took me several nights to get through a plot, but the branching nature of this story lends to several playthroughs.
There's a point I've come across in Sorcery 2. I've made it to the final gate, one super-item short of saving the town, and only one chance back through the time travel portal. Turns out, had I looked at some tree closer, I'd have obtained it. But when I go back via the in-game-plot rewind, it turns out that I used some item up that I can't re-obtain. I now know every step I need to make and have realized the only way to get the final item is to go back through every step again, resetting the entire storyline and continuing from point one, hoping I don't miss some different item this time around. Down Among the Dead Men may be simpler, but in a case like this it's actually a good thing. The shorter story lends to an easier play through, meaning if I make a mistake, I'm willing to see how the game pans out rather than get frustrated and want to stop. With several difficulty levels going from "one wrong move and you're dead" to "Might as well change the name to Deux Ex Machina: The Game," the difficulty will actually change what you end up seeing in more ways than you'd imagine.
If you head into this newfound genre expecting "game play," you're bound to be disappointed. But a thrilling adventure on the high seas is waiting for you, at a bargain price.
A review code for Down Among the Dead Men was provided by inkle. It is available on iTunes (both iPhone and iPad) for $0.99.