Heavy Metal Thunder is a grim space adventure gamebook for those of you who still stick with Out There! It is different, though, and I am going to be giving a few spoilers, but the two major points that I want to make here are:
- Don’t even try it if you don’t like to read.
- If you do, however, you are in for a treat.
Cubus Games is a relative newcomer to the market, and if I am not mistaken Heavy Metal Thunder is their first interactive gamebook. Also, I haven’t read anything by Kyle B. Stiff before, and even though he is not the next Stanisław Lem, I was able to drift away from scrutinizing the writing style, and dive head over heels into the gameplay, which, in my humble opinion, means the writer succeeded.
I read some of the reviews, which tend to be pretty desperate claiming you will be dying a lot. In my own experience, I was able to make it through the first chapter without dying. Maybe this is the reason I am so deeply hooked and pleased with the gameplay.
It’s a book, ok? It means you have to read, pay attention to what it tells you, and make decisions based on what you’ve read. It has a lot of words, sentences, paragraphs, descriptions, and all that load translates in a hefty deal of pages. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you about it.
Truth be told, when I was playing the Prologue, I felt a bit wary if Heavy Metal Thunder can be any fun with that much reading, but being an avid reader I quickly overcame that hesitation, and before I knew it, I didn’t even realize I was reading because the game feels like you are watching and directing your own sci-fi movie.
So, you read a lot, and turn pages a lot. Occasionally, you will see an illustration of something, but that happens less than I’d want. What makes reading interactive is a frequent choice you have to make, and it’s not only the direction you choose to move, the door to open, or an item to pick.
Sticking to the core RPG, the gamebook spices the experience by a thought-through system of skills, points and longevity. It is up to you which of your abilities you evolve whenever you get a chance, and it is a delight to see how smart those decisions of yours are reflected in the upcoming scenes, when you will know for sure if you’ve chosen the right skill, or not.
The trick is you never know what item, or skill you might need in the future, so you play by hunch. Notably, there is even a sixth sense skill you can choose, which is nothing short of useful under the circumstance.
- There is also a lot of violence here, and I would not recommend it to the younger players, even if they are avid sci-fi readers.
- The battle scenes are well described, but you never see the battle, or the parties themselves. Instead, you roll the dice. Well, it’s a cool sci-fi dice, and I don’t know if the developers could have implemented a different fighting system, like cards maybe, but that’s the one element I find unfitting here. Mainly, because it leaves a lot to luck, but also because you don’t always understand the battle progress. Also, the system would occasionally skip registering my taps, so once or twice I screwed up because of that.
- Another bug that I faced, since I touched the negative, is the points you can give to your basic stats – Intelligence, Strength, Dexterity, Charisma and Will. By default, each stat has 1 point, and is expandable. The first time you can upgrade your stats you only have 3 points to distribute among those qualities. Once you read their descriptions, you can make up your mind and add 1 or 2, or all 3 points to either of them. The system does not provide any indication you’ve added that point, literally. I tapped Intelligence once, nothing happened and I tapped again. Nothing happened again, so I tapped again and boom! You have allocated 3 points to Intelligence – no way to redistribute the darn points. As a result, my spaceman was a smart, but pretty weak fella, whose butt got kicked by pretty much everyone and everything.
Since it’s a gamebook, there is a very solid story here, and even though it embraces all the predictable ingredients of drama and sci-fi genre, it uses them pretty well. Many elements kept reminding me about different movies I’ve watched. You have alien invaders, human race extinction, fight for survival against the invaders and against one another, a protagonist with amnesia, a good doctor offering a vitamin shot that ends up being a lethal weapon, tech scavengers disassembling spaceships for scrap, and a whole arsenal of space gizmo. There are even hungry dogs scavenging on dead bodies and hunting down the survivors.
The premise is humans suck. We’ve conquered the space, got incredibly rich (well, at least those who were incredibly rich before space expansion) and then a superior species attacked Earth leaving no two stones in no building standing straight. Humans have lost every single battle but one minor, when they captured an alien ship, reverse-engineered it and used the technology to build a space station, where the last of humans hid.
You Are A Psycho
Humans also created a special military organization called Black Lance Legion, which specialized in space combat against aliens, and trained people into death machines in special space suits that enabled them autonomous short-range space travel. So, our hero here, Mr. Wiggles serial number 13, is an unlikely hero all things considered. He has amnesia, and lost all his skills but reflexes. He has these psychotic fits of aggression, but if you distribute skills and choose items wisely, you discover he is actually very much like you.
The point is, based on the abilities you develop, and you choose them according to your own judgment, Mr. Wiggles acts as you probably would have under the circumstances. I found this detail very exciting, but you have to advance deeper in the game to notice it.
The replay value here is huge. The game consists of five chapters, with Chapter 1 being 496 section, Chapter 2 – 133 sections, and so on. You don’t explore all sections in a go, since you only explore those that follow the line of your choice, leaving the rest behind. Chances are, if you die you will choose a different route at some point. There are checkpoints you can return to if you die, or if you feel you are about to die.
Also, there is a promise of the second book, which is great.
I would not recommend you play it on the go – it requires focus. It is also virtually impossible you finish it in a single session. Chapter One took me about two hours with short pauses to think and have a cup of coffee. Since the story is engrossing, it will keep you pushing further, or exploring alternative options if you fail.
Overall, I can’t even describe what a titanic job has been done knitting all the options and alternatives in this book – it’s great.
Tips and Tricks for the First Chapter
I don’t think these are going to spoil the fun, so just sharing some of the tips that got me through the first chapter:
- Being intelligent is still a good thing, even if by accident
- You will need sixth sense and computer skills, and I wish I knew how to manage that suit
- Beware of the humans
- The robot scene is important, and you really could make use of that mech
- The final scene with the manager – Charisma gets you through
- Oh, and whenever you need to dump an item to take on a new one, think what items you can use right now instead of dropping them, like any medicine that gives you blood points, or any pill that gives you stat point even if you think you don’t need it right now
- Lives – your life is represented by Blood here, and you need to keep an eye on that. Do not ignore medical supplies and every perk that gives you blood points.
- Remain human no matter what happens; don’t underestimate Will
Overall, UI is clean and very sci-fi; the only thing I didn’t find immediately was how to use that medical kit to add me some blood. There is a Menu button on every page, so head there and study the items – everything is straightforward.
The artwork is unique, indeed, but it’s not my favorite part in HMT. For one, there are too little illustrations, and I’d want more of them. Also, the pictures look like an exhibition of modern art and abstractionism, and being a Renaissance art devotee, I just don’t get the knack of dogs looking like mad horses, and men looking like the worst of Dali’s drug-induced creations.
On the other hand, the peculiar art style helps create the atmosphere of rot and decay everywhere.
The sound score is amazing; it helps you focus and immerse yourself into the gameplay, but it sure is depressing. Not catchy, though.
- Great engrossing story
- Immense replay value
- Grim, violent, desperate
- Smart skill system
- Fair outcome based on your decisions
- A lot of gameplay, more than hours and days, I’d say
- No IAPs
- If you don’t like reading, walk by – this game is not for you
- Not enough graphic art, and the protagonist is ugly. As my girlfriend said, maybe if we could shave him, he’d look like Adrian Brodie, but the way he is now leaves nothing to hope for.
- A stat points nag, where you don’t know that you’ve actually added that point until it’s too late, and there is no way to re-distribute the points. Or, at least I haven’t found it.
- Rolling dice to battle may please some, but leave others grumpy
Heavy Metal Thunder gamebook is a great entry in the interactive books niche, and maybe it does not set the benchmark, it sure is a superb, complex net of a gripping story and your personal input that translate into a highly engrossing doomsday adventure. The hero is far from being perfect, which makes his weaknesses and freak spots even more engaging on a personal level. An interesting read, it will still disappoint those who want a lot of visuals and a little reading in their games, though, so read game reviews before you buy them!