FF13: Freeway Fighter

Robert Clive
Ray Holt
Per Jorner
Jason Smith
John Stock
Richard Wood


[Robert Clive]

This is a strange one. It's a FF book that leaves the medieval world formula and breaks new ground entirely. It's set in the modern, post disaster world. Civilisation has broiken down and lawless criminals prowl around. Everyone preys on everyone else for survival. The law of the jungle rules.

This concept was obviously inspired by Mel Gibson's 'Mad Max' films. Indeed 'Freeway Fighter' is just like one of these films in every respect.

The mission is to trade some seeds for a tanker of petrol in another town. You just have to make the delivery between the two by travelling in the badlands and fighting the roaming criminals with guns, cars, machine guns, lorries and bikes. The cover looks good. The writing is average. It has some interesting points but I wouldn't rate it as the best book. Different and okay overall.



[Ray Holt]

This has to be the very definition of a bad day: just when everything's going right with the world - an end to war, massive benefits from scientific progress, the whole world about to enter a new age of peace and prosperity - a new plague comes along and wipes out most of the world's population overnight. What remains of civilisation is in ruins - the old social order has collapsed, and anarchy reins. The more civilised folks gather together in small, well-defended villages, while the anarchs hang around in gangs, terrorising just about anyone they come across. The plot of the book couldn't be simpler: nip down the road to the next fortified village, and complete a trade deal. And it's not easy. The "post apocalyptic road warriors" scenario is nothing new, and Ian Livingstone brings nothing new to the genre. Plenty of armoured cars, abandoned buildings, wild gangs, outlaws, races and duels, and very little talking. Whether that's a good thing or not depends entirely on your point of view. There isn't one memorable character or encounter in the book, but the whole thing comes so thick and fast that there's barely enough time to notice. The whole book is like the long drive it describes - it's even structured like a road, with a few forks that rejoin later, and a lot of short detours into the optional encounters. Livingstone never takes his foot off the accelerator - you're flung from one encounter to another so fast that you haven't enough time to worry about the lack of depth.

The setting may be nothing new, but it makes for an unusual FF book, and brings a stack of new rules with it. Vehicle combat - with rockets, iron spikes and oil slicks - and shooting - where you take one die damage each time you're hit, making the exchange more deadly than usual - work well, and help the book stand out. It's just a shame you never get the chance to swap cars (one of the neater touches in Robot Commando was being able to change your robots). There are two annoying rules, however: firstly, you lose a SKILL point whenever you're hit more than once in a shoot-out. Combined with the increased damage, this makes shooting ever more dangerous - realistic, perhaps, and in keeping with the harsh setting, but it's very frustrating to see your character nickel-and-dimed away. Fuel is another problem: every so often, you suddenly - without warning - run out, and if you haven't picked up a spare canister, that's it: game over. Again, this may be realistic, but it's annoying to suddenly be told that you should have been looking for fuel, when you didn't even know you had a problem. The good news is, however, that the book is so fast, that it is easy to play through again. In fact, you can just about skip by the encounters that weren't worthwhile and immerse yourself in a new set. There are very few "fatal" failures, either - most see you losing your car, and having to tramp back home on foot. A particular neat trick is the "bittersweet" outcome, which sees you succeed in your mission - but die in the attempt. Of course, you can succeed and survive, too, so it doesn't always have to end in tragedy.

This is a filler adventure. 380 paragraphs, most of them very short, with no in depth plot or characterisation. But for all that, it's fun. There's very little you can do with the setting, so perhaps its no bad thing that it was never revisited, but the ride is so much fun that it hardly matters. If you like your plots detailed, your characters well drawn, and your puzzles challenging, then this probably won't be your cup of tea. If you fancy something fast, action-packed, and a little bit different, then Freeway Fighter should be right up your street.

RATING: 7/10


[Per Jorner]

Ian Livingstone wrote this lone post-apocalyptic title in the FF assortment. Your mission: to drive a car from here to there and use up ammunition like they're gonna nuke the factory in five minutes. Heck, everyone else does.

There are several rules changes. Separate stats for your car are to be expected, but you also have a higher Stamina (two dice plus 24), which is balanced by taking more damage in gunfights. I can't help feeling he might as well have stuck with the old rules and just lowered the unarmed damage from 2 to 1 instead. Because of the damage variability there are no rules for using Luck in combat, but you'll need it for other stuff anyway. You also have some alternative weapons for your car: rockets, spike canisters and oil slicks. The rockets are actually very useful when it comes to vehicular combat; don't make the mistake of holding on to them too tightly!

On to gameplay. The number of encounters which are all about people waiting for someone to rob or simply to destroy is staggering. Even assuming that they turn on each other every once in a while, the predator-to-prey ratio doesn't seem likely to sustain this kind of activity over time. Also, for all the scarcity of petrol (and seeing that you yourself can't go very far without running out of it), there sure is a lot of driving around going on (not to mention ammo expenditure - oh, wait, I did). A big difference between Livingstone and Jackson which has seldom been as apparent is that the former tends to invoke numerous rolls against Skill or Luck, while the latter prefers choices of action whose options have set consequences. There's a balance to be found here, but like several other IL titles FF13 fails to strike it.

A great disappointment is that the final stage of the book, driving the tanker back to New Hope, is extremely brief and very easy, and also you're alone again - shouldn't San Anglo want to send someone over to represent them, to exchange knowledge, or just because? Didn't we already establish an NPC who could have volunteered to come along? OK, maybe I shouldn't complain about not getting killed, but this section could easily have been extended a bit. Firstly, the book is only 380 paragraphs, so that's 20 unused paragraphs right there. Secondly, several encounters go into needless detail for choices unlikely to be selected, or at any rate unlikely to be selected more than once. Say that you're passing a hot dog stand and asked if you want to fire a rocket at it. If you do, you roll against your Skill to see if you hit. If you miss, you drive over a pothole and must Test your Luck. If you're Unlucky, you're hit by a flying cactus and must decide whether to stay and nurse your wounds or foolhardily drive on.

The art is just ridiculous, having no style and no life whatsoever. Buildings have been drawn with a ruler, a few extra lines and shades added as an excuse for embellishment. Characters are mostly unconvincing. Backdrops, when present, are laughable. There are also glaring discrepancies. Although the book is clearly set in the US, at least three illustrations show cars with the driver's seat on the right. You're supposed to have a gun turret for firing in any direction while driving, but the picture of your car shows forward-pointing guns fixed to the side of the car. A motorcyclist with "goggles and a leather flying-cap" and "a black scarf to keep the sand out" is drawn wearing a motorcycle helmet with a reflective visor. Not exactly the "early pilot" that the writer was heroically trying to evoke. I found one single funny detail: the small images on the sidecar that record its victories (but why no roadrunner?).

Glitches and oddities: Paragraph 346 has you changing a wheel, but not all paths that lead there involve losing one. If you kill the guy in the ambulance encounter with your knife instead of your gun, you don't get to search him for stuff. Paragraph 77 is weird as it presents a kind of pseudo-Luck test that really shouldn't be allowed in FF; judging by the context it should say Skill instead. Paragraph 40 asks if your Skill is 5 or below; that far into an Ian Livingstone book, and having just had to make a Skill check or die, what do you think? Paragraph 66 should say 130 kilometres and not 180, though this will be confusing at worst.

Freeway Fighter is by no means a triumph of imagination or storytelling, but not completely without merits. It's an attempt to exploit a new setting, even if it settles for mindless trigger-happy action in lieu of creative vision. Although I wouldn't have chosen the Car Wars theme for a post-apocalyptic book, myself, I can't really fault it for that. The things you need to do to succeed actually make sense, if only after the fact (undead puzzle solving rears its ugly head on at least one occasion), and on the whole it's not too difficult - that is, if you have both Skill and Luck at 11 or so...

Rating: 4/10


[Jason Smith]

FF number 13, called Freeway Fighter, was written by Ian Livingstone way back in 1985. This book isn't set in any of the fantasy worlds we've seen before; medieval or a Sc-Fi future, but on Earth; in the near future.

The year is 2022. Life is proceeding as it has for years, then, without warning, a devastating, killer virus sweeps around the globe killing tens of millions of people. All that is left in it's wake is a desolate wasteland. People now divide into two sorts; the lawful and the lawless.... You are the usual hard-as-nails tough-guy, strong, merciless to your enemies but with a heart of gold (yawn). You live with the good people of a small fortified town called 'New Hope'.

One day you are given a mission to take supplies of seeds from New Hope, out, across the badlands, to another fortified town of good guys called 'San Anglo'. Now, in return for the seeds (so they can grow crops or something), they agree to give New Hope a bloody big tanker filled with 10,000, yes that's right, 10,000 litres of petrol from their oil-refinery, which they rather cunningly built their town on (petrol to run machines is like gold dust in these times! People (frequently) kill for it!!)

So, of you go on your hazardous journey to San Anglo, armed to the teeth.To ensure you get to your destination alive, you have a special car; a Dodge Interceptor. This car is fast, armoured with steel and bullet-proof glass (mmm, that'll stop a rocket...) and armed with all sorts of James Bond-style goodies like: Oil 'squirters', machine-guns, metal spikes and rocket launchers (with rockets of course!!!)

Along the way you have to avoid miles of burnt-out cars, road-hogs that shoot at you with bloody great machine-guns, people setting traps to pinch your car/fuel or both, lots of rival 'road gangs' (especially the 'Doom Dogs') that do all of the above AND try to kill you. Added to this, you have to constantly find enough fuel, so you don't run out of petrol and get stranded somewhere!!

When/If you get to San Anglo, it's time to jump in the tanker cab and run the whole gauntlet again, on your way back to New Hope (which feels curiously shorter than getting there!? Maybe Ian got bored at this point!??) Ok, This book may be an unashamed carbon copy of the Mad Max II film, but it wasn't that bad.

The book is quite different to any of the the previous ff books. A lot of 'FF purists' I've talked to, insist that this wasn't written in the true spirit of the old sword/sorcery ff books. Initially I agreed, but, over time, I think that each book should be valued on it's own merits; Freeway Fighter being different but likable.

There are interesting aspects of this book; the atmosphere of driving through a desolate wasteland, the constant search for petrol (including a fun 'Blitz Race' with a road gang, to win a canister) and the satisfaction of blasting some poor sap to pieces with a well-aimed rocket.

A couple of things I didn't especially like: Kevin Bulmer's mediocre artwork (send him back to art school), the rather dubious 380 references in the book instead of the usual 400 (the text was reduced by 5% but the price wasn't.....). All over I'd say that this book isn't that complex, isn't entirely original, is balanced OK, in terms of opponent strength and has it's fair share of interesting encounters.

Likable but average.

Rating: 5.5/10


[John Stock]

The year is 2022 AD. Life has proceeded as it has for years, then, next thing, a virulent and lethal plague has spread halfway across the world, killing millions. Survivors like you either live in fortified townships or outside as outlaws. Cars, just to be on the safe side, are all equipped with guns and rockets and things to protect against the outlaws etc.

So runs the plot to this post-apocalyptic offering from Ian Livingstone. One of only two books set on earth, this is better than the average non-Titan FF by a long chalk.

Well, firstly, the rules are somewhat different. STAMINA is now "roll 2 dice and add 24" rather than "roll 2 dice and add 12". Cars have a "Weapon Power" and a "Armour" score for vehicle combat. And, of course, is the standard-issue revolver so beloved of post-apocalypse stories.

Now at this point you may indeed draw similarities to the film Mad Max II. Never having seen the aforementioned picture I wouldn't know, but I'm told it. Anyway, you in your Dodge Interceptor - armed with a machine gun, a rocket launcher, oil cans and tyre-puncturing spikes - have to get to the town of San Anglo from yours of New Hope, crossing the wilderness with its quotient of Hell's Angel gangs, robbers who pose as garage owners, boy racers in red Chevrolets, and other such (I half expected to run into a '58 Plymouth Fury, a la Christine).

Once at New Hope it's time to drive the tanker with 10,000 gallons of petrol in it back to New Hope, which is curiously shorter than going to San Anglo. And if you do, voila! Mission successful.

Fun bits - The Blitz Race (bashing the enemy off the track to win a tank of petrol), the Doom Dogs (a bunch of terrorists led by The Animal), and several others.

Gripes - A laser gun (where'd they get one of those?), the illustrations (rubbish), and the ending (unsatisfactory).

Sum Up - Good, but room for improvement. One and a quarter thumbs up.

MY RATING - 7.25/10


[Richard Wood]

It is usually the case that science-fiction gamebooks are generally of inferior quality than the rest, but never has this observation been more true than for Freeway Fighter. This is frankly the most disappointing book in the whole series.

The premise looked quite promising: a Mad Max style adventure on the hazardous roads of a post-apocalyptic world, in an armoured car armed with machine-guns and missiles. There is a new combat system for vehicle duels and you would think that this would be a strong foundation for a gamebook ... but you would be wrong.

The encounters are generally drab and uninspired. The plot is thinner than the pages it is written on. The correct route is complicated and has to be followed precisely, or else failure results - not from an interesting death but by running out of petrol! How lame is that? The tedium of running out of fuel on the second occasion it happened led me to cheat and I really did not feel that I was missing out by doing so.

There are a couple of good scenes, like one in which you have to win a race and make tactical decisions which fully exploit the weaponry of your car - oil slicks and spikes and the like - but the rest of the book does not take full advantages of the kind of opportunities which this idea presents.

Overall I can not recommend this book, unless you already have the other 58 and need it to complete the set.

Rating: 3 out of 10