FF18: Rebel Planet

David Anderson
Robert Douglas
Per Jorner
Doug Riddell


[David Anderson]

The human race has been conquered by the powerful Arcadians, and you are an interplanetary secret agent on a desperate mission to learn a secret code that will allow you to enter and destroy the nerve center of the empire.

I'll get this out of the way now: this is one of the greatest gamebooks I've ever read.

The story of Rebel Planet is very well thought-out and interesting, especially, no offense, for a Fighting Fantasy book. Rather than traveling to a slew of exotic and alien places, all of the planets and societies the player visits in the search for the code are human, but subtly different from each other. In one instance the player gets additional luck for coming to appreciate this better. Even the sudden death rules for combat are an interesting part of the book's universe and not merely something to spice up the game as they sadly were in Slaves of the Abyss. Nothing in the book is simple, not even when the player meets a fellow rebel group to learn what they know of the code; it's never "part of the code is 010, good luck." The answer is buried in some other bit of knowledge they have.

I haven't been too descriptive about this because I want any potential readers to come in as fresh as possible, but if you're looking for something different out of a Fighting Fantasy book I promise this is where you'll find it. Brute force is an option only to be used sparingly here, and stealth and guile are the paths to success. Rebel Planet makes for quite a departure from the usual assemble the magic dealie whackers and off the big boss adventure.

In a way the amazing experience Rebel Planet offers is a shame, as I wasn't happy with anything else the author produced. Still, we'll always have Porky's. 10/10


[Robert Douglas]


Although the FF series didn't publish many books of a science fiction nature, sub-author Robin Waterfield really went to town on this one. 'Rebel Planet' perhaps proved the best sci-fi gamebook, because of two aspects: firstly, the concept of Earth in the twenty-fifth century being occupied by the Arcadian Empire; and secondly, the adventure itself was spread across four planets diverse in culture and attitude. There wasn't much added to the Adventure Sheet - only Credits for currency. But despite lacking in new additional rules and attributes, Waterfield devised a breathtaking, sinister mission to end Arcadian rule and free mankind from alien tyranny. Although not of the sword and sorcery type, 'Rebel Planet' proved an interesting challenge. Certainly, it would take you more than one attempt to find the clues and gain access to the Central Computer.


[Per Jorner]

It is once again the future, and you can tell because the technology has been discovered "which enables spaceships to keep accelerating rather than simply travelling at the same speed". Yeah, I know, like omg! People can't spend all day celebrating the marvels of science, though, since another discovery is that of the Arcadians, an evil reptilian race which has enslaved "our galaxy", which is to say five solar systems. But to balance out this ill circumstance, the means have also been found to design an alien mind link which has no apparent benefits whatsoever but which conveniently allows the simultaneous destruction of all the Arcadians. Omg again!

The physics of interstellar travel aside, the obvious weakness of Rebel Planet's plot set-up is the way the concept of a computer-controlled hive mind is briefly handwaved (brain implants are linked by "empathy" - omg) and then completely ignored. Individual Arcadians display individual personalities and agendas and in no way give any signs of being connected to anything. Beat someone up and stuff him in a broom closet and no one else will know until they develop the urge to go and gnaw on a mop handle. When pursuing Arcadians catch up with you (while using "comlinks" - why would they even need to do that?), they don't wait for someone with the means to take you down, but rush to attack sort of ineptly, and if you defeat them you're off the radar again. If Arcadians are frequently bumbling, corrupt, arrogant or pointlessly cruel when a computer is making their decisions for them, what were they like without it? However, it's easy enough to pretend this plot point sort of isn't there - until the end of the book or thereabouts, when it resurfaces to pretty much contradict everything that's been shown so far.

A good number of attempts will be necessary to beat the book, not least because of the amount of instant deaths (48, give or take a couple), several of which can appear rather arbitrary. For instance, you may have to choose between initiative or prudence, and sometimes the book thinks you ought to play it cool or play it safe, and sometimes it thinks you ought to dash for cover or seize an opportunity. It's somewhat annoying to get a choice like that wrong and die, as always, but it can also be seen as a means of underscoring the urgency and danger of your mission. One way to rationalize these choices would be to regard them as a call to Test your Paranoia - do you think you're being tested and have to watch your step, or do you think your cover's been blown anyway and you need to step on it?

Or at least, the first half of the book supports this view. Minor problems with minor puzzles aside, this part sees you interacting with humans and Arcadians, allowing you a fair bit of latitude and variety. There are some nifty things you can do that are not common in gamebooks, like falling asleep in a lecture theatre (something I have fond memories of doing in real life), or acquiring a robot which is then mostly ignored by the book, so that for a while at least you can imagine it being pushed along by grim rebels with a robot blindfold on, or fussing behind you as you hurriedly climb out of the museum basement, or clapping its robot hands and cheering from the sidewalk while you battle the Street Fighter.

Starting roughly with an unavoidable, truly random life-or-death choice in the middle, the book goes downhill quite a bit. You need to be able to pass rolls against depleted Skill and/or Luck, so that initial values of 9 or less are not recommended. The environments become less flavourful and your freedom in exploring them more restricted, instant death lurking on all sides and the viable path becoming mostly very narrow, discouraging you from trying anything new once you find some option that leads forward; when even seemingly reasonable choices can lead to "Fool!" fatalities, it's hardly likely you'll ache to try the rash ones that actually don't. You're not choosing between different methods with their own risks and demands, but between actions the book clearly regards and often labels as either right or wrong. Right up to the end there are a number of pitfalls that don't serve any good suspense or puzzle function, they're just ways of cutting your game short. You'll probably resort to save points or boiling the early stages of the book down to a list of stats and adjustments, and progress will be made in small steps, your sense of continuity and your sense of accomplishment dwindling in tandem. The plot grows strained and its shortcomings are increasingly thrust in your face. The end is not written to match the dignity of the quest, so you leave on a note of disappointment.

Even if you overlook the ultimate breakdown of the book's basic premise, the harshness and randomness of the second half suffice to drag the score down from commendable to average. This still leaves points for ambition, world building and some humour. Rebel Planet is more interesting than Stealer of Souls and I suppose it makes better use of the gamebook format, so at least we can say there was probably a time when Robin Waterfield did not smell all that much, and when he quite possibly had friends.

Gary Mayes provides the art, which is not without merits, but doesn't work so well overall. Firstly, a handful of illustrations are broken down into small storyboards, Appointment with F.E.A.R. style, and not to great effect. Secondly, another handful are so bland or vague that I didn't even notice they were related to their respective paragraphs (the biggest offender possibly being 39, which looks more like the humans in the sewer from 41 than the Arcadians in the museum - none of which are actually seen by you in those paragraphs). Thirdly, another handful are used for unlikely or uninteresting outcomes instead of being used to introduce a location or encounter. Fourthly, another handful are used for a single sequence of dubious value (which incidentally could have done some good if it had been moved and redesigned).

Rating: 6/10


[Doug Riddell]

"The year is 2453 and Earth, plus its colonies in the galaxy, are under the conquered rule of the totalitarian and vicious Arcadian Empire, which decree human beings live for one purpose only: to serve them, then die. But YOU are litterally the human race’s last hope."

Such is the storyline of Robin Waterfield’s rather enjoyable and original first, and only, science-fiction gamebook. The hero’s mission is an urgent now-or-never attempt to liberate the human race by exploiting the one weakness of a pack of aliens nazis you’ll love to hate. The Arcadians are controlled by a single computer on their home planet Arcadion, they’re all mind-linked to it by cerebral-receivers. It directs them like an ant colony queen and if it’s destroyed - so is the brain of every single solider in the galaxy. The empire will be instantly reduced to no more than a bunch of zombies wandering around and bumping into walls and apologising. People will rejoice!

Sounds like an oppression-lifting dream that's too good to be real doesn’t it? But it’s true, only it won’t be easy. It’s virtually impossible to get into the computer building, so the Arcadians aren’t likely to be releasing their iron grip on humanity any time soon. To get inside one needs to know the special code to the building’s door. Your last-attempt mission is to make contact with the resistance groups on the interesting colony worlds of Tropos, Radax and Halmuris to get parts of this code (if they have them) which won’t be easy either as you know not a lot about the resistance cells. There are some interesing sub-plots to experience as you track down these people. Then if you make it to Arcadion with the code you should be able enter the building, lay explosives and teach those no good vegetable-faced goons no one uses the human race like cattle!

But beware - there is a reason why your mission is being launched without much preparation and little or no info about the resistance cells you’re visiting - the Arcadians are on to the scheme. Resistance cells have been betrayed by traitors willing to earn a few more days to live. It’s a terrible world.

Like Robin’s first Titan-based adventure "Masks of Mayhem" this one’s set in a variety of places (space, futuristic cities, underground basements and bleak planets still forming from creation to name a few) and also has some good and unexpected sub-plots. This book is full of a lot of originality, starting with a very plausible introduction’s "history" about the human race’s colonization of three distinct planets with their own unique stories before running into Arcadion, contact with which proves to be fatal.

I think a flaw in this book is some things aren’t explained as much as they could be, and therefore utilizing this book to its full potetnial. A few paragraphs are described too briefly and/or covered a bit too quickly. Another problem is that Binary Code is not really properly explained, only a table is given to calculate the reference you must turn to to enter the computer building. I myself got hopelessly confused in 1987 when I was only 12 and didn’t know what to do! I recommend familiarizing yourself with Binary before starting this message (or checking the solution).

But other than that it’s a very original and interesting book. Certainly worth reading.

Rating: 7.5/10