FF22: Robot Commando

David Anderson
Robert Clive
Ray Holt
John Stock


[David Anderson]

You wake up one morning to find that all your countrymen have been placed in a deep sleep, and your ancient enemies have launched an all-out invasion with their robot army!

It's nice when a series tries something different from the norm, and Robot Commando is about as different as it gets from the swords and sorcery milieu of Fighting Fantasy. As the cover art implies, you don't fight to save your people with a magic sword, but a huge robot! If only the book managed to capture the feeling of enormous fighting machines better; instead, it's basically the same combat as always with retreat options working slightly different. I respect Steve Jackson #2 for trying all the same, and I loved the bit about the good luck charm. All in all a commendable attempt to do something different, even if it doesn't quite reach the goal it set for itself.


[Robert Clive]

Fighting Fantasy number 22, Robot Commando is a weird one all right. The author has definitely tried to break the some boundaries with this one as it's different from most other titles. However, I think it doesn't work too well in the end, like Fighting Fantasy number 12, Space Assassin.

When I read this book, I remember getting the impression that the author was very much inspired by the current toy craze in American and Europe at the time. Yes, I'm talking about the eighties 'phenomenon' of those Transformers toys! There are multiple way to finish this book and achieve you goal. Overall an average book. Just imagine a Transformers cartoon!



[Ray Holt]

"What would you do if you were a rancher on a distant planet, using robots to herd vicious dinosaurs? What would you do if your deadly enemies the Karosseans, invaded? What would you do if you knew the protection of your homeland against the invaders and marauding dinosaurs was up to you alone?"

To be honest, I'd probably hide in the basement until the Karosseans dragged me out kicking and screaming - but in Robot Commando, you play a more dashing hero. On discovering that the Karosseans have knocked out the entire nation of Thalos with a powerful sleeping virus - to which you are, somehow, immune - you strap on your father's sword, hop into one of your giant robots and set off to teach them a lesson.

In the first paragraph, you are offered the choice of a slow, well-armoured robot, or a weak but faster one. This is significant because you will have the chance to try many exotic robots in this adventure, and at the wrong time, being too slow, too weak or unable to fly can spell disaster.

The plot and structure of this adventure are quite loose - there are eight cities to visit, each with roughly four locations, where you will gradually acquire the information and equipment you need to defeat the Karosseans. You can visit the cities in (almost) any order, and go back to them any number of times.

This is at once a blessing and a curse. You feel like you're not playing through a story, but through a series of unconnected encounters, with a few changing if you happen to have a picked up an item elsewhere. There's also a lack of depth - you visit each city and each place so briefly that you never really feel immersed in Thalos. With everyone asleep or an enemy, there is no one to meet, or talk to. You leave the book without the land or its people making any lasting impression.

But Steve Jackson (2) manages to play to the strengths of this system. The order in which you visit the cities makes a difference. Visiting a city for a second time can lead to a new chain of events. You are often given several options, but only have the chance to take one: you can't go back and take the others later. With the number of gadgets and passwords that give you "secret" paragraphs to turn to, a vast array of different robots, each with their own unique abilities and three different routes to victory, you can play Robot Commando over and over, and feel like you're getting a different story each time.

The robots are the highlight of the book and work extremely well. Every robot has a Combat Bonus (added to your Skill for robot fights), Armour rating (their equivalent of Stamina) and Speed. Many Robots also have special abilities, which range from doing extra damage, to actually transforming into a plane, adding an extra dimension to your choices. With the importance of having the right ability at the right time, you often have to think carefully when given a choice of robots.

Most fights are robot-based, and you can change robots at the drop of a hat, even going back to pick up robots that you left elsewhere. This is just as well - there is very little chance to get yourself healed, or robots repaired. Luckily, while having your robot destroyed is inconvenient, it is not always fatal.

Whether you'd like this book or not really depends on your style of play. If you want something that's full of action and neat touches that won't require much brainpower, then I'd heartily recommend this book to you. Even when you've completed it, you can go back and try a different route, to see what you missed out on the first time.

On the other hand, if you like to immerse yourself in a thoughtful, plot-driven adventure, with interesting characters, memorable places with fiendish traps and puzzles - then this book really isn't for you.

RATING: 6/10




This is one of the best Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, featuring an interactive, multi-layered gaming world which the player can travel through in a non-linear way, returning to previous locations and even recovering items (robots) left behind earlier. The setting and story is one of the most unusual in the whole FF series - the player takes on the role of a robot-pilot in a world full of dinosaurs, and the last human awake after an alien invasion. The settings are very cleverly constructed to allow the player to switch between robots and to offer no fewer than three "good" endings or solutions.

The cast of aliens, robots, dinosaurs, robot dinosaurs, flying dinosaurs, flying robots, transforming robots and so on, gives the book a distinct fantasy feel - it's reminiscent of TransFormers, and of certain Japanese mecha anime and manga. This kind of feel is far more "contemporary" in its sci-fi, as opposed to the dated B-movie feel of many sci-fi FF's.

One strength is the non-linear game map and the responsiveness of settings to timing (new occurrences sometimes marking second visits). I feel this is a world the reader really wants to explore, and to find all three paths through. Some useful items and information are hidden in unusual places - it isn't always obvious where the player should go or how items might be useful.

Another is the intelligent use of the robot element to introduce new rules and variables - different skill bonuses for robot and personal combat, speed differentials affecting combat, situations where outcomes vary with robot type, and so on.

My only complaint is that it ends too soon - perhaps because of its logical spatial arrangement and multi-layered map, it's easy to figure out where one hasn't explored and where a missing item might be, and the easiest ending takes minimum effort to find (the other two are more standard combat-based FF endings).


[John Stock]

Now before you run screaming, hear me out - Robot Commando, although a sci-fi FF, is one of the better sci-fis. And these better sci-fis are a minority. I mean, take Space Assassin or Sky Lord. Both of these sci-fi offerings are bloody terrible and I am not a fan of either (However, some of the high-fantasy FFs are pretty dire too. Just check out The Crimson Tide or Magehunter).

The plot involves two countries - Thalos (that's your lot) and the Karosseans (the enemy's lot) and these countries are suddenly plunged into a state of war when millions of sleeping pills are burst over the entire nation. And guess who the only one who's immune is? Yup, it's you, isn't it?

So you get to roam around Thalos' cities and forts in robotic war machines which range from tanks and jet planes to complicated walking machines that can sprout wings. And at some point you get to commandeer a wide range of these.

The first good point about this book is the author (Steve Jackson, and no, it's not the same Steve Jackson who penned Citadel of Chaos!) had a wonderful imagination regarding robotic foes. Check out the Crusher, a fifty foot high walking machine that tramples things underfoot, the Snakebot, a snakelike robot that slithers around tree trunks and branches in the jungle, and the Hedgehog, which is covered in "anti aircraft spines".

The second good point is the variety of endings. Three, to be precise. I won't tell you what they are though!

However, when there's an up, there's got to be a down, and there are quite a few downs. Firstly, there is a statement in the rules which says that if your robot is destroyed you are by no means dead. Yet nine times out of ten you often are dead if your robot is blown up. Secondly, although rules are given for hand-to-hand fights they are very rarely used. And thirdly, the big villain, Minos the Karossean dictator, is rather two-dimensional.

So, in all, a better-than-average attempt at making the FF concept work with sci-fi.

MY RATING - 7.5/10