FF51: Island of the Undead

Nicholas Campbell
Robert La Vallie (possible spoilers - puzzle)
Laurence Sinclair
John Stock


[Nicholas Campbell]

Something is wrong in Solani Island, which lies near the south-east coast of Allansia. The wizards which lived on the island protected the local fishermen from the storms which frequently batter the Strait of Knives, which separates Solani Island from Allansia. But recently, entire crews of fishermen have been lost in ferocious storms, and there are tales of undead creatures wandering along the shore. An expedition, with you on board, has been sent out to Solani Island to discover what has happened to the wizards - but it too succumbs to a storm. You are the only survivor, and it is up to you alone to solve the mystery of Solani Island.

The story behind this gamebook is interesting in that you're not out to kill a menacing warlock or sorcerer who is threatening all of Titan; instead, this menace only affects a fairly small area of Titan. It's a refreshing change, but for some reason, the story didn't excite me as much as most of Keith Martin's other gamebooks in the Fighting Fantasy series.

Anyone who is familiar with the works of Keith Martin will know that his gamebooks involve collecting lots of items and fighting lots of monsters, and they are generally very long-winded. Island of the Undead takes all of these things to extremes. The shortest route that I took to complete the book was nearly 200 references long! The number of items you must collect is also ridiculous; there are some thirty items to be collected, and yet you're expected to carry nearly all of item in your backpack! Furthermore, you'll also need to keep some glass bottles in order to store potions and other liquids later on. How these bottles manage to stay intact inside your backpack, alongside all the other items inside it, is a mystery to me.

Although there is a lot of combat (including a fight on the very first paragraph), most fights are thankfully not too difficult, with one exception fairly early on, against a Ghoul with a SKILL of 9; if it hits you three times, it paralyses and kills you. This is a fairly tough combat even if your Initial SKILL is 11, and it doesn't help that you suffer a SKILL penalty for not having a shield! If you manage to beat it, all of the remaining combats are rather unchallenging.

Another annoying aspect of Island of the Undead is that you need to find the names of the wizards on Solani Island, and one other character, by piecing together scraps of paper which are shown on an illustration for a paragraph. However, the style of handwriting which is used means that it's really easy to misread these names, which I found extremely irritating. If I have solved a puzzle, I expect the answer(s) to be unambiguous.

Island of the Undead isn't an easy gamebook by any means, and it suffers from numerous flaws. From the outset, it seemed that I wasn't going to enjoy this book much. One thing I did like was the use of gemstones to represent the four elements, but unfortunately this isn't enough to outweigh my criticisms of this rather linear and complex gamebook.

Rating: 6/10


[Robert La Vallie]

Plague of the Undead -- Another Disease You Don't Want to Catch

"Where have all the wizards gone?" This is the mystery that is prevalent throughout Solani Island.  This is a mystery that, if left unsolved, will result in the death of the inhabitants of this island. Someone has to solve this mystery. Guess who that someone is. And so, you visit the various landmarks of this island, acquiring vital artefacts along the way. And when all is said and done, you unearth the mystery behind Solani Island.

To begin with, I am a huge fan of Keith Martin's Fighting Fantasy adventures. His style of writing is captivating, enthralling, and worthy enough to mentioned in the same breath as Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. That being said, Plague of the Undead is a letdown. First, you have no interest in the concept behind this book. Why are you trying to solve the mystery behind Solani Island? You don't even live there. You're stranded there after a shipwreck. Why would you risk life and limb for a cause that does not impact you in any way. Unless you are a crusader, the entire premise behind the book is faulty.

Next, the book is long. The solution to this book is nearly 250 references. It is difficult to believe that it would take you that many passages to solve an island mystery. Yet, here is what we have here. Think about it. You can complete a space adventure (Starship Traveller) in under 50 references, yet here, inside of a little island, it takes you 250 references. Something is not right here. Also, as your adventure progresses, you will accumulate a treasure trove of objects. And yet, you're able to move around with such fluidity. This does not make much sense.

Next up, the torn pages of the diary are misleading. One of the wizards' name is incorrectly spelled as Cattarelair (it should be Caltarelair). Also, the hermit's name is misspelled as Ralsireen, instead of Ralsteen. These minor discrepancies result in major headaches as you progress throughout the adventure.

Lastly, there is one puzzle you will encounter (TPVZSD UGF BJQDNF BCE Z TPVZSD) that is unfair.You should be able to decipher it without a problem. However, the second portion of the puzzle is not airtight. After all, what are we referring to when we say "square?"

In short, Plague of the Undead is definitely worth reading. However, it is long, unwielding, and a sub-par Fighting Fantasy novel. If you want to read a top-notch and first-rate island adventure, stick with Island of the Lich Lord, and let Plague of the Undead infect someone else.

Rating: 7.0/10


[Laurence Sinclair]

Sometimes curiously called Plague of the Undead, this book was first of the short lived wave of 'new', post-50 FFs, featuring the debut of Test your Skill and the start of larger, more complex adventures.

And when it comes to complex, this one takes the prize. You must remember numbers inscribed on dozens of artefacts, as well as translating many, many names into numeric code in order to pass certain areas. This is an adventure that will take time to solve, one that really is value for money, as you'll spend hours trying to crack it (if you ahve the patience, otherwise you're more likely to hurl it across the room).

In it, you are shipwrecked on Solani Island, where a small group of wizards live in self imposed exile. Once they had been content to keep themselves to themselves, but now storms are threatening the livelihood of your sea faring town, and the dead are walking. It is up to you to solve the mystery, alone.

This adventure is very strenuous. Combat begins right from paragraph 1, and never lets up. There are several exceedingly powerful enemies, many of whom require magical weapons to be defeated. Mutants and Undead abound, and look out for the Zombie Monk!

I can see this as the turning point where FF attempted to grow up, to present more challenging problems to its readers, but I think they took things too fast. Someone, even having read all 50 previous titles, would be seriously out of their depth attempting this book. There are lots of good ideas crammed in there, but perhaps there are too many, and a more subtle transition between old and new would have been preferable.

Rating: 7 out of 10


[John Stock]

This late FF written by Keith Martin is the subject of hot debate about its quality. You either like it or hate it. I like it. And I've good reason to.

The plot is very sound - a group of wizards who protect the simple fisherfolk of the Strait of Knives from the dangers of the elements have disappeared without trace. You and a group of others are sent to investigate. However, your ship is wrecked in a storm and you are washed up on the beach with only the clothes you stood up in. And the action keeps on coming, as Keith Martin has you fighting one of your fellow sailors - who has become undead - in Paragraph 1. You then must explore this place and (hopefully) beat the evil spirit who killed off the wizards.

This adventure is not easy, oh no. For a start the island is not only filled with the undead and evil critters, but you must also face the natural hazards of this lump of rock off south-east Allansia. This includes some common sense - you don't climb the rigging of a shipwreck during a storm for one!

There are no specially noteworthy scenes, but the atmosphere of the book makes up for this in spades. The illustrations by Russ Nicolson also give it that bit of extra atmosphere which.

However, on the gripes department, I have a few - firstly the fact that, in some places, the book is TOO hard. And sometimes the atmosphere gets simply too much for me, and I start to want some good, solid undead-hacking.

But overall, not a bad FF. I think it could be improved in some areas though.

MY RATING - 7.3/10