Friday, 26 October 2012

Who You Gonna Call?

Another of my whimsical eBay acquisitions today, and a bit of a departure from the norm, as it's an audio gamebook. Back in the mid-nineties, Sagard the Barbarian co-writer Flint Dille got TSR to bring out a series of gamebooks-on-CD: Terror T.R.A.X. Each track on the disc is equivalent to a separate section, and decisions are made by skipping to the appropriate track.

The basic premise is that there's a super secret branch of the American Police known as T.R.A.X. (short for Trace, Research, Analyze and eXterminate), which deals with any paranormal cases. The player is coordinator for a team of operatives - I listen to the recording of the 911 call, possibly consult with experts, and tell the field operatives what to do. Options are presented by the T.R.A.X. Interface Computer, which has the Shatneresque speech patterns of your average automated telephone system, and there's on-the-spot commentary from the men on the front line (and sometimes the 'computer' gives a more convincing performance than the human (or other non-mechanical) characters).

First in the series is Track of the Vampire, by Buzz Dixon and the aforementioned Dille, which opens with a cheesy intro to explain the concept, goes on to explain how to play the 'audio CD interactive game', and then instructs me to go to track 3 to start the adventure. I wonder what's on track 2. I may investigate later, but for now I'm going to get going with my mission.

Actually, track 3 is not the start of the adventure. I get congratulated for having figured out how to navigate to a specific track, redirected to track 5, and warned that I'll get suspended if I don't skip track 4. That would be a particularly rubbish way to fail, so I jump to track 5 and finally get to hear the call to which I'm supposed to be responding. From this point onwards I'll keep quiet about the track numbers (unless I do decide to see what's on 2 and 4 once the mission has been concluded).

A woman screams about being attacked. A man vith an accent like ze Count from Sesame Street calls her a liar and claims to have been lured to wherever the call is being made from. The woman shrieks that the man is a vampire, at which point the call becomes T.R.A.X. business. A struggle occurs, in the course of which a receptacle containing blood gets dropped, and frantic slurping noises ensue. It's all very loud and incoherent, and reminds me of the Gumby performance of The Cherry Orchard featured on several Monty Python albums. Oh, and it transpires that track 4 is for running a digital analysis on the recording, rather than the 'fired for not obeying simple instructions' ending one might have expected. Still, best to get someone on the way to the crime scene as quickly as possible.

An officer (who sounds as if he desperately wants to be 1970s Clint Eastwood) is sent to the apartment from which the call was made. He gets the male from the call at gunpoint, and the suspect throws a bottle at him and dives out of the window. The officer comments on how dumb the suspect must be, as they're twelve floors up. Well, someone's certainly dumb. A member of a team explicitly put together to deal with supernatural threats doesn't think the kind of villain he's going to be confronting might be able to survive that big a drop? Muttering macho absurdities, he makes his way across to the window and is surprised to find the leaper gone. Well, his words indicate surprise, even if the way he says them doesn't.

I have the officer search the apartment. He reports that it appears to have been made ready for a romantic evening, oh, and there's a dead woman on the couch. When prompted to check for fangs, he finds that she does have some, and with a screech, she attacks him. He fires eight bullets, manages to drive her off, and spouts some 'witticisms' that even Commando-era Arnie would have found too unfunny to utter.

Further investigation of the apartment turns up evidence that its occupant works for the Late Date Dating Service, and has seen a different man every night for some time. I wonder which meaning of 'late' is the more accurate. Researchers dig up a tacky and sleazy ad for the service (the most horrifying part of the disc yet), which indicates that they specialise in providing partners for late-night tête-à-têtes.

The officer finds a doctor's bag containing medical equipment and a number of bottles of blood. The plot coagulates. There's a 'return to' tag on the bag, so I send an officer to the hospital named. He arrives to find that there's been trouble there. Somebody broke into Intensive Care and stole a transplant kidney. From the patient into whom it had been transplanted. That's actually quite nasty.

The thief isn't likely to have loitered, so I have a check run on the hospital's records. That wasn't the first such theft. All stolen organs came from the same donor. Two further organs from that person have not yet been 'repossessed': the heart and a lung. It's hard to believe that nobody's noticed the common denominator to these incidents before now, but that doesn't stop this from being creepy and ominous.

The officer on-scene is sent to look around, in case the organ thief is still around. He maintains a running commentary, and is played by a better voice actor than the cretin at the apartment, which helps a lot in building atmosphere. When he starts commenting on the Health and Safety nightmare of the room he's in, which contains all kinds of flammable and hazardous chemicals, the computer tells him to restrict himself to relevant data. Either someone needs to program it with an understanding of Chekhov's pistol, or it already knows, and figures that the likelihood of a fire, spillage or other unpleasantness has just increased massively because the officer mentioned the danger.

A thin trail of blood leads to the morgue. The officer sounds nervous, and observes the lack of an attendant. He finds a mutilated body on one of the slabs, with the heart removed. The name on the tag is that of a convicted murderer who was executed by lethal injection and then sent to the hospital to have his organs harvested for transplanting (would they still be usable?). And the tag is attached to the toe of an artificial leg. In fact, three of the limbs are prosthetic, and the officer is troubled to find them still attached to the corpse.

The body opens its eyes and starts demanding something unspecified that belongs to it. The officer requests guidance and, as I've already had confirmation that bullets don't seem to do much, I advise him to use handcuffs instead. I just hope he has the sense to put them on the real arm. Alas, while he does, he attaches the other cuff not to some solid fixture, but to the prosthetic arm, which the corpse promptly rips off and uses to club the officer to death.

Evidently the computer has been taking action on other fronts, as it now connects me with an officer who's pursuing the man who signed the murderous corpse's death certificate, the groan-inducingly-named Dr. Haemos. The doctor is driving dangerously, and tries to elude the pursuing officer by entering a narrow alley. The officer wants to circle round to where he thinks the alley comes out, but I can't risk his being mistaken, and instruct him to maintain pursuit. Something unclear happens, and he dies. Game over.

Well, I rather botched that. Pity, as, after an unpromising start, it was developing into something interesting. The hospital sequence was particularly well done, and actually had me slightly on edge. Based on just this attempt, I'm not sure how (or if) the plot hangs together - the transition from the morgue to the car chase was pretty sloppy - but it looks as if it might well be worth replaying the adventure at some time to try and find out more.

By the way, track 2 is just a 'you should not be listening to this' message, a bit like the 'this is an unreachable section' sections that occasionally crop up in gamebooks for no good reason. Okay, so this one does serve to point out that the listener has failed to follow instructions, but anyone who hears it as a consequence of inability to skip tracks rather than just being curious is going to struggle with the whole adventure.

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