Saturday, 26 October 2013

You Might Say That We're the Next Endangered Species

Around a year ago I played the first of the CD-based Terror T.R.A.X. gamebooks by Flint Dille and Buzz Dixon. I acquired the second disc in the series, Track of the Werewolf, at the same time, and now seems as good a time as any to have a go at the adventure. Those are the only ones from the series that I own, and I'm not massively disappointed that I lack the others, though I must confess to mild curiosity as to just how bad the third in the series, Track of the Mummy is.

So I'm coordinating a special branch of the Police designed to deal with calls that have a supernatural element. The moon is full, and I've just been forwarded a call from someone with an outrrrageous French accent who claims to be a werewolf (though, as he uses the term loup-garou, the 911 operator who initially takes the call fails to pick up on this point, and amusingly spends about half the call addressing the caller as Mister Garou). The caller claims to have chained himself up so as to avert a destructive rampage, but now seems to think that the precautions he's taken are not adequate.

I despatch an officer to the bayou region, since that's where the call originated. The call is traced to a shack, and as the officer approaches, sounds are audible in the distance. The officer thinks the source is an animal, and draws his gun. To me it sounds a lot more like the caller making howling noises, but I can't be sure whether it's supposed to be recognisably him, or if it's just that the voice actor isn't good enough to conceal his identity. In any case, the officer enters the shack, and exclaims that it's a trap as a significantly more convincing chorus of growls and snarls fills the air.

While I don't think it's supposed to be funny, the bland tone with which the T.R.A.X. computer offers the options of 'leave shack' and 'fight werewolves' makes the situation seem more humorous than frightening. The officer tries using Mace (the tear gas version), and then runs when that doesn't work. Finding himself surrounded by a variety of lycanthropes, he seeks authorisation to open fire. The last time I played this, letting him shoot didn't help, so out of curiosity I'm going to see what happens if I don't give him permission. It doesn't go any better, though the computer reckons that the officer has only been kidnapped rather than killed or shredded.

It would appear that the computer's right: continuing to monitor the officer's radio leads to my overhearing a conversation between two of his captors, one of whom sounds disconcertingly like one of Marge Simpson's sisters. There's talk of their being after the Mayor, and of having to switch to plan B because there are so many guards on his house. Background noise includes gunshots, a helicopter, more snarling and growling, some kind of bell, and what could be cattle. The female voice orders that someone (possibly the officer) be dumped in the back seat because the trunk of the car is already in use. There's only one person on duty at the next place the female goes, and she warns her associates not to jump the gun. Several of the options offered at the end of this track seem a bit arbitrary, and I know one of the more sensible-looking ones to be a game-ender, so I try sending a second officer to the shack.

Oh, great, it's the Clint Eastwood-wannabe from the first disc. I have him search for signs of officer One (what, the writers couldn't even be bothered to come up with a name for him?), and he finds torn duct tape and indications that someone was dragged to a car and driven off. I'm then forced to have officer Two consult with the stupidly-named Doctor Vovo. T.R.A.X.'s resident expert on lycanthropy. The conversation that follows is painful to listen to, between officer Two's silly macho posturing and Vovo's anti-civilisation werewolf-hugging guilt trips. Not that things get any better when werewolves burst into Vovo's place and abduct him, and the officer's callous commentary on the attack adds a further layer of unpleasantness.

Tracking officer One's radio leads to the car in which it's been abandoned. A trail of blood leads officer Two to an office building. There's a light on in one office, so he checks it out and, after hearing dialogue that leads him to infer that officer One is in there and in trouble, he ignores instructions to wait for back-up, and bursts in, gunning down the werewolves and rescuing officer One. One states that the werewolves roughed him up, and weren't gentle about it. Perhaps fearful that he's in danger of being outclassed in the lousy lines department, Two quips that the werewolves are now 'hushed puppies'.

The largely unpromising list of venues to investigate in the light of overheard werewolf dialogue is repeated, and now includes the zoo. I'll pick that, on the off-chance that rescuing officer One is a prerequisite for success, and the unexplained addition to the list is indicative of my now being on the right track.

It turns out that the zoo is now on the list because there was a call from there - maybe something similar happened at all the other seemingly random locations, in which case there really should have been a brief explanation of that fact back when the options were listed. In any case, the caller at the zoo had some werewolves burst in on him while he was calling, and they insinuated that they were going to turn him into a werewolf as punishment for his crimes against their kind.

I send in the officers. They notice that the animals seem agitated, and Two suggests that it's because of One's appearance. One retorts that he's healing, which could be indicative of unusual recuperative powers possessed by T.R.A.X. operatives, a hint that he's been infected, or just more awful writing. The officers take cover as some werewolves pass, one of them apparently a recent convert, arguing over whether all humans are guilty, or only some. Officer Two wants to gun them down, while One thinks they have a hostage. I instruct them to continue eavesdropping.

There's something wrong here, though I can't tell whether it's just that the wrong track number was given for the 'keep listening' option, or if the design of the adventure really is so sloppy as to have 'attempt to monitor werewolf conversation while avoiding discovery' lead straight to a gunfight and the zookeeper (whose identification comes out of nowhere) getting eaten alive. A quick check of a few other tracks (combined with the growing suspicion that I'm supposed to be sympathising with officer Two's gung-ho 'caution is for wimps' attitude) suggests that it is just appalling design.

The officers are extracted, and the death of the zookeeper is glossed over in favour of listening to a new 911 call. This is from the fishing dock, where 'a bunch of weirdoes in wolf masks are messing around with my shrimp boats'. I have the officers taken there. A bit of overheard dialogue suggests an impending arson attack, but then the topic changes to complaints about the smell of fish and a vaguely Doctor Moreau-ish indication that someone is coordinating all of the werewolf activity.

With a sigh, I order the officers to take immediate action. Two taunts the werewolves, who open fire on him with what sounds like a machine-gun (a development that's either inspired, idiotic, or both), and the dock is set alight. Never mind, we have another caller on a different line.

Actually, monitoring of radio communications has picked up on what sounds like the start of an attack on the Mayor's mansion. Time to send in more officers. Or possibly the same ones, despite their currently being embroiled in a firefight at a blazing dock. A little banter with the guards on the gate keeps the officers distracted until werewolves parachute into the grounds from the helicopter I heard earlier and storm through the mansion. This provides Two with an excuse to smash through the gates in his car. One urges caution, as the Mayor's family have been taken hostage (despite less than 30 seconds having passed since the first werewolf paratroopers leapt from the helicopter), but the only choice here is whether to go in through the front door or use grappling hooks to sneak in upstairs at the back of the place.

The front door is too obvious, so I pick the slower option. Fortuitously, the officers get into the room where the hostages are being held, and their guards are outside the door. The werewolves soon come in, though (perhaps it was something to do with one of the Mayor's brats yelling, 'The window!'). Still, they're not expecting an armed response - to the extent that they can't even come up with any dialogue more snappy than 'Uh-oh!'. Not that Two's 'Suck silver, Fido!' is any better. At least this part of the mission doesn't turn into a fiasco.

No time to celebrate, though, as there's another call requiring a response. This one's from a medical research centre, and contains more unintentionally comical dialogue as the caller realises that what he thought was an escaped lab animal is actually an armed werewolf. Dialogue between the officers as they reach the crime scene strengthens my suspicion that One has contracted lycanthropy, as only he scents that the werewolves have left their mark there. Acting on a 'hunch', he leads Two to where the werewolves are active, and it sounds as if Doctor Vovo is the one giving the orders.

The werewolves turn on the officers, and One starts to transform, taking on the pack mentality as well as undergoing physical changes. Two seeks permission to exterminate him, and is then cut off. I have the option of restarting the whole mission or monitoring his radio. Not going back to the start, thank you very much. And considering that there have been no decisions since the successful rescue of the Mayor and family, either I've been on a 'fail' trail ever since One was taken, or there's some kind of twist coming up in the radio monitoring.

Vovo announces his intention to turn Two into a werewolf as well, then have his two tame operatives subvert the organisation from within. However, One's loyalty to T.R.A.X. overrides the pack instinct, and he turns on his fellow lycanthropes. Another shoot-out ensues, and Vovo tries to escape in his car, but the officers shoot out his tyres. And possibly his knees, too. The sun comes up, causing the werewolves to revert to human form, and only now do the officers realise that the head werewolf is Doctor Vovo. Was that supposed to come as a surprise? The voice was recognisable the moment I heard it.

After further execrable dialogue, Vovo transforms again, and gets shot dead. One works out that Vovo targeted the Mayor in the hope that doing so would break humanity's control of animals (there are not enough facepalms on the entire internet for that 'plan'), and arrangements are made for the capture and isolation of the leaderless werewolves. With the exception of One, who's proved his trustworthiness, and now gets some respect from Two on account of his increased aggressiveness. Exchanging unfunny banter, they set off in search of breakfast.

The disc ends with the T.R.A.X. computer voice advising me to put on disc 3 next. And getting impatient when I don't stop this disc. And then telling me to go out and buy Track of the Mummy if my failure to obey instructions is on account of not already having a copy. Even if it were in stock at local shops, and the shops were open at this hour, I wouldn't be rushing to do so.

While far from good, that's nowhere near the worst gamebook I've played. I might even give it another go some day, just to see if there is a way of avoiding having officer One get infected by the werewolves. And to find out if the werewolves' dialogue when Vovo is 'captured' actually works as the 'stupid minions inadvertently blow their leader's cover, forcing him to improvise and make it look like he's in trouble' scenario it actually is. But too much of Two's dialogue in a short time might lead to my using the CD as a frisbee, so it will be a while before I dare confront the true horrors of Terror T.R.A.X. - none of which are what the people responsible for the discs think will scare the listeners - again.

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