Completism above and beyond the call of sanity was the main reason that I got all of the F.E.A.R. Adventures by the pseudonymous Jak Shadow, but the fact that the penultimate one I acquired was the less-disappointing-than-the-rest The Spy Master may also have been a contributory factor. Like most of the others, I got it on eBay, and on my one previous attempt at it, I got some way into the book before making what I thought was a sensible decision, only to find that the author considered it a catastrophically stupid thing to do. A not uncommon occurrence in this series.
As I have explained before, the series has me as a child recruited (for painfully ridiculous reasons) by anti-terrorism organisation F.E.A.R. to try and thwart the schemes of time-travelling alien bad guy Triton. In this book, I'm being sent to London in 1999. F.E.A.R. suspect that Triton (using the pseudonym Gary Steel) has kidnapped inventor Albert Fudge, who was attempting to create a computer that could control every other computer on Earth (because that kind of thing always turns out so well), and intends to exploit the Millennium Bug (which is explained in a manner that's not likely to make any sense to anyone not already familiar with the concept) to take over the world.
An agent reports that Fudge has left a trail of clues to help F.E.A.R. find him and learn all five letters of the password to his master computer. Yes, just five letters. I had more securely protected email accounts by 1999. The trail begins on Abbey Road, in Studio 1, an address that means nothing to my Beatles-ignorant character.
I get to pick an item of equipment before being sent off. There are three from which to choose, but I can only have one, which makes no sense whatsoever. Two of them are very specific to this mission, which means there'd be no point in saving them for some other occasion, and as F.E.A.R. will use their time machine to drag me to safety the moment I appear to be in even the mildest of peril, it's not as if anything needs to be kept back in case something bad happens to me and someone else has to take over the mission. It's just a petty, pointless restriction thrown in to increase my chances of failing and needing to be rescued.
Still, rules are rules, so unless this limitation makes the book unplayable (and author Jon Sutherland does apparently have form in this regard), I should abide by it. I'll take the replica of Fudge's eyeball for bypassing retinal scan-based security systems. The laser watch is a bit generic, and while the disk of computer virus has an obvious use here, there are other ways of wrecking computers. Besides, the text makes such a big deal of how unpleasant the eyeball looks, it makes me suspect authorial shenanigans. Making one of the items essential and then attempting to dissuade the reader from choosing it would be a bit underhanded, but not the sneakiest thing I've ever seen in a gamebook.
The time machine is located in a basement that was not in use at the time to which I'm being sent back. This causes my character to become nervous at the prospect of encountering rats, though I suspect that this gamebook series is far too tame to allow anything like that to happen. Before entering the machine, I'm notified that a motopod has already been sent back in time for me. That's a kind of lightweight motorbike/bubble car hybrid with tinted glass windows (to hide the fact that the driver is way too young to have a license).
Arriving in 1999, I find that the basement is messy, smelly, and apparently illuminated in spite of being disused, because there's no mention of my having trouble seeing. Or of rats. Collecting the motopod, I ascend the stairs to the exit. It's jammed, and flimsy enough that I break it while forcing my way out. Leaving the building via a convenient fire exit, I use the motopod's onboard computer to find the way to the studio.
The book hasn't previously mentioned that the password I seek is made up of the first letters of the places I must visit (in this instance the road rather than the studio), but my character must have been informed of this minor detail between paragraphs. Unless it's supposed to be self-evident. Please post a comment to say if you realised the password had to start with 'A' as soon as I mentioned Abbey Road.
Concealing the motopod in a bush, and taking the remote control with me in case I can't get back to the bike, I enter the building. Asking the receptionist if there are any messages from Albert Fudge could draw unwelcome attention, so I look for studio 1 on my own. There's a cheap joke about opera sounding awful, and then I reach the studio, which has a note attached to the door: 'Gary Steel Do Not Disturb'. I'm not Gary Steel, so that means it's okay for me to disturb, right?
Maybe not. In the studio I see a multitude of computers, connected to a pod which contains Triton. Beside each computer is a mind-controlled-looking musician playing an instrument (Studio 1 must have much better soundproofing than the one with the opera singers in, as I didn't hear this lot at all). Triton orders the musicians to get me, and I figure that trying to fight my way through them in order to attack Triton would be an idiotic idea, so I hurry away.
Hiding in the bushes where I stowed the motopod, I watch as Triton boards a truck and is driven away. Returning to the studio, I find it abandoned, containing only a mass of cables. And a circle of chairs, each one with a star on it. In case this clue is a little too obscure, one of the chairs also has a leaflet stuffed into its side (which suggests that the chair depicted in the book is nothing like the ones in the studio). The leaflet is advertising the London Planetarium, and my character knows better than to ignore the 'London' in the place's name, thereby identifying 'L' as the second letter of the password.
Proceeding to the London Planetarium, I join a group of tourists. Inside, I take a seat in the front row, and while looking around, I spot Triton, who's attempting to disguise himself with an upturned collar. That's more effective than you might think - sure, I recognised him, but I was on the look-out for tell-tale hints. Little things the average member of the public would overlook. Like green skin.
The show starts normally, but then the voice-over cuts out, replaced by a high-pitched noise that begins putting people to sleep. While I'm still conscious, I make for the fire exit. Guards fire sleeping darts at me, but I dodge them. I don't loiter in search of clues, but sneak back in after a few minutes have passed. Whatever hint Fudge may have put here has gone, so the time machine is operated to bring me back to the present day. Oddly, the text implies that I'm being rescued from some imminent threat rather than just getting recalled because I've lost the trail.
Like the rest of the series, the book gives the option of turning back to section 1 and trying again, but I prefer to treat failure as failure. This attempt at it has drawn my attention to some absurdities that I either failed to notice last time or forgot about in the intervening years, but I'd still rate it above at least the preceding two. I can't remember a thing about the content of the last two books in the series, but given time, I might be reminded of why they failed to make much of an impression back when I got them.