Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Choose Your Future. Choose Life

This is a brief seasonal digression from my ongoing attempt at Night of the Necromancer. Earlier this year I picked up a copy of the last issue of 2000 AD published in 2011, having learned that it contained an in-joke-ridden interactive Judge Dredd comic strip entitled Choose Your Own Xmas, written by Al Ewing, with art by John Higgins. So far I've not had a go at it, as I was saving it for today.

In this adventure I play the part of Jackson Packard, a citizen of Mega-City One, alarmed to suddenly find myself hearing a voice, which tells me that this is the start of an adventure in which I am the hero, and the choices I make will determine whether I live or die. What kind of lunacy is this?

A co-worker recommends that I seek psychiatric assistance, but I'm not sure I can spare the time, as it's Xmas Eve and I still have gift shopping to do. Deciding to get my shopping done first, I proceed to the kitchenware section of Montgomery's store, where I pick out a las-knife for Aunt Flavia.

Suddenly my name is called by Judge Dredd, who seems under the impression that I've done something wrong, and threatens to shoot me. The mysterious voice offers a choice between running away (in spite of Dredd's warning) or surrendering (which the voice suggests is inadvisable). I opt for fleeing, and the crowds are too heavy for the Judge to risk opening fire, so I manage to escape for now. The toss of a coin determines what happens next, which turns out to be another challenge from Dredd. The same challenge, in fact, so either I've just slipped back in time or the same panel is being somewhat sloppily recycled. I run again, and this time the coin establishes that I dash across the road, straight into the path of a Judge on his bike. The collision proves fatal for me.

Well, that was short and not very informative. I'll play again, and this time I'll take a chance on consulting a shrink. Dr. Schrumpfenkopf thinks the voice's mention of panels and choices could be related to my job - if I were a game-show host. As I'm an auxiliary lab technician, that hypothesis isn't viable, so the doctor concludes that the voice must be a manifestation of suppressed guilt relating to past criminal choices. I protest that I'm a law-abiding citizen, but the doctor is convinced that I must be a lawbreaker, and announces his intention to call the Judges.

Desperately I cast my mind back to what happened at work earlier in the day, hoping that I might be able to recall something sufficiently traumatic to be a plausible explanation for the voice. And I remember a professor talking about parallel universes, and the fact that so far the only ones contacted have been radically different from this one, though according to some theories there should be a multitude that are almost identical to it. I didn't pay that much attention at the time, as I was thinking about what presents to buy. I was then further distracted when the cable I was connecting gave me a shock, which I opted not to report in case it meant having to redo the procedure we'd been carrying out.

Recounting this does not dissuade the shrink from calling the Judges, though they may be a little preoccupied by an (unrelated, according to the voice) explosion at Joe Dever Block. Dredd, alas, is not distracted, and investigates the doctor's call. He recognises me, and demands to know how I can be here, suggesting teleportation or cloning. I have no idea what he's going on about and, interpreting my confusion as an attempt at feigning insanity, has me taken away to the Psycho-Cubes until I can provide a sensible explanation for what's been going on. As I am unable to do so, my adventure ends there.

I'm having another go. Things would apparently have gone differently if I'd bought that knife before going to the psychiatrist, so this time I go to the shop and, when confronted by Dredd, I surrender. A child mockingly points out that the Judge before me is just a doll, and I realise that the real Dredd is nowhere to be seen. Something is definitely not right, so I proceed to Dr Schrumpenkopf's, where things initially proceed as before. However, when Dredd bursts in, I'm the one who makes the startled exclamation of recognition, whereas the Judge claims that we've never met.

Panel number recognition tells me that trying to explain what's going on will result in the same ending as on my second attempt, which leaves me with little choice but to use the knife and take the doctor hostage. Dredd hesitates, so I throw the psychiatrist at him and make a run for it. Surveillance picks me up on Hildick Boulevard, heading for Chalke Street, which seems to be geographically impossible - a mystery that Dredd adds to the one about my having already died twice tonight.

One of the other Judges can help with that. My colleague Steve Livingstone has explained about the accident, and... at this point the voice interrupts this unexplained vision of what's happening elsewhere, and tells me I must flee to the Cursed Earth, unless I think I might find some answers myself back at the lab.

I return to the lab, and find Dredd waiting for me. He seems unimpressed at my attempt to explain that the machine must be to blame, somehow causing every possible outcome of my different decisions to manifest in this reality rather than splitting off into parallel realities as normal. The voice gives me the option of going insane and killing the Judge, but I can tell that that's not going to work (part genre-savviness, part being unable to avoid seeing the image of my head being blown apart in the panel just after the one for choosing insanity), so I continue trying to convince him of what's happening.

Dredd is shaken, having possibly just experienced what would have happened if I'd made the other choice, but still insists on taking me in. The voice tells me I must escape, and as I've already seen the fatal outcome of trying to get away on foot, I choose to try hijacking a vehicle instead. This goes badly, leading to a collision with a chemical tanker, the resultant explosion seemingly the one the voice said was nothing to do with me.

Okay, one final try. It goes the same way as my previous one until the voice tells me to escape, at which point I reject the choice and proceed to the next panel as if reading a normal comic rather than a gamebook-style one. The voice protests, demanding that I pick one of the options offered, and adding what I think is the 'head blown apart' one if I insist on something else. I'm sticking with linear progression.

The voice suggests another alternative, and then decides to take me back to panel 1. Seeing me start to vanish, Dredd fires a high explosive round at the machine, interrupting the voice's desperate attempt at redirecting me to another panel. I reappear, freed of the burden of having to make decisions that determine how events transpire. And Dredd arrests me and sentences me to life imprisonment, because I chose not to report the accident in the lab, thereby allowing the interactive shenanigans that resulted in the deaths of over a thousand citizens.

No happy endings for me, then, but that doesn't come as a great surprise, given the setting. Choose Your Own Xmas works better as a Judge Dredd one-shot than a proper mini-gamebook, but as pastiches go, it's one of the better ones I've encountered.

1 comment:

  1. These days I only get 2000ad at Christmas, so seeing this story was a pleasant surprise; although the fact that it was published in 2011 is less of a pleasant surprise!

    I enjoyed the story, in particular the in-jokes. I bought the more recent Deadpool one -- also by Al Ewing, I believe -- for a friend for Christmas, but I resisted having a go before passing it to her, so I have no idea what it's like.