Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Adventure harkens back to days of old, where choose your own adventure games were explored through the archaic technology of paper. Evolving with the times, developer Branching Narrative has swapped paper for video in this electronic retelling of the Ian Livingstone classic gamebook.
Calling Deathtrap Dungeon a Full Motion Video game is a tad disingenuous compared to what you might be expecting. You won’t be watching acted out scenes of your adversity-conquering adventures throughout the dank dungeon that is most certainly a deathtrap. Instead you’re treated to the Full Motion Video feats of Eddie Marsan (The World’s End), sitting back in a comfy leather armchair as he recounts your tale to you.
You’re not given many looks into the physical world of Deathtrap Dungeon. With only a rudimentary map to accompany the occasional atmospheric hand-drawn visuals, you’re asked to do what Livingstone’s adventure book asked players to do way back in 1984: imagine.
While the storybook narration starts off disappointingly flat, with Marsan giving almost all the monotone intonation of someone reading off their shopping list, it doesn’t take long for the narration to perform a complete one-eighty into a varied emotive reading of setting and characters that makes the world truly come alive. Just as you would expect from someone of Marsan’s acting talents.
Fully hooked into the narrative and let into the dungeon proper, it’s time to start making the choices that let you choose your own adventure. Frustratingly, Deathtrap Dungeon is born straightout of 1984, where the creators vision ruled supreme. This means exactly what you think it does: making the right choices doesn’t always mean making the most logical ones.
Faced with decisions that should empower you as you make the story your own, you’re instead left feeling helpless. Without being Ian Livingstone yourself – as most of the population is cursed to be – you’re stuck guessing at what he wanted to be right. The best outcome is often based on trial and error; it doesn’t feel like you’re on your own adventure, but you’re instead hunting Livingstone’s vision.
Oddly, the game is merciful enough to provide save points at every encounter on the map, allowing you to essentially turn back the page if faced with an outcome you don’t like. With so many single choices resulting in instant death, you’re encouraged to save scum your way through a journey instead of enjoying a enthralling, page-turning adventure.
An adventure would hardly be complete without monsters and horrors to challenge your strength, so thankfully Deathtrap Dungeon has them in droves. Unfortunately however, fighting these fouls beasts is shockingly dull.
Each round of combat sees computer rolled dice being tossed onto Eddie Marsan’s face. As a player, you get the unfathomable joy of watching those rolls happen, cheering on the computer as it acts without your input. Not having an ounce of control over how the dice roll has combat feel lacking; there’s no investment in the roll. With the computer doing all the work, why should you care about what happens? After all, there’s nothing you can do but await the results.
Thankfully there is a little saving grace of narration after each attack to spark your imagination with visceral details. Even these delights of dialogue quickly start being repeated however, as there’s only one set of responses per monster, further adding busywork to the combat you’ve seen and heard all before.
Ultimately, less of a game and more of an interactive book, Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Adventure is perhaps perfect for curling up with by an open fire, settling into it just as you would do a good book. Even with the combat marring the overall adventure and the frustrations of the game’s 1984 logic, the writing and stellar performance manages to create a fantastical immersive world that had me eagerly chasing encounters to enjoy more of the gripping story while hitting the nostalgic niche.