Review: Choice of Robots

By Dave Neumann 19 Jan 2015 0
Never let me Go-bot. Never let me Go-bot.

One of the more famous episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation was called "The Inner Light" and told the story of Captain Picard living an entire life—family, kids, career—inside his head in the span of about 20 minutes.

Choice of Robots is kind of like that. You, probably, won’t end up sobbing and knowing how to play a Ressikan flute [worked for me --ed.] but you will feel as though you’ve experienced something a little greater than a 30-minute gamebook. Starting as a young graduate student and carrying well into your old age, if you live that long, Choice of Robots has a scope unlike any other gamebook I’ve ever read.

Teaching robots by showing them xkcd seems like a good idea Teaching robots by showing them xkcd seems like a good idea

If you’ve never played a Choice of Games gamebook before you need to prepare yourself a little before you jump in. The presentation of their gamebooks is somewhere between Excel and a command prompt, which can be quite a shock to those of us looking for a Tin Man or inkle Studios experience in in our gamebooks. There are no images anywhere in the book, and the screen is laid out in multiple panes that are either filled with text or red bars that indicate your current standing with the other characters in the book. It’s a bland and uninteresting interface, but you’ll find yourself becoming attached to it fairly quickly. The ability to see, on the fly, how your choices affect each character is a fantastic form of feedback that you don’t get in other gamebooks. Another bonus? You can totally play this while sitting at your desk at work, and everyone will just assume you’re working on the latest TPS report. Try pulling that off with 80 Days.

Character creation is closer to The Elder Scrolls than Sorcery! or Lone Wolf. Character creation is closer to The Elder Scrolls than Sorcery! or Lone Wolf.

When it comes to story, I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t give specifics. Let’s just say that the game can spread 40+ years depending on the choices you make along the way. You’ll face graduation, love, wars, family, and fame over the course of your imaginary lifetime, and all of it is tied to the robot that you create at the beginning of the gamebook. The writing itself is fine, and in some places fantastic. There are parts where the writing fails, however, and that’s particularly at the end. The endings I’ve seen have all wrapped up faster than an 80’s sitcom. I’m guessing that at over 300,000 words already, they basically told the author to wrap it up, already. This makes the end of the story seem very much like an “The Eagles are Coming” scenario which is fine, except I just lived an entire lifetime in your book and I feel like I deserve an ending that doesn’t feel contrived. Then again, some of the other endings were fine, so maybe it just comes down to making poor decisions on my part.

Check that off the bucket list Check that off the bucket list

All that said, Choice of Robots is all about the journey and not the destination and, as a gamebook, I’m hard-pressed to find better ones out there. Most gamebooks don’t get more than 2-3 reads from me, whereas CoR is already on its fifth. Each time I’m learning new things and making new choices. There’s a great amount of freedom here. Freedom to choose who you want to be, not just in gender and sexual orientation, but the kind of citizen and person you would like to be, at least for a short while.

If you’ve never played a Choice of Games gamebook before (like our 2013 IF GOTY Runner-up, The Fleet), start with Choice of Robots. Where the presentation falls short, the depth of the story is such that you won’t miss the pretty pictures. It’s truly a fantastic gamebook, and one I would recommend to anyone.

Review: Choice of Robots

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