It's 1997 and Bran is one of the few people that gets to play the very exclusive new video game - Apocalypse 2020. He sits in front of his computer monitor and the world around him fades away. No more worries about school, his dad, or his future. He can ignore that life and let the game and his imagination take him to another.
In the game, nuclear fallout has turned the United States into a post-apocalyptic hellhole filled with cannibal mutants, psychotic bandits, and killer robots. Can Bran survive the big guns, fast cars, extreme violence, and permanent character death in this intense, action-packed LitRPG?
My Opinion: 397 pages, $4.99, Available on Kindle Unlimited
Full disclosure: The author sent me an advance copy for review. I purchased it when it became available. Also, the novel is set in 1997, so if some references feel dated, it’s on purpose. Also, the game stuff is not in VR but at a keyboard and mouse but you don’t notice it. The game stuff feels immersive and not key clicky.
The author describes this novel as a collective choose your own adventure story that he originally published on the Royal Road. He says that the readers didn’t change any major plot points but they did determine how the main character would progress through the game by choosing his game class and all the skill choices he makes. There are also other choices the readers made but I can’t tell you about them without getting spoilery.
The first few pages of the story start like Mad Max, with the main character Boothe strapped to the hood of a car being driven to his death by two madmen. He fails a strength check to break the rope, fails a charisma check to convince them to stop, but succeeds in a dexterity check to loosen the ropes. These checks are shown by a small percentage that reflects the chances for the specific special actions to succeed. If you’ve played Fallout, you’ll be familiar with this style of RPG mechanics.
And for the most part, the game stuff is really more like Fallout than Mad Max. In 1997, the main character Bran plays as a post-apocalyptic survivor named Booth on his dad’s old PC. In game, Boothe has to traverse the wasteland and learn how to survive and complete quests to become stronger. The class and gameplay mechanics are going to be super familiar to anyone that’s played. Each level gets you a stat point to distribute and several class skills to choose from that customize the character. The last 8% of the novel is actually a game manual that the author put together for the game Bran plays. It has tons of details about how he determined game rolls and skill checks, and class details. There’s more than enough cool game details there for anyone who’s into that stuff.
Story wise, there are two arcs. The first is the game story where Boothe goes on quest after quest to gain experience and play around in this amazing computer MMO with permadeath. The second is the real-life storyline where Bran deals with school bullies and his loneliness at not having any friends in the city his father and he recently moved to.
If I’m honest, the game stuff isn’t super interesting until the author makes you care about the main character by revealing something about him. That takes a little while (8% mark) so if you find yourself not giving a hoot about Bran at the beginning, just push through it. The author actually does a really good job of making the real-life issues of the MC matter, even in the game. The MC goes from using the game as a form of escapism from his lonely life to a way to grow as a person and establish social bonds and friendships with other players. There’s even a little romance.
The game story is ok. It’s mostly just the daily adventures of the MC in the game until about 30% into the novel when the game story actually develops and the quests get some focus. Combat is good and there are a huge variety of monsters and opponents that the MC and his group face. The tactics for each mission vary and some are even completed without the use of violence.
One thing that might bug some people is the abrupt cliffhanger ending to the story. All the story points are resolved but the every last few sentences of the novel just set up something and then it just ends. I assume this is something for the sequel but it will likely make a couple people throw a kindle in frustration.
Also, personally the whole thing with Lucas as an antagonist feels a little forced but that’s a minor complaint.
Overall, even though the story has a slow start. It became more immersive once I started to know enough about Bran and I could empathize with how he used gaming to find friends. I enjoyed the story and the Fallout/Mad Max/Borderland vibe the game world existed in.
Score: 7 out of 10.