An assassin must scrounge $50,000 to escape Earth's post-apocalyptic sewer society.
S.A. dove into his cyberpunk worldbuilding with a thoroughly detailed and sprawling dystopia that has turned even the wealthiest into scum. Except for one line I encountered, “It's all quite sad,” the story lets its action and atmosphere explain the facts instead of a writer's exposition getting in the way. The first paragraph, for instance, reveals the protagonist's trade without having to blandly state it. The slightly polemical writing makes some jabs at religion and the prison industrial complex. It also has some well-implemented philosophical blurbs. The story places readers in eerie and dangerous predicaments that add to the tension, such as in a spider hole with a guard robot and more guards above, or among the spiteful wealthy with guards on all sides. I would argue, though, that a world this developed doesn't need to lift the names Jax and Ryu from popular video game franchises Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter respectively.
The character sheet, or Mission Sheet here, contains all the rules for the game. I like the idea because it pressures the author into not overexplaining things. That said, he still overexplains.
“Use explosive weapons such as grenades, etc. judicially for each can only be used once; they must be crossed off from the Mission Sheet after use.”
I prefer: (One use). Anyone playing this knows about the explosiveness of grenades. I think S.A. nearly discovered this issue when he wrote “Strength (pretty straight forward).”
I've noticed some improvements over the previous entry by S.A., Dirty Instruments. The sewer world feels more relatable and better assembled than the somewhat generic lunar setting. The four main areas have their own flare, or in this case, gloom. Players will easily learn the locales and won't feel as lost in a sci-fi jungle. Also, the Piety stat has left, thus preventing some awkward questions on how an assassin can have any piety at all. Each of the four protagonists can explore their backgrounds, making the story less desultory than Dirty Instruments. Plus, we get a proper ending.
Instrument of the Gods still needs some editing, though. Section 100 uses thrash instead of trash.
“New Star city” and “Alpha city” need city capitalized. Terms like “sludge lined path” need hyphenation. En and em dashes get used interchangeably, a recurring problem this year. Also in common with other entries, S.A. overuses all the keyboard symbols for cheap flow. Some commas have gone missing as others appear unwelcomed. We definitely don't want a comma here: “Grave is a ruthless, contract killer.” Or here: “two, small papers.” And what could the following sentence have possibly done wrong?
“His sheer size simmers caution through your body.”
Well, look at all those s and sh sounds. Yes, English truly wants to assassinate us all. Reading one's sentences aloud can detect such problems.
S.A. might also want to review the the comma and capitalization rules governing dialogue. And on 50 with the word “nice,” single quotation marks must offset a quote within a quote. I've done so here:
“'My access to the solar system,' he says pointing to it with a satisfied grin.”
For reasons I won't get into, the universe wants us to lose the ing and write it as he says and points to it...
Some phrases get overused, such as making their way. I'd consider a better verb for the task. Needless to say (then why say it?) keeps appearing too, as does unceremoniously—a negating, redundant, grossly polysyllabic -ly adverb. S.A. also likes to use upon instead of on.
While S.A. can handle long sentences, their wordiness clutters the idea flow. Take this clunky one, for example:
“Numerous sweatshops and manufacturing chambers rest within this area supplying the solar system with fruits of their labor, mainly Euphoria pills which happen to be the most coveted and addictive narcotic ever produced by man.”
The plural sweatshops and chambers make numerous redundant. Do these busy places really rest? Do the buildings do labor as stated, or do their workers? Haven't we heard fruits of their labor enough times before? Doesn't mainly lessen the impact? Doesn't everything happen to be? Can't we assume that man produced the pills (who else would have)? Consider this:
The sweatshops and manufacturing chambers here supply the solar system with Euphoria, the most coveted and addictive narcotic ever made.
We could go further. Maybe have plants or factories instead of manufacturing chambers. People covet anything addictive, so maybe switch coveted with the more specific profitable or such. As a slight technicality, a narcotic primarily induces sleep, not euphoria. The legal system simply made a factoid out of getting the pharmacology wrong.
On the topic of wordiness, we don't need human on “human corpse.” With “burst forth explosively,” all three of those words do the same thing, conceptually. So when should we repeat things? Well, “to serve as servants” looks like a slip-up. “The sewer has a sewer” looks great.
The writing does, though, work splendidly enough in places to make this entry my favorite this year.
“The man’s body slumps to the floor bloodied beyond recognition. The crowd around you looks on with concern for no more than a second or two before going about their regular business. A few moments later a pack of stray, mangy dogs rains down upon the carcass to relieve it of any flesh. The act of death and the removal of its evidence appear to be a finely tuned process down here in New Star.”
Although the words “rain down upon” all imply the same thing, the forthright protagonist makes many clever epigrams throughout the story.
Many mechanical problems arise, such as with the checks for an STD atop section 10 and elsewhere. This gives too much a-priori knowledge, warning the player to remain celibate. It may have worked better to give the player an instruction once infected, then have him apply that instruction on sections marked with an asterisk or the like. Too often do we see the cramming of unknowable outcomes into so few sections.
Also on 10, why check for the player's name, Grave, along with the event word Home when only Grave can ever obtain Home? It may as well just ask for the event word. 78 declares a shootout, yet references the hand-to-hand combat rules. 35 has no way out. 94 calls an event word, Daddy, an item in the options. Oddly, my final review this year must refer back to my first one of Alchemist's Apprentice. Both stories demand too much moping around trying to match the event words with the right section.
The game has an interesting way of forcing replays to find out how each character handles the sewers. That said, three of the four premade characters have high combat and defense stats, and this lessens the potential variety. The whole gamebook looks carefully constructed, though. The writing just presents a story without trying to tell readers what they ought to feel. I hope this entry can cut through the many, many layers of modern bubble wrap (see my Thiathrow review) and get the votes it deserves.