Can the eighties classic impose App Store justice?
Those who aren't into the comic scene will remember Judge Dredd as a pathetic Sylvester Stallone in the late nineties. Months before the series has a second opportunity on the theaters, Tin Man Games, the studio behind Gamebook Adventures, has managed to get hold of the license.
If you're not familiar with these apps already — reviewed here in the past — Gamebook Adventures are a series of classic format Choose Your Own Adventure books with a modern digital twist. All the fun you remember from the old days is still there, plus the convenience and pocketable form factor. I'm not a big fan of Judge Dredd myself, but I do love sci-fi its dystopian visions of the future. I'm totally in. The move to this franchise is a fresh departure from the fantasy themed gamebooks we already know. If you're more keen on fantasy worlds, there are eight gamebooks on the App Store waiting!
To make the transition to Judge Dredd: Countdown Sector 106, Tin Man Games has enhanced the experience, appearance and gameplay. The old-looking books are now gone to welcome some futuristic type of device to read on. Pagination works great and the app allows you to modify the font type to your taste — default settings are good for me. The dice rolling experience is still there, now with less RPG elements and more quick rolls to determine your judge authority when challenging some creeps, fitness tests before some physical effort and tuning your lawmaster and lawgiver skills. That is, your judge equipment of bad-ass motorbike, multipurpose gun and judgement stick.
Written by Nick Robinson based on the 2000 AD universe, Countdown Sector 106 places you in the feet of Judge Dredd himself. A shortage of street judges gets you assigned to this new sector despite your extensive experience. Upon arrival, your new boss and colleagues brief you about the sector, serving as a great introduction to this world and to the game mechanics.
One aspect I enjoyed throughout and kept me cheating — as in going back to the last bookmark — was the different options to face your enemies. You're usually presented with three ways to handle a situation with their pros and cons. For example, you could break in an apartment and arrest the suspect using the surprise factor, perhaps glide through a window or wait outside for somebody to come out first. The battle system also throughs similar dilemmas, asking you to use brute force in a typical Dredd style instead of calculating your shots or intimidating your rivals.
Moral choices conduct the story
Although themes like ethics and morality aren't explored in depth, every time you're confronted with choice, this is always present. You're not only a ruthless hero. You're supposed to represent justice, you're the law. Would you allow civilians to die while perps loot the mall? Will you attack an innocent just to stress your authority? Is your time worth dealing with juves instead of adults with a proper criminal record?
The story is adorned with fitting music that eventually gets repetitive. Notably, succeeding in a dice-rolling challenge will playback one of Dredd's trademark quotes, which are also mocked in the story itself, and gave a deeper level of immersion.
Where stories heavy on RPG customisation allow you to tweak the character right at the beginning of the game, Countdown Sector 106 disguises this too well in the first pages of the book. The decisions taken during your arrival at your new assignment will be critical for the development of the events, although as a player keen to roll the dices, I feel like I didn't pay much attention to it.
It's only on a second play-through that you weight carefully your preparation before hitting the streets. Unlike other parts of the game where you can keep your options open using bookmarks — which are used as checkpoints you can return to explore alternatives — this isn't the case with the initial setup. It's not very clever to begin the story from scratch halfway through, making you regret you didn't take a nap, attend the intelligence briefing or upgraded your equipment early on.
Of course, this is a restriction that enhances the story flow, reminding you of the present impact of your past decisions while adding a layer of complexity to the story. As a player, I enjoy figuring out how my choices affect the story, how the events develop differently. There is also little need to learn the rules as the game is very simple and you're introduced to all the type of confrontations early on. If your first time you found it challenging, you can change the difficulty settings starting a new game.
Universal treat for your eyes
Countdown Sector 106 is a Universal app that takes advantage of the Retina displays on either iPhone and iPad. For this review I used an iPhone and found myself playing on public transport very often. The portrait orientation and one tap controls work very well for this. The iPad version benefits from the obvious larger real state and the pages seem to be laid out better for this format. Also, the artwork you find through the story and the suspect files available in the main menu look super crisp at this resolution. This game will appeal to the comic fans and Tin Man Games has ensured that all the illustration is available at the highest resolution possible.
It's been almost a year and a half since I read my first gamebook and I love what I have in front of me. Judge Dredd: Countdown Sector 106 isn't promotional game for the upcoming movie Dredd 3D. This is a licensed property that shines with the gamebook format. It's no surprise that masters of the genre Tin Man Games came up with such a polished product — I took this for granted — and I found the character and story very fitting to the game style. The writing is accessible, introducing you to the Mega City One world slowly and introducing moral dilemmas with perfect timing. This will certainly appeal to newcomers without boring long-time fans — there's a lot of additional background information for you to explore on the side.
I completed the story on novice level in just two days, completely aware of the ending as it unveils every time you die. I'm sure I could squeeze more hours out of it keeping the ending unspoiled!