Originally a French-exclusive release, Captive is part of a multi-book Kickstarter that ran earlier this year. These books are just starting to hit retail now, and we wanted to jump on reviewing them to take a look to see if the $23 is justified for a self-contained solo experience.
Stand Out Features
A new take on Adventure Gamebooks: I’m a huge fan of the adventure gamebook genre. I grew up reading UK imports like Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf, which introduced me to tracking a protagonist's stats on a special character sheet embedded in the front of the book. For about 30 years, that’s pretty much all gamebooks have done. In the last ten years, we’ve started to see a trend towards exploring new avenues of gameplay, and Captive is a great example of that. Captive is about efficient mapping, being observant, and persistance (you won’t be beating this book on the first play.)
Superb Comic Art: Before I read Captive, I honestly couldn’t conceive how the complexity of a comic could work in a standalone graphic novel. But the trick is: get an amazing artist on board. Despite the cartoony artwork, Captive is completely immersive, and you’ll find yourself pouring over panels to discover clues and detect potential traps. The cinematic feel of the book wouldn’t work without the exceptional artist (who goes by simply “MC”.)
One thing that is really impressive and helps the immersiveness is that there are sometimes special illustrations depending on which direction you enter a room. Or a room will be redrawn to simply show that your character has turned off a TV.
Open Story, Open Game: The above two features are shared with all the new line of Adventure Gamebooks, but what makes Captive stand out is that it has a very simple setup, and the gameplay itself (which is moving through a house) unravels a complex and interesting story that will have you turning page after page to solve. While the game does shoehorn you in going through the house in a specific way to be successful, there are many branches and options along the way. Do you run up to the second floor immediately? Or grab some useful items by exploring the first floor?
What We Liked
Captive is extremely immersive. You start the game outside a mansion tasked with finding your daughter. You have two friends there to help you, but who they are or how they know you isn’t explained. You enter the house, they go upstairs, you explore the downstairs and GO.
To discover all of the secrets the house holds, you’ll need to explore and attempt to complete the adventure many times, but each time you fail (due to time, finding an instant-death ending, or taking too much damage), you learn secrets of the mansion that you can use on your next playthrough. That means you will need to replay the same rooms a few times. I found that if I waited a couple of days before a replay it helped keep replaying through previously-explored rooms less repetitive.
Additionally, the house is huge, and I found that I needed to write my own map to try to take notes on where objects are and to keep track of where I explored. This is an astounding accomplishment for the artist and writer, and I’d love to see a “making of” for how they managed to so cohesively put this mansion together. I never found a “bug” playing which is a bit shocking when you think how complicated the layout + time game design problem is. This is something computer games consistently have problems dealing with: characters appearing in places that they shouldn’t be, and scripts activating when they shouldn’t. The idea that this was done with a simple comic book is a jaw-dropping accomplishment.
One little thing I really liked is that there’s a pretty clever system of listing panel numbers at the bottom of each page, so you don’t have to look at the panels and potentially get spoiled of an area you haven’t been yet.
What Could Be Improved
Like 90s adventure games, there are a few paths that result in instant death. You are sometimes given extensive warnings that the path is bad, but it’s an unfortunate way to punish curious players, and as a mechanic should probably be left to old Choose Your Own Adventure books and King’s Quest adventure games. Additionally, towards the end of the adventure you will be required to have certain items to succeed. This is disappointing, and I think the only point where the book feels a bit forced.
One of the core gameplay mechanics of Captive is that you are searching rooms for small numbers that reveal secret passages (comic panels) that offer dangers or sometimes items. I felt like I was pretty good at finding them, but since the comic is printed at small 5x7 size (quite a bit smaller than a regular graphic novel), I often felt that I must be missing something.
This mechanic is very similar to 7th Content, which includes a magnifying glass, and I think that’d be a great accessory to use on this game; at least until gets a full-sized printing. I’m sure the diminutive size is to save on printing costs, but I know that if it ever does get a full-size printing, I’ll be adding that to my collection (and ditching this version.)
Despite comic appearance, Captive is a thrilling adventure, that truly brings to mind 90s PC games. While it’s “on rails” in the sense that you have limited number of different routes you can take, the book is constructed so well that you truly feel that you are exploring a real house full of menacing cultists, animals, and much worse. The experience is much like 7th Continent, and I think if you like that game, you’ll really like this book.
Time To Learn: Less than five minutes reading.
Price: Retail Price is $23, Cool Stuff has it for $17.
Thom: (9/10) Excellent - very much enjoy playing.
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