When I first head of What Lies Beneath the Clocktower, I was delighted. A choose your own adventure novel in a steampunk world! I am a big fan of those adventure books and have quite a collection of the old D&D Endless Quest books, as well as the classic Steve Jackson/Ian Livingstone adventures and Joe Dever’s Lone Wolfbooks. So, I delved into this particular adventure with enthusiasm.
The setting is fittingly moody and slightly dark. The protagonist is an absinthe-addicted gentleman of leisure and he (or rather — you) stumbles into an unexpected underground civilization beneath Paris.
Unfortunately, the train of the story quickly loses steam. There are too many storylines and they do not connect or intersect. Once you have chosen a path, there is no going back. Depending on what choices you make at the beginning (after deciding to actually investigate the commotion), you are in for a really short adventure.
But even if you manage to get on a longer adventure, after about a dozen choices you reach the end. Granted, you can play this book several times and each time it is a new story but since these stories take about fifteen minutes to complete, it is not enough time to really get into them. So from a player’s perspective, What Lies Beneath the Clocktower is a bit of a disappointment.
The background, on the other hand, is unique and entertaining. A wannabe gentleman down on his luck and a bit too fond of alcohol more or less stumbles into a conflict between the Goblins and the Gnomes living in subterranean Paris.
Still, the world could have been utilized better if the single adventure strands had been lengthier. Now, you have to more or less follow every strand to get the whole picture. The single story lines are too short and slightly unsatisfactory. The whole background is neat and innovative but it takes too long and several attempts on the adventure to collect enough information to appreciate it.
All in all, I had expected more from this. It is a nice story, but much potential remains untapped. If you have time to trace every way through the book and follow every path however, its world is quite interesting. If you have played other game books before, this book could be just as disappointing for you as it was for me.
This story first appeared in Gatehouse Gazette #19 (July 2011), p. 11, with the headline “What Lies Beneath the Clocktower”.