It’s an incredibly rare event in the world of modern gaming in which you can go and make a cup a tea without pausing, and without returning to find your player character no more than a crumpled heap on the floor, with some random NPC dancing on its corpse. To find what basically equates to a text adventure of the Zork or Hitchchhiker’s Guide variety coming to PS4 that you can play at a leisurely pace with a cup of tea in one hand and a joypad in the other is basically unheard of. However, here I am, leisurely swiping the track pad while playing through what can best be described as an interactive, choose your own adventure book.

Set between the fourth and fifth books from series of the same name (so bonus points if you remember playing those), Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf transports players to the blustery snow-capped land of Sommerlund and into the shoes of the titular Lone Wolf, local lord and Geralt of Rivia cosplay enthusiast, charged with ridding the land of vile forces set to destroy it in a dark fantasy tale that can best be described as a mash up of The Lord of the Rings and the aforementioned Witcher (predating the latter).

Much like the gamebook series that it’s adapted from, Lone Wolf is all about choice, and constructing your own unique narrative experience. Like all good RPGs, it begins with you creating your character and giving you a wide variety of abilities to choose from that will help you out on your adventure such as animal husbandry, brute force and stealth. Each skill you choose to adopt has a real effect on the events that transpire in the game. For example, you could come across an angry-looking wolf and rather than just fighting the thing you could use animal husbandry to instead communicate with it and see what its problem is.

If you haven’t guessed already, you’ll spend most of your time in Lone Wolf reading, scanning through pages of narrative exposition with the occasional picture thrown in to better punctuate the text. Occasionally, you’ll be asked to make a choice over where to go, or how to react to a certain situation. For the most part though, it’s simply reading combined with the odd tinkering of your inventory and character sheet for good measure. Just to reiterate my point from earlier, Lone Wolf is an RPG in the most traditional sense possible. If you’re looking for a new action RPG like Dragon Age or The Witcher, keep right on looking. You’ll be sorely disappointed. Lone Wolf is a methodical, tactical game that has far more in common with Fighting Fantasy than Final Fantasy.

Lone Wolf is a very straightforward and simple game. Travelling from place to place, the next chapter of the narrative is revealed and you are then tasked with making decisions that will effect the plot going forward at key junctures. Sometimes, your way forward is a result of your own choices and at other points the way you progress will be based upon the skills that you chose at the game’s outset. As a result, Lone Wolf has a lot of potential for replayability, with the myriad of paths and four large acts creating pretty much a different tale every time.

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Breaking up the copious amounts of reading and character management are bouts of turn-based combat. Presented in third-person, these sequences have your particular Lone Wolf squaring off against bands of monsters and other unsavoury types. During each turn, you can use a host of different Kai (magic) abilities, weapon-based skills or healing items. Your Kai abilities are particularly powerful, and in most cases can turn the tide of a particularly tough fight, so it’s best to use them only when you really need to. While the combat is quite well implemented, with moves performed by moving the analogue sticks at the correct time (reminiscent of a QTE which gives proceedings a nice tactile feel) it ultimately feels very basic with the two sides simply knocking lumps out of each other until hopefully ol’ LW is the last one standing.

It’s also not particularly exciting aesthetically, aside from the nice sepia transition at the end (which felt oddly reminiscent of the end of an episode of Black Adder III). This is mostly down to Lone Wolf’s mobile origins, which means that although fights are presented in nice, crisp 1080p (which by mobile standards would be pretty damn good) by console standards they look dated. As such, the combat could have done with being completely overhauled for the console remaster to make them far more visceral and pretty. Likewise, the gentle clatter of swords and pained grunts from enemies sound more like they’ve stubbed their toe than have an axe buried in their side and undermines the action on-screen. It creates a weird disconnect, and reminds you at every turn that you’re playing a souped-up mobile title.

Elsewhere, Lone Wolf manages to mix things up splendidly, with an incredibly familiar lock picking mini-game (identical to the one in Skyrim/Fallout) in which you have to guess at what angle the pin needs to be in before turning the lock and hoping it doesn’t break. Meanwhile, events that would be settled with a dice roll in a traditional RPG book, such as dishing out bonus damage or attempting something risky during the story like trying to climb or ambush an enemy have been jazzed up. The player takes part in a quick time event, rather than pressing go on a random number generator. Unlike the roll of the dice, success or failure is based entirely on your ability to quickly press the right button at the right time. Depending on how well you perform, your Lone Wolf could be the jammiest bastard in Sommerland, or a bumbling idiot.

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Ultimately, the core of the experience is the narrative, and sadly this is where Lone Wolf falls on its arse. With a hackneyed and predictable plot and a cast of unlikeable characters (especially the protagonist, who really does feel like a poor man’s Geralt), it’s just not up to snuff. We’re beset on all sides by the typical Tolkienesque beasts that the writer has renamed to try and make them sound original. They’re Orcs, Joe! It doesn’t matter what trussed-up name you give them. They’re bloody Orcs! It also falls down on that annoying crutch (all too common to fantasy fiction) where the writer bombards the reader with oblique terms for things that happen in the world or systems with no explanation of what they actually do. Very quickly the whole thing just seems like trying to read the owner’s manual for a long-obsolete diesel generator. To someone well versed in this particular universe, I’m sure it makes sense, but to the rest of us it is essentially gibberish. And how much of a fanbase does a semi-popular series of RPG gamebooks still have?

On the plus side, aside from the combat sequences lacking anything special, the game does effectively turn your TV into a giant and incredibly ornate tome that befits the epic aspirations of the narrative nicely. The way it presents new text on the screen (allowing you to customise the font to one more pleasing to your eyes) while using the track pad to great effect as a means of navigating each page is very cool. Likewise, the game’s numerous illustrations and maps are all rendered in that classical dark fantasy style that’s both striking and easy on the eyes.

Lone Wolf’s audio presentation is also very well done. Though voice acting is kept to a minimum, as this is after all an interactive book, the game’s sweeping and highly atmospheric orchestral score helps to give each new location a sense of place, keeping the player immersed as a result.

Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf: Remastered isn’t for everyone. Scratch that, it isn’t for many people at all. With a slow pace, masses of text and lack of action, those used to the frantic action of most modern RPGs will no doubt be left feeling a little cold. Though the writing does leave a little to be desired at times (read: most of the time), there’s still a strange sort of charm to it, in a bad B-movie kind of way. Its superbly crafted atmospherics and interesting gamebook mechanics suckered me in eventually. Overall, it’s a unique adventure, and one that I would recommend to PS4 owners looking for something relaxing and different, while still having the option to shiv something horrible-looking every once in a while.

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