Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/19/book-review-the-vladivostok-gauntlet-shadowrun/
The Vladivostok Gauntlet is the latest “Enhanced Fiction” release by Catalyst Game Labs for Shadowrun. It’s been a while since he had one of these – a year and a half to be exact with Another Rainy Night. That was a great little short story marred by two problems – way too big of price tag and the fact CGL never followed up with the metaplot potential of Another Rainy Night, instead going with something else entirely different in Storm Front.
The good news is that both problems are taken care of with The Vladivostok Gauntlet. The price tag is only $1.99 while having the same page count as Another Rainy Night. The story is also self-contained without any hints or teasing of a big metaplot shakeup to come. It’s great to see these two problems fixed, although Another Rainy Night, which is the better story, is still overpriced at $4.95.
So what is “Enhanced Fiction?” Well quite simply, you get a short story and then stats for all the major players within. In the case of The Vladivostok Gauntlet, you get the two main characters, the stats for the core generic antagonists and some background information about the area including potentials contacts, places of interest and gear. In this respect, TVG is far superior to the gaming content that came with Another Rainy Night, and it’s also missing the ads for other products, which is always a plus.
The Vladivostok Gauntlet is the story of one Yuri Yehzov. He’s a warehouse janitor with a dark and tormented past. Like a lot of people who have hit the skids, he remembers better days and keeps himself burdened with self-pity and self-loathing. However, in a nice twist, Yuri is so poor his cyberware has stopped function either somewhat or altogether. His wired reflexes are just taking up space in his body, his cybereyes are on the fritz to where he has regular visions and he even has his muscle implants forcibly removed by repo men. OUCH. Alas, the only part of his better days still functioning properly are his cyberears and unfortunately those ears coupled with both a self-destructive streak and a reaction to save a complete stranger from the Russian Mob (and later another group as well) set the wheels rolling for this fast paced “run for your life” story. It’s a fairly pat tale full of tropes, both Sixth World and Noir, but the writing in solid and the events believable, so it’s enjoyable for what it is.
I really liked that someone paid attention to the fact that cyberware can stop working and what happens when it does. This is something I’ve regularly thought about but very few, if any people have paid attention to it canon-wise until now. It helps to make Yuri unique in the world of Shadowrun fiction although I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets it all working again the next time we see him – if we ever do. It’s also great to take a look at a part of the Sixth World that is rarely talked, thought or written about. You get to meet some interesting people and see some pretty strange locations and I found the entire affair very enjoyable. The characters were given a lot of depth, especially considering the brevity of the piece and enterprising GMs now have some new antagonists, locations and plot threads for their game if they want to homebrew an adventure. It’s really well done.
There are only two negative things I can say about The Vladivostok Gauntlet. The first is that it really needed a better editor as a lot of articles are just missing from sentences. Things like “a” and “the” are missing from the narrative, which not only makes the piece feel sloppy but also has the narrator sounding like Boris Badenov in my head. It would work if the piece was meant to be a campy send up of Russians speaking English, but it’s not. The other issue is the cover as the art just looks…weird. The cover is supposed to feature a shapeshifter going from man to wolf form but the proportions are just terrible with the wolf head being the size of the rest of the body. It’s just comically bad. The rest of the cover art is decent, but the shapeshifter is front and center and really detracts from the rest of the visual going on.
All in all, The Vladivostok Gauntlet is a fun read. It’s only two bucks so it won’t break the bank and the price tag shows CGL has learned their lesson after Another Rainy Night. The story is fun, but not something you’ll kick yourself for missing down the road if you don’t pick it up. I enjoyed it for what it is – a short and entertaining look at the Sixth World in Russia and you’ll be happy to know that when you purchase this, you get the story in PDF, mobi and e-pub formats so you can read it in whatever format you prefer most. If you’re looking for a way to kill an hour, there are far worse ways to spend your time than picking up and reading The Vladivostok Gauntlet.