Bitmap Books is a company that’s been on my radar for a while, but whose books I’d never gotten around to picking up. They had built up a very solid reputation for generally very well-written books about video games, both on the computer and the PC with really solid production values, both in terms of the layout of the books, and the quality of the materials used. The book I’m reviewing today – The CRPG Book – is no such exception.
The CRPG Book does kind of what it says on the cover – it runs down the history of computer role-playing games (console games generally excluded) from the 1970s to the present day. The rundown is broken down by decade for the first portion of the book, then by 5 year span by the later portion of the book. Each section includes some a quick primer on what else was going on in games at that time to give context – such as the release date for games like Doom and Quake, along with home consoles like the Xbox, as those had impacts that would spill over to CRPGs, either by changing the style of game to take advantage of new technologies or pushing changes in style to fit with releasing the game both on console and on PC.
It’s also important to mention what this book is not. This is not a “150 CRPGs to play before you Die” kind of book. Some of these games have aged poorly, and the writers often, but not always, recognize that. Other games are just bad, but are bad in interesting ways. Other games are a very acquired taste that make them something the contributor to the book likes, but you may not. Others just are lacking quality of life improvements that would make them difficult for people to play, or have mechanical quirks meant to make the game more “special” but can make them obtuse – which the contributor thinks isn’t a problem and you should git-good.
This does lead to the weakness of the book, which is also (to a degree) its strength. The book has a massive variety of contributors to the text, who all bring different things to the table, both in terms of their history with CRPGs and their taste in games. While the reviews are marked by author, it’s with a three letter initial code. While there is a list of contributors at the start of the book, it’s also not exactly done alphabetically in a way that makes sense. It might have taken more column inches to give a longer contributor name, and in the process added a page or two to the contributor section, but it would have done a lot to help keep straight who contributed what, and in the process to see how their preferences impact what games they write about.
In all, I did really enjoy The CRPG Book. It is still, as of this writing, still available for purchase directly from Bitmap Books, but in the event it sells out permanently, I’d recommend keeping an eye on your friendly local used bookseller to see if a copy becomes available.
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