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Literature / Freeway Warrior

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Freeway Warrior is a Gamebook series from the 1980s, but it departed from many of its contemporaries by shunning the typical High Fantasy setting for a post-apocalypse scenario inspired by the Mad Max movies.

After civilization is ruined by nuclear terrorism, the player takes the role of Cal Phoenix, a young man charged with protecting his fellow survivors of "Dallas Colony One" as they make a hazardous journey across the ruins of southwest America, now ridden with outlaw clans and other dangers. Unfortunately, Cal's duty takes a turn for the worse right in the opening moments of book 1, when he kills a clan scout who happens to be the brother of the psychopathic terrorist Mad Dog Michigan, whose allies now control what is left of America's eastern seaboard. Cal has gained a powerful nemesis who will stop at nothing to massacre him and his fellow survivors.


The Freeway Warrior series consisted of four books, and is most notable for having been written by Joe Dever, creator of the Lone Wolf franchise. Despite their different settings, the two series share many rules and similarities.

Books in the series:

  • #1 Highway Holocaust note  (1988)
  • #2 Slaughter Mountain Run note  (1989)
  • #3 The Omega Zone (1989)
  • #4 California Countdown (1989)

Not to be confused with Freeway Fighter, which is part of the Fighting Fantasy series.


Freeway Warrior provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Kate is pretty badass, for someone who got kidnapped or otherwise endangered so often. When she's not abducted or sick, she's comfortable with scavenging, sneaking, running, or straight up blazing away with a gun right alongside you.
  • After the End: Brought about by nuclear weapons.
  • All Bikers Are Hells Angels: Played to the hilt, as almost every biker Cal encounters is a murderous clansman.
  • The Apunkalypse: A post-apocalyptic landscape filled with malevolent biker clans, who do indeed dress like punks and have colorful nicknames.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Machine pistols chew through ammo faster than any other gun. They're arguably the best gun to start with... but only because that starts you off with more ammo, which you can use when you find a regular pistol.
  • Badass Driver: The bad guys took much of their inspiration from Mad Max, and so did the fact that Cal regularly has to perform badass maneuvers with his car to survive. The height is probably in book 4, where you might end up executing a bootlegger's turn to escape being buried by a rock avalanche.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The first three books feature these.
    • Book 1: The convoy of Dallas Colony One has made it to Big Springs, and now both colonies have teamed up... but Kate has been abducted by the Mavericks, who will soon turn her over to Mad Dog Michigan.
    • Book 2: You've rescued Kate, and the convoy has reached El Paso, teaming up with the World Defense League soldiers there... but El Paso is now surrounded by Mad Dog and his allies, who will soon acquire enough explosives to blow the town sky-high.
    • Book 3: The explosives were neutralized, the convoy has reached the Tucson colony to become bigger than ever, and you've personally dealt Mad Dog a textbook No One Could Survive That!... but Captain Frankland, Sergeant Haskell, and Marine Knott all made the ultimate sacrifice, you'll probably have nightmares about snipers for the rest of your life, and you know in your heart of hearts that Mad Dog is still out there.
    • Book 4: The convoy made it to the California safe zone, everyone you care about survived, and Mad Dog Michigan is absolutely for-sure Deader Than Dead. Finally, unambiguous victory!
  • Boom, Headshot!: Cal shoots a lot of bad guys over the course of the series, and does score the occasional headshot (although Instant Death Bullet is in full effect, so it doesn't really matter). The most dramatic use of this trope actually goes to the bad guys, as Helmut Varken snipes no less than three of Cal's comrades with headshots (and Cal himself can become Varken's fourth headshot via The Many Deaths of You during that sequence).
  • Car Fu: Cal does run over the occasional bad guy with his car.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Done in a very subtle way. In the "Dateline to Disaster" timeline in book 1 (detailing the history that lead up to the apocalypse), it's mentioned that in 2008, the President of the United States and the General Secretary of the Supreme Soviet are both assassinated by a HAVOC agent while on their way to a summit meeting. In book 3, you meet this assassin... as his (final) target.
  • Cold Sniper: Helmut Varken, twice over. For one, he's a completely merciless sniper who is content to shoot Cal even if the latter is unarmed and surrendering. For another, he travels in an air-conditioned riding suit to protect himself from the wasteland heat!
  • Conscience Makes You Go Back: The final challenge of the series is a Hold the Line battle, where volunteers are called upon to stay behind and fight to buy time for the convoy to enter the California safe zone. You're actually given the option to not volunteer and continue on to the safe zone with the convoy. If you do this, Cal doesn't even get five feet before he sees all the convoy's other badasses (including Kate) volunteering to fight, realizes that leaving Kate behind would be unbearably shameful, and decides to participate in the battle anyway.
  • Cool Car: Cal's powerful, customized roadster, which serves him well until it's finally wrecked for good in book 4.
  • Cool, Clear Water: Mostly avoided, as most of the major sources of water come from actual storage tanks, and part of Cal's Fieldcraft training (should you choose to invest in it) includes learning how to identify safer water sources in the wild; in addition, his survival supplies include water purification tablets.
  • Covers Always Lie: In the text, Kate is consistently depicted as blonde, yet on the cover of the American edition of book 1 (above), she's a redhead.
  • Crazy Survivalist: Downplayed, as most of the "survivalist" types Cal encounters end up being harmless or even helpful rather than hostile. The only arguable exception is in book 3, where Cal (and Knott) meet a survivalist family after the two break into their bunker in desperation to get away from an elite HAVOC sniper. The survivalists turn out to be jerkasses who kick Cal and Knott out (while being fully aware that the sniper is watching their doorstep), but their reaction is somewhat understandable given that the two invaded their home first.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Interestingly averted in places. Most of the time, the books play this trope straight — long as you have at least 1 Endurance Point left, you're still in the game. Yet there are numerous challenges (particularly in later books) that measure not only the relevant survival skill, but your current Endurance Points. So if you have been heavily wounded by earlier encounters, it'll be much harder to pass these challenges without dying or getting hurt even more.
  • Death from Above: The fate of the final clan horde harassing the colonist convoy, courtesy of California's last fighter jet.
  • Determinator:
    • Like most hero types, Cal never gives up easily, but especially whenever Kate's life is on the line, he will think of absolutely nothing else until she is safe, and neither clan armies nor blinding sandstorms nor jerkass colony guards will stop him from coming through for her.
    • Mad Dog Michigan is also this trope. Once his Roaring Rampage of Revenge begins, it's repeatedly demonstrated that there is no alliance he is unwilling to make, or resource he's unwilling to expend, or defeat he will not crawl back from in order to keep attacking Cal Phoenix and his people. Kate warns Cal up front that Mad Dog will stop at nothing to get even with him, and she isn't even remotely exaggerating.
  • Disaster Scavengers: The various clans are a combination of this and Western Terrorists, complete with punk style.
  • Dump Stat: The Field Craft skill gets little respect among most veterans of this series.
  • Early Game Hell: While the threats to Cal and his fellow colonists continue to escalate over the series, the first book is notoriously lethal, as "save or die" events are just as common as they are in the later books, yet Cal's survival skills are still at beginner levels.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Mad Dog Michigan is an almost demonic psychopath, but his love for his brother Stinger is indisputable. As late as the opening of book 3, Mad Dog cites his vow to avenge his brother's death as his motive to exterminate Cal's people — not Cal rescuing Kate from him (twice!), not Cal personally besting him and running off with his strategic map, not even Cal's colony crawling into bed with his old nemesis the World Defense League, but simply Cal killing what was probably the only human being that Mad Dog ever cared about.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: More often than not, whenever a bad guy or Cal himself gets shot and crashes their vehicle, said vehicle ends up exploding.
  • Evil Is One Big, Happy Family: The post-apocalypse clans generally fight each other when they're not busy attacking the civilized colonists... that is, until Mad Dog Michigan comes along. For a guy who answers to "Mad Dog", the villain displays an incredible talent for convincing warring clans of all breeds to join his cause. Despite what psychopaths all these guys are, not once does Cal ever learn of any kind of power struggle or personality conflict among Mad Dog's ranks.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Perception is one of your survival skills. It's not challenged quite as often as Stealth or Shooting, but failing a Perception check can have unpleasant or even lethal consequences for Cal.
  • Faking the Dead: In book 3, Cal and his allies use this ploy to throw Mad Dog Michigan's inexhaustible scouts off their trail.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The terrorist organization that causes the nuclear holocaust — the "Hijack, Assassination, and Violent Opposition Consortium" or HAVOC.
  • Ghost City: As you might expect, and usually good news, as most of the other ruins are ruled by clansmen or other bad guys.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: The Soviet Union lasts right up to the holocaust in 2012.
  • Handicapped Badass: Mad Dog Michigan loses his left hand and left eye after you defeat him (car vs. car) at the end of book 3. It doesn't stop him from showing up for book 4's climactic battle with a chainsaw.
  • Heel–Face Turn: In book 4, you meet and recruit Cookie, a deserter from the Pumas clan. Cal's fellow colonists don't trust him, constantly suspecting him of trying to lead them into traps, but he turns out to be on the level.
  • Hit Points: Endurance Points serve the same function as hit points would. Like in Lone Wolf, they're a measure of how long you can last in melee combat. When you're in a firefight, on the other hand, blowing the Shooting or Stealth roll might kill you instantly (regardless of your current EP) or it might just shave off a few EP.
  • Hold the Line: At the end of book 4, the final challenge for Cal (and the colony's other warriors) is to hold back Mad Dog Michigan's horde long enough for the colony to enter the California safe zone.
  • Homage:
    • In book 3, Cal's climactic duel with sniper Varken in Tombstone, Arizona is Dever's tribute to the famous OK Corral shootout. The narrative even mentions the legendary incident during the final exchange of gunfire.
    • While it probably wasn't deliberate (unlike the OK Corral bit), the beginning of the sequence with Varken, when he picks off your badass military buddies one by one in a forest area without ever showing himself, is reminiscent of Predator, as well.
  • Hyperspace Arsenal: A rare aversion (for a gamebook), as carrying too much equipment penalizes your Stealth skill.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: In book 2, Cal is actually helped by cannibals at one point, before he realizes what they are.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Whenever you shoot a bad guy, they usually drop dead without any further fanfare. Of course, in accordance with the trope, whenever you are fatally shot, the narrative will often describe you staggering or bleeding out or clinging feebly to consciousness for a few more moments before succumbing to the wound, because you're a gamebook hero and a simple "The clansman's bullets hit you. Your life and your journey end here" is too lame to satisfy The Many Deaths of You.
  • It Began with a Twist of Fate: Cal is just an everyday guy, albeit a little tougher than most post-apocalypse survivors, and the people of Dallas Colony One may well have had a rough but fairly uneventful journey to California... if Cal hadn't, as mentioned above, killed Mad Dog Michigan's brother. Mad Dog's epic campaign of revenge repeatedly forces Cal to go out of his way to save the day over multiple books, and they're still at each other's throats even as the convoy is entering the California safe zone.
  • Love Interest: Kate Norton, one of the more notable areas where the series differed from Lone Wolf.
  • The Many Deaths of You: As with Lone Wolf, Dever shows a great fondness for player death scenes.
  • Mistaken Age: A mild but amusing example happens in book 2, when Cal and Mad Dog Michigan meet face-to-face for the first time. Mad Dog turns out to be older than Cal had imagined, being middle-aged and already starting to grey. Yet — this being a Joe Dever story — Cal is still quick to note the "unmistakable aura of power" and vengeful evil emanating from his nemesis.
  • Moment Killer: This happens to Cal and Kate near the end of book 1, as they realize their feelings for each other while they're gathering water for their fellow colonists, and begin to kiss. Unfortunately for both of them, attacking clansmen choose this exact moment to ambush them, and Kate is abducted not long thereafter.
  • New Old West: Cal's story is a tale of civilization versus barbarism in a post-apocalyptic American southwest.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Cal didn't exactly have a choice at the time, but he probably would have saved himself a lot of grief if he could've fled from Mad Dog's brother instead of killing him outright.
  • Non-Indicative Name: You have a Stealth skill, and while it is used for sneaking around, it's also tested for situations that require general coordination or speed (even if you're not trying to hide from anyone).
  • The Only One: This is the vibe at the start of the series, when it's just Cal and Dallas Colony One. While the other members of DC1 have useful skills, Cal is the only one who's sufficiently tough and quick-witted to serve as the colony's scout (and post-apocalyptic errand runner).
  • Rare Guns: Not quite that rare, but finding the right combination of guns and ammo is important.
  • Rescue Arc: Cal takes on more than one mission to save Kate. Lampshaded in the first book, when Kate says that this is "starting to become a habit."
  • Scenery Porn: The series dips into this every now and then. At first, Cal thinks that the barren wasteland resembles the surface of another planet more than the green world he once knew, but later he marvels upon discovering giant yucca plants and other vegetation that survived the apocalypse.
  • Separated by a Common Language: The author is British and used British English, which is slightly jarring in a gamebook series set in America.
  • Turn Coat: In book 4, Cal must uncover a traitor who's sabotaging the colony on behalf of the clansmen.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: When this series was written in the 1980s, a 2012 holocaust seemed distant. Now, not so much.
  • Vehicular Combat: Cal often engages in vehicle vs. vehicle antics with clansmen and other bad guys, the height being a car duel with Mad Dog Michigan (who has an even better Cool Car than Cal) at the end of book 3.
  • Western Terrorists: The various clansmen and HAVOC terrorists are the usual post-apocalypse punks, rather than Muslims.
  • World Building: Joe Dever got much of the inspiration for these books from a road trip he once took through the American southwest. In fact, the route Dever took on this trip closely mirrors Cal's own journey (minus, hopefully, the part where Cal runs through a forest trying to get away from a legendary sniper).
  • Wrestler in All of Us: In the final battle, Mad Dog Michigan attacks Cal with a chainsaw. If the blade gets stuck in the scenery during the ensuing fight, one of the ways Cal can take advantage of the opening is to execute a pro wrestling-style dropkick against Mad Dog.


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