You are sitting in a room. Before you is a computer, outdated by today's standards. To your right is a mouse (the point & clicky kind). To your left are three games: action, formulaic adventure, and Zork Grand Inquisitor.
> Play action game.
You play for 10 minutes, during which time you impale yourself on spikes, get mowed down by gunfire, botch numerous acrobatic, death-defying jumps, and of course, fail to get an acceptable framerate. Final score n/a, as you couldn't even make it to the first save point.
> Shelve action game until hardware upgrade and more caffeine ingested. Play cookie-cutter adventure.
You play for several uninspired hours, enduring pixel hunts, mazes, slider puzzles, 63 futuristic mechanical door locks, linear hard triggers and awful timed sequences. You begin to contemplate killing yourself in frustration, but die of boredom first. Final score: 205 out of 1000.
> Throw adventure dreck away in disgust. Play Zork Grand Inquisitor.
You play for around 15 hours, enjoying superb artistic design, zany humour, memorable characters, creative gameplay, and a terrific variety of fun puzzles. You realize you've played one of the finest adventure games ever made, and conclude they just don't make 'em like they used to. You sob uncontrollably into pillow. Final score: 4.5 out of 5.
> Stop talking in annoying DOS text parser-ese and get on with review.
Oh, whoops, sorry. It's impossible to immerse yourself in the world of Zork and not get a little nutty. Or perhaps a better word would be "Zorky."
As one of the most enduring adventure franchises of all time, the name "Zork" needs no introduction, but a little history will put its familiarity in perspective. The original Zork game was released on various platforms in the early 1980's by Infocom, and went on to spawn several more text adventures in the Zork universe. Graphics were fully implemented in Return to Zork in 1993, followed by the excellent but surprisingly dark Zork Nemesis.
In 1997, Zork Grand Inquisitor became the last title in this venerable series; a fact deeply lamented by long-time fans and new converts alike. But let's not focus on the half-empty part of the glass. The good news is that ZGI returned the series to its oddball Zorkian roots, resulting in arguably the best all-around Zork game, and one of the few adventures that earn the label of "can't-miss."
Normally here I'd launch into a description of the game's story, but that would be selling ZGI short, since even installation is a noteworthy event. None of the standard Windows nonsense for Zork. Instead, we get the Frobozz Electric Installer! It's well worth the read, as Zork veterans will feel immediately at home, and newbies will be laughing anyway, while wondering just what the heck they're getting themselves into. (Pssst... a lot of fun; that's what.)
Through the introductory black and white propaganda film, we learn that Port Foozle has fallen under the dictatorship of the Grand Inquisitor, who has banished magic throughout the land, and pretty much sucked all the joy out of everything with his ridiculously strict laws. Anyone found guilty suffers the penalty of totemization--a double whammy of being squished into a tiny container and made to live forever. In other words, not a pleasant way to spend eternity.
As soon as we gain player control, we're in trouble. Okay, maybe not "as soon as." We are given fair warning over the blaring loudspeaker that "Curfew begins in one second!.... Curfew!!" So now we've got our backs against it. Already we're in violation of the rules, so why not go all out and do whatever we can to topple the Inquisitor and restore magic to the land? As it turns out, that will involve locating the Great Underground Empire (GUE) and finding three special artifacts with a little help from our friends we meet along the way.
Who exactly are we? Why, we're the now-infamous AFGNCAAP, the Ageless, Faceless, Gender-Neutral, Culturally Ambiguous Adventure Person. Yes, this is poking fun at the first-person perspective, where we get to actually play ourselves without committing to an in-game persona. The game is filled with such self-referential humour, ranging from oversized inventory jokes to blatantly obvious clue placement mockery. We're playing a game here. We know it, the game knows it, and the game knows we know it, so it's all about having a good time with it. Welcome to Zork.
Zork Grand Inquisitor plays much like every other first-person, node-movement, point & click adventure. Each node allows 360-degree panning, though not vertical panning that later games have incorporated. Aside from the occasional node disorientation, the interface and controls are intuitive and comfortable. Don't let the format fool you, though. ZGI is anything but a lonely, empty world filled with obtuse mechanical conundrums.
Although the game has relatively few characters onscreen (the running totemization counter would explain that), it actually feels quite alive, and does a great job of hiding its limitations. Through most of the game, you'll be accompanied by former Dungeon Master Dalboz, now trapped inside a lantern. Though tucked away in the inventory, Dalboz frequently provides amusing comments that add to the character of the game. This is a device that was used in the Journeyman Project games, though it's more subdued in Grand Inquisitor. Some of the remarks are truly funny, while others are just quirky, off-the-wall banter. Either way, Dalboz is a wonderful sidekick that'll keep a silly grin on your face.
The rest of the inhabitants you encounter are typically (for Zork) bizarre. Whether it's the bearded fish with a unicorn horn, the be-bop-singing home security vine, flickering and bickering torches, or the inflatable sea captain (all of whom talk), there's no shortage of worthy characters populating the game world. The humans you meet are presented through integrated FMV clips, and include such familiar faces as Dirk Benedict as Antharia Jack and Erick Avari as the Grand Inquisitor. The acting is definitely over-the-top, but it's clearly exaggerated ham that's perfectly suited to the delightful script. Avari's "I am the boss of you!" speech has become as renowned a Zorkism as "Want some rye? Course ya do!"Continued on the next page...