There are Zorks and there are Zorks, but now there is the latest Zork which is the first Zork: Zork Zero. Confused? Well, I certainly was. After the famous Zork trilogy came the innovative Beyond Zork, and now the game which acts as a prequel to the originals has arrived. Bigger it certainly is: but is it any better for that?
Zork Zero begins with a prologue set over 90 years before the start of the game proper. Megaboz the Wizard kills the royal family and sets a curse on the Great Underground Empire. One of your ancestors witnesses this and it's thanks to him that you have the vital piece of information which gives you an advantage above all the other glory (and treasure) seekers. So off you tramp, collecting the necessary objects, travelling the massive Underground empire, facing some angst-creating puzzles, playing games and facing the soon-to-be infamous Jester.
Remember the Wizard in Zork II? Well, the Jester must be his predecessor: he appears to give tricky puzzles and hindrances. Vet he also offers help and gives you useful items. Life is one big joke to this guy, but you'd love to punch him in the mouth when he turns you into something that would not be out of place as a really nice pair of alligator skin shoes!
On your travels through the Great Underground Empire not only do you have to deal with the Jester but also some murderous problems. These puzzles are reminiscent of the original Zorks and often just as tough. A nice break is the use of visual puzzles or games such as Tower of Bozbar or the Zorkian card game, Double Fanucci. These can be played as a by-the-by once they've been solved, simply for a bit of light entertainment.
The landscape in Zork Zero is quite huge, set in the time before the 'White House' which is the familiar starting point in the originals. In fact, many of the open ends eventually get explained by the end - an added incentive to play through to the end. The abode of the curses' original victim - Lord Dimwit Flathead the Excessive -contains everything from a massive underground lake, a 400 storey office and a closet large enough to sleep an army. Excessive indeed, making the Underground Empire finally appear to be 'Great'.
Graphics are minimalized in this particular Infocom 'graphic' game, limited to the occasional graphic depiction of the games, the portrait and pictorial descriptions in the Encyclopaedia Frobozzica. Not a full-blown graphic adventure, the text is enhanced by only a pretty border, so it retains the old feel of the older Zorks. However, it features the same rich, flowing text found in any classic Infocom adventure, and the graphics do actually enhance the game without spoiling the flow.
Zork Zero holds your attention, but never really pulls you in completely. Atmospherically, the old Zork is there, but seemingly dated: where are the other characters? Just a few scattered beings are present, who are solely an extension of the puzzle without trace of intelligence. This isn't a major flaw, as the game returns with a fantastic parser, on-screen mapping, and the incredibly useful mouse-controlled movement compass. It's so much friendlier than other Infocom games, and so damn good to look at, even without pictures.
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