In The Lurking Horror, you are a student at G.U.E. Tech. You have braved a snowstorm to get to the Computer Center and finish work on an assignment. But the snowstorm has turned into a raging blizzard, and has trapped you in a complex of buildings late at night. You are not alone, fortunely ... or perhaps, unfortunately. Thus you begin the story, unaware that anything may be wrong beneath or within the veneer of the quiet campus.
HOORAY! Another Zork adventure game. And one I didn't know existed. I thought I'd explored every part of Zork, so when I came upon The Lurking Horror, I was rapt. I'm sure there are a few more fans of all things Zork who feel the same way. This sequel explores the world of the G.U.E. Tech. (If you've played Zork: Grand Inquisitor, the last game in the series, you would have been transfixed by the graphics of this amazing place, including the floating fountain in the foyer and the Infinite Corridor.) Unfortunately, there are no pictures from The Lurking Horror as this is a text adventure, although there are sound effects included. (To the right are screenshots from the manual, not the game.) But the writing is excellent and the descriptions are lively and imaginative enough to make you feel that you're right there. And what a college this is! The curriculum is a combination of Information Technology (computing), Engineering and Magic! In fact, the whole college reeks of magic. (In Zork: Grand Inquisitor you learnt that the college doesn't exist in the normal space/time continuum but somewhere beyond, making anything possible.)
Like all Zork games, this one isn't really scary as the name implies - it has more of a Gothic feel than anything horrific or frightening. As the game commences, you are a student of infamous G.U.E. Tech. You've ploughed through a snowstorm to get to the Computer Center to finish an assignment. Outside, the snowstorm has grown into a tremultuous blizzard and you're now trapped inside this eerie complex as outside it becomes darker and wilder. As in all Zork games, you'll soon be swept into a dark, enchanted underworld, peopled with quirky and sometimes dangerous characters, hidden beneath the place where the game started.
I thought working out the game commands a little tricky; e.g., where you want time to pass quickly you type 'Z' (this is necessary to solve some puzzles), so I've also included a walkthrough which gets rid of the guesswork. The puzzles are rather challenging as well. Be prepared to put in some groundwork and effort in order to reach the end.
In view of what I perceived as the sometimes illogical command structure, the brevity of the game, and a lack of that special kind of magic that made Zork stand out amongst fantasy adventure games, I can only rate this game a 3. However, for those fans of Zork, it certainly has many of the familiar elements that will draw you in and hold you spellbound until the resolution has finally been reached.
There seems to be some copy protection going on near the beginning in the Terminal Room, so when logging onto the computer and asked for a login number, try 'type 872325412'. Immediately after, you'll be asked for a password, which is 'type Uhlersoth'.
The Lurking Horror was Infocom's only attempt at a game with a horror setting. The game itself is not too hard (though it does have some very obscure puzzles) and IMO has a great plot. You are a student at GUE tech (a name that will be familiar to fans of Zork) and one night you have an irrestible urge to explore the universities basement. Well, the actual story is much more interesting and well thought out, but to learn more you will have to play the game and not rely on the description of someone who has the writing skills of a mental patient.
The pace of the game works very well and the puzzles and plot blend together perfectly, the many memorable characters and twists in the game also add to the experience. I enjoyed The Lurking Horror, it might not appeal to everyone but for a desensitised horror fanatic like me it was great.
My third most favorite Infocom game (after Trinity and A Mind Forever Voyaging), The Lurking Horror is, without a doubt, one of the best horror computer games ever made. It is nothing short of extraordinary that a genre that is commonly associated with spooky music, frightening visuals, and suspenseful pacing can be so effectively portrayed in a text adventure-- a genre with nothing but words to convey those horrific elements (actually, The Lurking Horror was the first Infocom game to include sound effects, and they are appropriately spooky).
The first few minutes of the game are innocuous and quite mundane, and bear no resemblance to what lies ahead. You are a student at G.U.E. Tech, a university in the Zork universe (Dave Lebling remarked that it was modelled after M.I.T., where he was a student. M.I.T. graduates will definitely recognize vast underground passages that connect various parts of campus). On this fateful night, while stuck in a computer lab trying to finish a twenty-page paper, you feel a strange urge to explore the campus basements -- the sites of many horrific rumors. You soon find yourself wandering away from your computer, and into the dark regions of G.U.E. Tech where hideous sights worthy of H. P. Lovecraft await...
The Lurking Horror is memorable for many things, chief among which is the near-perfect blend of storytelling and puzzle. If anyone ever doubts that Lebling's fame as the author of Zork series is undeserved, The Lurking Horror will silent all critics. The writing throughout the game is excellent, and the plot and pacing provide the right amount of suspense and intrigue to keep you glued to the computer screen. There are many memorable characters and puzzles-- even today, IF fans often reminisce about the elusive hacker and his key, which is one of the cleverest puzzles in the game. A few puzzles can perhaps be considered "unfair" due to obscure clues, but they are overall very logical and will provide a good challenge for both beginners and veterans alike.
As the box cover accurately claims, "[The Lurking Horror] recalls the ghastly visions of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, as author Dave Lebling turns an everyday world into a frightening web of uncertainty. The numerous puzzles will challenge both first-time and experienced players, and Lebling's chilling descriptions will leave you with images you'll never forget." If you like horror games or just IF in general, The Lurking Horror is simply a must-have.
Note: Although the PDF version of the (bad quality) black and white manual (included with Activision's Masterpieces of Infocom CD compilation) is available here, I strongly recommend that you download complete color scans of the original manual from the Infocom Gallery. Aside from high-quality color scans of every page, you can also see a scan of the cool sticky red centipede that was included inside the game box, which is one of my most favorite freebies from Infocom (right up there with the scratch-n-sniff card for Leather Goddesses of Phobos and sundial for Trinity).
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