You are standing behind the white house. There is something in the mailbox. A video message from a wizard informing you that you are the sweepstakes winner to the Valley of the Sparrows... right now, by magic flight. Upon arriving at this mysterious place however, not everything is as it should be. There's nobody to meet you and those who you do come across don't seem to have any knowledge about a sweepstakes. It looks like this is a private vacation and you'll need to find your own way through this land.
Return to Zork is a 1st person adventure game using video, and the revival of the famous Zork series by Activation. Similar to Myst in interface, you must rotate your viewpoint to discover new areas and uncover items that can be used or picked up. Various characters will be met along the way and spoken to via a system of dialog choices.
The series of Zork games is, arguably, adventure gaming at its finest. The first games were humble text adventures, while the last two in the series were full-blown 3D adventures. Return to Zork appeared between the two extremes, a few years before Zork: Nemesis, and the graphics are fairly low-res 2D compared with the 3D of the two later sequels. But for fans of the series, there is plenty to keep them entertained and challenged, from experiencing off-beat magic that only exists in the Zorkian lands, to fighting off deadly Grues and Vultures, to meeting the quirky characters, and finding the way through three mazes while exploring the Great Underground Empire of Zork.
While watching the credits scroll at the beginning, I was amazed by the cast of thousands assembled to make this game. This, alone, earned some respect. Then begins the rather cheesy (yet still enjoyable) musical introduction, and the familiar text appears: "You are standing beside a white house..." Then, finally, the enchanted world of Zork springs to life as you watch the introductory video. You, the adventurer, are the winner of a sweepstake holiday in the Valley of Sparrows, and at the beginning of the game are standing on a narrow mountain pass overlooking a green valley. However, the vultures flying overhead add to the foreboding that all is not as it appears in the peaceful valley below. The sign beside the road gives another clue: "Valley of the Vultures," it reads and the population has apparently dwindled to a mere 47. When a vulture whizzes past your ear and lands upon the sign, you - lucky sweepstake winner - had better take action before the population dwindles even further. Then your tele-orb announces that the Valley of the Sparrows has been recently renamed the Valley of the Vultures, and you realise with trepidation that this vulture-riddled place is actually your dream holiday destination.
There are rumours that the Great Underground Empire of Zork, now a legend, could have once existed and that some caverns have been discovered in the Valley of Sparrows leading to this lost empire. The land of Zork was believed to be destroyed long ago as it harboured dangerous magics. You, the adventurer, are hoping to explore some of these caverns and discover the answer for yourself.
To make your long journey through Zork a little speedier, here are some shortcuts:
F1: Displays your Zork System Menu and lets you take a look at your score, quit, restart, save and load games, or change your current game settings.
F2: Gives you a quick way to save your game when you anticipate an imminent death.
F3: Loads a previously saved game instantly. Press F3 as early as the opening title sequence that follows the Infocom logo to display the Load Game screen and continue a game right away.
F4: Not feeling your usual keen-eyed adventuring self today? Press F4 to repeat the last message printed on your screen.
When you reach West Shanbar and the Zork Underground, you'll be asked a few copy protection questions. Here are the possible answers to choose from:
SEVEN DAYS OF THE WEEK:
1. Sand Day2. Mud Day3. Grues Day4. Wands Day5. Birthday6. Frob Day7. Star Day
BTW, to discover the hidden entrance to the underground, you'd better brush up on your toasting etiquette by reading the files in the Mayor's office in West Shanbar. In the nearby mill is where the now-famous glass of rye makes its appearance. While working your way through the very complicated toasting ritual, watch out for an opportunity to ask Boos for the keys - for without them, you can't open the secret door to the Great Underground Empire.
When you've found your way inside the Underground, then the magic really starts, and witches, forest sprites and wizards regularly appear. However, the puzzles are insanely difficult, and if you miss out on something earlier on then you have to replay from a much earlier stage. (Clue: Be sure to take photos of everyone you meet and record any interesting sounds, such as a dog barking.) My advice is to save multiple games to avoid this hazard. However, the game is laced with humour and unexpected fun, so you won't mind too much if you have to go back over certain scenes. Another reason to save often is that death comes as unexceptedly and often as the fun does.
You've been warned, adventurer! Have fun and stay alive!
I played the game using Win98, and it performed flawlessly in Windows and DOS. XP'ers should have no problems playing the game through DOSBox, although no guarantees can be given for every individual system. Download at your own risk.
When you unzip the files put them in the root of either the CD drive or drive C or D on your hard drive. What this means is don't put the unzipped files into a folder. Put them straight onto the C drive or the D drive. The same when burning to a CD.
Now, when you've unzipped the files to the root of a drive, click on install.exe. They will ask where you want the files to go and also the name of your CD Drive. For the name of your CD Rom drive, give the drive letter where the initial files were unzipped. I think it might work best if you put the files that are uncompressed into another drive from the inital unzipped files. Burning the files to a CD and placing them in the root of the drive will also work.
After clicking on "install.exe," you will also be asked ask if you wish the project files to be installed. Choose "yes," because although these files are already on your system, I think they - and others - have to be uncompressed. Just accept the directory name that is offered. Then you are asked to select your sound card. Care must be taken to choose exactly the right name and port numbers, as not only will you not have sound, but the introductory movie (and possibly others) will not play as a consequence of wrong choices.
Infocom's first return to the famous Zork universe after a long hiatus is a funny adventure that retains much of the campy atmosphere that makes the original Zork trilogy a classic, but unfortunately falls victim to its own innovative adventure interface, unforgiving and illogical puzzles, and some very cheesy acting.
Okay, let's start with the good stuff. The plot is a typical treasure-hunting quest in the spirit of the original Zork trilogy, with a dash of some magic and evil woozle thrown in for good measure. While Infocom fans will mourn the passing of Infocom's legendary parser, RtZ tries to ease the pain by introducing an innovative point-and-click interface that allows a much wider of actions than other graphical adventures. Clicking on an object brings up a menu of possible actions you can perform with that object, and clicking the object on another usually brings up even more actions. The conversation interface is also innovative: every time you talk to a character, you can select the mood you want in order to set the tone and direction of your speech. Feel like some weenie is hiding something from you? Change to "angry" mode, and you'll intimidate him to submission. You can also ask people about any object in your inventory, or any photo you have taken. Sometimes doing so is the only way to obtain the much-needed clues for puzzles. Acting is downright horrible, canned, and cheesy, but at least you won't find too much of that in this floppy version, and all the characters and the overall atmosphere are in keeping with Zork's wacky, easy-going fantasy mythos. Although longtime fans will be disappointed at the absence of creative spells in the game, the sight of that famous white house is sure to elicit a chuckle or two and a warm feeling of nostalgia.
Unfortunately, for all its designers' efforts to make RtZ a game worthy of the Zork name, all its good points crumble under the weight of the game's worst weakness: ruthlessly unforgiving puzzles. They are not just bad-- they are so illogical and obscure that sometimes you'll be solving a puzzle correctly without knowing why that particular solution works... even with a walkthrough in hand. One example of the game's puzzles will help illustrate my point: at the beginning of the game, you come across a curious plant ("it's a bonding plant," is all the game will tell you). Using the delightfully versatile interface, you can either dig it up, cut it with a knife, or pull it up. If you don't use the "right" way, the plant will die, but you can still carry it around. Now, woe be the time when you finally realize after progressing through half the game, that you actually need a live plant to solve one puzzle. There is no way to revive your plant, although there *is* a way to get a new one... the clue to which is hidden quite well. That's the problem with the game in general: clues are scattered in the most unlikely places, including minute references in the Encyclopedia Frobozzica, a thick fan-made book about Zorkian mythos included free with the game. Suffice it to say that anyone who's been spoiled by LucasArts' excellent cannot-get-stuck-or-die game design (and that's most of us) will likely get very frustrated playing RtZ.
I must admit, however, that I had a lot of fun with RtZ even while I grumbled at its idiosyncracies... and that's probably a sign of how much I truly care about the game (and Zork in general). Despite all my nitpicking and grumbling, Return to Zork is a definite must-play for all adventurers, although they should brace themselves for some ruthlessly illogical and impossible puzzles. While not the best in the series, the game definitely succeeds in bringing the Zork universe to life, with the appropriate sense of silly humor that we all know and love. The game's many innovations and wacky plotline are enough to glue everyone to the screen until the very end. Just think of it this way: you know you're really going to miss Boo's incessant "Want some rye? 'Course you do" after your adventure is over [EG]. Remember: save often-- save VERY often.
People who downloaded Return to Zork have also downloaded:
Zork: Grand Inquisitor, Zork Nemesis: The Forbidden Lands, Zork 1, Return to Ringworld, Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle of Flesh, Phantasmagoria, Riven: The Sequel to Myst, Beyond Zork: The Coconut of Quendor
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