Zork: Grand Inquisitor is designed to offer the engaging adventure and quirky humor of the classic text-based series in a graphic interface format more appropriate to a late-1990s release. The game has a look and interface style similar to 1996's Zork Nemesis. However unlike Zork Nemesis, which put a hard, violent edge on the storyline, Zork: Grand Inquisitor strives to return to the tongue-in-cheek presentation that helped win so many devoted fans of the original games.
Players are challenged to explore fantastic areas and solve thoughtful puzzles, without any incessantly dark themes or explicit gore. In this story the Grand Inquisitor has taken charge in the capital city of Port Foozle, in spite of his dubious qualifications. He has banned the use of magic and begun an invasively ubiquitous propaganda campaign. As an adventurer passing through town, the player becomes involved in a quest to unseat the unworthy villain and allow the common folk to return to their more pleasant, peaceful ways.
Zork Grand Inquisitor is the last (a subject bemoaned by Zork devotees) of titles in the venerable series and, for me, by far the most enjoyable. There was literally not one aspect of this game that I did not find aligned completely with my personal tastes as far as graphic first-person adventure games go.
The story itself and the quality of writing recaptures the whimsical nature of the early Zork text adventures, something that had in small increments fallen away from the series upon the inclusion of graphics, a change whose pinnacle was reflected in Zork Nemesis (a beautiful but dark, brooding game). In Zork Grand Inquisitor, magic has been banned from the underground empire by edict of a Grand Inquisitor, played by Eric Avari (Stargate). If caught practicing magic, the guilty party is totemized, a punishment whereby the offender is sealed is a small container that looks suspiciously like a paperweight. Your job is to save the kingdom and avoid getting totemized in the process.
The writing is crisp and clever and had me laughing out loud throughout. The jokes are cleverly built in, some delivered by characters, some included in the design.
Another sterling decision, to the designer's credit, is the inclusion of real actors that do real acting jobs throughout the story. In other words, the names in this, including Avari, Dirk Benedict (in an Indiana Jones parody), and Rip Taylor (think Gong Show), do not give you the idea when they are speaking in your general direction that you're holding their cue cards for them. There's also some great voice acting, including turns by Michael McKean and Marty Ingles.
The graphics are extremely well-designed and capture perfectly the lighthearted nature of the subject. Transitions are smooth and waste no time; the prerendered landscape is some of the best artwork in a first-person game. The game boasts something called Z-Vision, really just a fancy title for 360-degree panning, which makes the environments open up, giving the player a freedom of movement that's quite enjoyable. The cursor is well designed, giving away just enough info to be helpful, but not in too complex a fashion.
There are several design omissions that require, just because it's so miraculous to have all omitted in one game, that I bring them up. There's virtually no pixel hunting. There are no mazes. No conversations with mind-numbing conversation trees. No text parser (I played this right after Starship Titanic.)
A particularly nice touch is the inclusion of a mapping system that allows the player to instantly travel to places in the game that she has been through before, virtually eliminating the drudgery some games resort to of making the gamer trot back and forth in an odious and redundant manner to get to and from various areas in the game.
The music is well-done and aligns perfectly with the gameplay. There are some simply clever ambient sounds, such as a snapdragon flower that's really the head of a creature that's snapping, and the sound increases and decreases as the player moves closer or farther away from the area.
The gameplay is entirely nonlinear, and huge sections of the game are open once the player gets underground. Despite this, there are additional locations that open up as rewards for completing tasks. The puzzles are put together well, but they are not so difficult that the player is stopped dead in his tracks, and there are enough open locations that one can go back and forth to try different things rather than being stonewalled and stuck in front of one thing trying to figure it out.
The game has some straight built-in puzzles, but most are inventory-based, and the inventory is also designed well, with items no longer needed (with the exception of only one or two) dropping away once used so that they do not become tedious red herrings later. The game also uses the casting of collected spells as puzzles, something I thought I'd dislike very much but came away charmed by, and I had a lot of fun with these.
This game talks and walks like something designed by people that play these darned things themselves. A thoroughly refreshing idea. And it goes in my all-time top ten.
People who downloaded Zork: Grand Inquisitor have also downloaded:
Zork Nemesis: The Forbidden Lands, Return to Zork, Zork 1, Riven: The Sequel to Myst, Real Myst, Myst 3: Exile, Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, Myst IV: Revelation
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