What is it?
knows what a 'Zork' game is. Don't they? Well, that's one of the
assumptions of the makers of
Zork Grand Inquisitor (ZGI), the last of
the Zork games. There have been many Zork games; the Infocom-published,
text-only adventures, and the Activision-published graphical ones. As a
result, I suppose, the given assumption was a reasonable one in 1997, when
ZGI was published. Now, of course, many people have heard of the
Zork titles, but may well not have played them. If you can lay your hands
on a copy of any of the originals, it's very unlikely your modern PC will
actually play them anyway.
like a job for Good Old Games, or GOG.com. Indeed it is, because they've
released all the original Infocom Zork games as a pack, and the later
graphical games individually. I bring this up because I have to be clear
that I'm playing the downloaded, re-packaged version of Zork Grand
Inquisitor from GOG.com, not the original. Not that this has any
impact upon the story, just the installation and packaging of the game.
Is there a plot?
been banned by
the Inquisition! "Shun
magic, and shun the appearance of magic. Shun everything, and then shun
shunning," says Mir Yannick, the Grand Inquisitor, and, "the boss of you!"
As the Ageless, Faceless, Gender-Neutral, Culturally
Ambiguous, Adventure Person (or AFGNCAAP, if you prefer), your task is to
restore magic to the kingdom, topple the Inquisition, and restore the
Flathead dynasty to the throne of Zork. But beware, there are
ways in which you can fail. Most of them end in your death, or your
permanent Totemization - which is probably worse.
Along the way, you'll encounter a mixture of animated and
human characters to assist you - or otherwise - in your quest. Several
characters are portrayed by well-known actors of the period, the best
known (at least to me) being Dirk Benedict (from
(the original) and
The A Team)
and Erick Avari (a distinctive character actor from many sci-fi shows,
amongst others). These days, famous names might voice characters in games,
but it's quite some time since I've been aware of anyone publishing a
mainstream full-motion video (or FMV) game.
How do you play?
Grand Inquisitor is pure point-n-click
adventure, with most locations being 360 degree panoramas. There are
occasional opportunities to look up and/or down, and it's important to
keep an eye out for these. As you move it around the screen, the mouse
pointer changes from direction pointer to hotspot indicator, or to the
currently selected inventory item. The inventory is accessed via the right
click, or moving the mouse to the top-left corner of the screen for a
pop-out ribbon. Your spell book (which is one of the major focuses of your
adventuring) is available from the inventory, or from the pop-out ribbon
from the top-right corner of the screen. The Save, Restore, Preferences
and Quit options are on a 'curtain' that descends when you go to the top
of the screen.
Zork takes the form of magic words associated with symbols; you need to
collect several spells throughout the game, making use of them as you
gather them to solve various problems. Be warned, however, there is no
simple fireball spell with which to dispose of the Grand Inquisitor -
there's a lot more to the job than that.
distance in time from the original release of Zork Grand Inquisitor,
I am hard pressed to remember what features of the game would have been
notable at the time. In the context of today's games, I would say that the
standout elements of the game are the humour (of which there is plenty)
and the acting - some of it a little on the hammy side, but all delivered
with style and passion. There are no bland or weak performances by a B-lister
just phoning it in.
Some of the
humour is self-referential towards the rest of the Zork games, some
towards the A Team (obviously from Dirk Benedict's other work), but most
of it just works in the context of the game at hand. The pronouncements of
the Inquisition and the Frobozz Electric Company are strangely reminiscent
of George Orwell's "1984", but don't let that put you off.
we have to cover the technical quality of ZGI. Let's be realistic here,
ZGI was released in 1997, when many adventure gamers were happy if their
graphics card could handle 1024x768 resolution, and we'd barely heard of
5.1 sound (let alone 7.1!). In technical terms, Zork Grand Inquisitor
is definitely of its time. However, the GOG.com version plays just fine on
my modern PC, and the graphics are smooth enough not to really obstruct my
enjoyment of the story and the characters. You've got 360 degree panning
scenery, with FMV inserted into them. You've got variety in the puzzles,
some of which are obvious in their solution, others considerably more
obscure. You get to play certain segments of the game from the perspective
of several different characters, in addition to your own perspective as
the AFGNCAAP. And there's a narrator to give you help along the way that's
a lot less annoying than Arthur from the Journeyman Project games, even if
he does live in a lantern.
come to a downside of playing games from the 90s. GOG.com do a pretty good
job of making ZGI playable; however the game is not very happy trying to
load save games when running on Vista (I can't comment on Windows 7)
without a bit of jiggery-pokery. You can work around this, but it does
mean that the frequent opportunities for death in ZGI have a rather more
substantial penalty than is normally the case. When you die, you have to
exit the game, re-start it, hit New Game (or Credits), and only then press
the Restore option from the menu at the top of the screen, at which point
the game will load the list of previously saved games without crashing.
This spoils the sense of immersion into another world that might otherwise
be more persistent without having to re-launch the game every time you
hard to grade a classic such as Zork Grand Inquisitor now that
we're nearly 15 years on from its original release date. Should it be
compared to games of its period, in which case it scores very strongly, or
should I consider the game's staying power - the fact that ZGI is still
widely considered to be a good game, not just of its period but even now?
Given the improvements in PC technology since 1997, it is inevitable that
ZGI has become dated in terms of graphical quality, but once you ignore
that and concentrate on the story, characters and puzzles, you're onto a
I'm going to wuss out and not give ZGI a grade. To those who consider it a
classic, there's no point in grading it below an A, and to those who find
the graphics too much of a distraction, it barely rates a D. So there's no
point in trying to average those out at a B-/C+ even if I was going to. I
enjoyed playing the game - the story is entertaining, the acting gives it
plenty of life, and even though I needed a few nudges from a walkthrough
(thanks Mikko Runolinna), I'd recommend ZGI to anyone who wants a trip to
a different time and place.
What do you need to play it?
Windows XP or Windows Vista
1 GHz Processor (1.4 GHz recommended)
256MB RAM (512 recommended)
3D graphics card compatible with DirectX 7
(compatible with DirectX 9 recommended)
(I used a
custom built 64-bit Vista Home
Premium SP2 PC running on an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual
5200+, with 6 GB
RAM, and a Sapphire Radeon HD4670 512MB video card with mother-board sound
Grand Inquisitor is available via download from
Good Old Games.