Zork Grand Inquisitor

 

 

Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Activision

Released:  1997, 2011 (GOG)

PC Requirements:   see review below

Walkthroughs

 

 

 

 

 

by gremlin

 

What is it?

Everyone 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.

This sounds 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? 

Magic has 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 many 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 Battlestar Galactica (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?

Zork 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.

Magic in 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.

Notable Features

From this 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.

Of course, 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.

Oddities

Here we 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 die.

Conclusions

It's very 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 winner.

In fact, 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?

Minimum Requirements

  • 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)
  • Mouse
  • Keyboard.

(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 card)

Zork Grand Inquisitor is available via download from Good Old Games.

 

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