Zork Grand Inquisitor

Developer/Publisher:  Activision
Year Released:  1997

Review by Gordon Aplin (December, 1997)
zgi.jpgZork Grand Inquisitor marks a brave attempt by the production team at Activision to return to the essence of the original Zork text adventures. How successful they have been will, no doubt, be hotly debated by the purists, but I think they have done a pretty good job.

After the rather serious tone set in Zork Nemesis (the last instalment in this classic series for those of you who are new to game playing) this game lightens up considerably with a more humorous, whimsical flavour. Because of this the references to earlier Zork games sit much more comfortably here than they did in Zork Nemesis. The overall feeling that this is truly a Zork adventure is assisted by the return to an inventory-based adventure game structure with the added component of spell-casting ability. Although it does retain some aspects of the Zork Nemesis interface in the form of 360 degree panning with the occasional opportunity for vertical movement.

"Ahead -- and downwards."
The Orwellian, 1984-style introduction quickly sets the scene and you learn that the Grand Inquisitor has banned all magic, a curfew has been enforced and dissidents are dealt with by the simple, though not very nice, expedient of totemization. After a brief exploration in and around Port Foozle and the solving of a few simple problems you should have everything you need to enter the Great Underground Empire where your adventure really begins. Hint :-) do not attempt this without a suitable light source.

As well as protecting you from lurking Grues you will soon learn that your lamp is a useful companion as it also contains the spirit of Dalboz the Dungeon Master who will help you to understand what is going on. Heed his words well as he sometimes provides clues for what you need to do -- and these may not be repeated.

Who are you?
In this first-person perspective game you are naturally reluctant to reveal anything of yourself, especially to a talking lamp that you have only just met, so Dalboz refers to you simply as AFGNCAAP (ageless, faceless, gender-neutral, culturally-ambiguous adventure-person -- is this truly a PC game? :-) AFGNCAAPs will need to judge for themselves). As you explore the Great Underground Empire, or at least the parts of it that you can reach, you eventually learn that you need to find three magic artefacts if you are to foil the Grand Inquisitor's evil plans. You may also learn why he is so bent on destroying magic.

Retrieving the magic items is great fun and the whole process, which I won't spoil by revealing here, is cleverly contrived, even though I thought the three, self-contained, time travel 'expeditions' to find the crucial artefacts were far too easy and, disappointingly short. However, that is not to say that the game overall is disappointing, far from it. The bulk of the game is entertaining, humorous, and a joy to play, and the added dimension of learning spells and casting them lends variety to the solutions to problems. It's been many years since I played Zork II (I think it was) but I still remembered Rezrov as a spell to open doors. Not that you need to memorise spells, the game handles it all for you as, once written in your spell book, spell glyphs are as easily accessed as inventory items. It's getting your hands on some of the useful spell scrolls that may cause you a headache or two.

The puzzles, for the most part, are classic adventuring fare where you need to make use of your inventory items, including spells, to overcome obstacles to your progress. Many are inventive (though a few old ones are thrown in just for fun) and all are logical within the context of the game. You just need to keep your eyes and ears open for the clues, think about them carefully, and to try things to see what response you get. I loved Brog's uncomplicated approach to solving a 7th Guest-type brain teaser and solving the never-ending corridor was almost a never-ending exercise until I realised I'd overlooked (or should that be underlooked?) an important clue. Still, although there are a couple of quite tricky problems this game hasn't been designed purely for puzzle-hungry, long-time Zork devotees ... really it isn't all that tough. Speaking of puzzles, I couldn't help but notice one called "Alpine's Quandry", not only is the spelling of Quandary incorrect ... an all too common error ... but worse, they got my name wrong as well. :-)

Interaction and navigation
The direction-arrow cursor makes navigation easy and a hand cursor indicates that you can interact with something on the screen. Perfectly simple, although I think that the inclusion of action choices as in Return to Zork could have added more complexity to the game. Travelling is also easy in Zork Grand Inquisitor as once you have found your adventurer's map-scroll the places you have visited in the Great Underground Empire will appear on it. You can then return to these key locations quickly by feeding your map into one of the conveniently located teleporters and selecting your destination. As there is a bit of to-ing and fro-ing this useful feature certainly saves time.

Moving your cursor to the top of the screen reveals a system bar where you can save, restore, quit and set your preferences -- and yes, there is an on-screen text option for all dialogue that even provides text to indicate certain off-screen sound effects. You can access the inventory bar by moving your cursor to the top left corner of the screen and your spell bar is revealed at the top right. Clicking the right mouse button opens up a larger inventory screen where you can examine the contents in more detail or combine items if necessary.

Full motion video interludes
Though your character does not appear on-screen other characters do and these are largely in the form of short, cut sequences featuring live actors and/or animations. These interludes are generally amusing and also serve to reveal some background or advance the plot. Occasionally you will interact with a live actor, notably, Antharia Jack, a less-than-resourceful Indiana Jones-style adventurer, suitably portrayed by Dirk Benedict (Battlestar Galactica and The A-Team). At such times the character will address you directly, but you don't actually have a conversation as no responses are required.

Zork Grand Inquisitor has lots of humorous Zorkian touches including a text description of your death scene whenever you do the wrong thing. I frequently chose actions that I knew would result in my demise just to see what would happen, after saving first, of course,. The game encourages this by letting you restore immediately and without fuss.

Zork Grand Inquisitor occupies just two disks and has an option for network linking to another computer and playing along with a friend. It's a thoroughly enjoyable game that is not too difficult as far as Zork adventures go. So if you haven't done so already, you can join in and sample this series without putting your sanity at risk. I only wish that it was just a bit longer (I don't think it rivals Zork Nemesis or Return to Zork in this respect) but, nevertheless, it is a worthy addition to the Zork saga ... and may there be many more.

See the Zork Grand Inquisitor walkthrough. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1997. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Pentium 90MHz, Microsoft Windows 95, DirectX 5.0 (provided), 16MB RAM, 50MB of uncompressed hard disk space. High Color (16 bit) 640 x 480 VLB or PCI video card with 1MB RAM. 100% Sound Blaster 16 compatible sound card, Quad-speed CD-ROM drive, 100% Microsoft-compatible mouse and driver