Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders

Developer/Publisher:  LucasArts
Year Released:  1988

Review by Gordon Aplin (January, 1995)
zak.jpg The year is 1997 and the fiendishly ridiculous (one of them is an Elvis fan) Caponians are poised to invade Earth. They have taken over the phone company and are using the telephone system to make everyone down here more stupid than they otherwise would be without the benefit of alien intervention. (Given the rise in popularity of mobile phones the aliens' dastardly plan seems to be right on track!)

Enter Zak McKracken, reporter (or should that be story writer?) for the National Inquisitor. Not that Zak has much of a clue about what is going on, but fortunately he gets to link up with Annie, Melissa and Leslie who at least have some inkling of what needs to be done to foil the aliens' evil, if ludicrous, machinations.

Zany puzzles
Zak is a thoroughly amusing game so don't be put off by the name. This one is not just for kids, in fact the puzzles get quite complicated at times and the solutions are often quite zany but strangely logical within the context of the game.

Like the stories he writes for his newspaper Zak's adventures involve strange artefacts and paranormal phenomena like the Bermuda Triangle and multiple lottery wins and lead him to visit ancient sites such as the pyramids of Egypt, Stonehenge and Incan temples. And speaking of Zak's newspaper, your copy of the National Inquisitor that comes with the game is packed full of hints for solving the puzzles and, whilst a few of the clues are fairly obvious, others are wonderfully obscure so that reading the paper is an adventure in itself.

Globe trotting
At many stages throughout the game you must direct the actions of all four characters to solve the puzzles which makes me wonder just why Zak was chosen for star billing, unless, of course, LucasArts were planning a sequel which never eventuated. (At least not so far, but we live in hope.)

Zak, Annie, Melissa and Leslie are linked telepathically by their dreams so that what one discovers is shared by all. Which is indeed fortunate since some clues to solve problems on Mars can only be found on Earth and vice versa. An awful lot of globe trotting needs to be done to complete this game and each character must be moved individually which can become a little tiresome, especially when the copy-protection security access codes interrupt the game whenever your character wants to travel internationally. However, you will get used to this inconvenience after a while and look up the codes automatically. And because the game is so much fun, you may even find it in your heart to forgive LucasArts for this annoyance.

Weathered well
This game was first released in 1989, and although it is showing its age in both the graphics and sound departments the puzzles are as challenging and engrossing as ever.

And it is interesting in Zak McKracken to see the development of that renowned LucasArts humour which culminated in Monkey Island 2 and Day of the Tentacle. If you have played and enjoyed those games then Zak is well worth a look, particularly as it is now out at a budget price. Even if you played it when it was first released I bet there are still puzzles which you have forgotten and which will stump you a second time as they did with me.

Just one word of warning, Zak does not support sound cards so my advice is to turn off the sound or the PC speaker will drive you up the wall. (Or perhaps that is yet another part of the aliens' plot to increase our stupidity quotient!) rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1995. All rights reserved.