Zork: Grand Inquisitor / Activision (1997)

The Second Dungeon Master's Verdict: Finally, an enemy worthy of my time and skill. The Grand Inquisitor almost makes the game.

Marc Blank & Dave Lebbing's Verdict: ::rolls in grave

My Verdict: Thankfully there are no plans to further cock up the Zork franchise. Such as it's become.


Game Information

Game Type: N/A

Author Info: Activision also released a game called "Zork: Nemesis" which had absolutely nothing to do with Zork and is therefore slightly less offensive.

The Review...

Where I Stopped Playing Zork: Grand Inquisitor

It was actually when I realized that despite the pandering, despite the attempts to reign in the very people who made Zork one of the best franchises to those with their ass-in-the-know the game was going to be -- inevitably, I suppose -- the very type of game I most despise: the Point-n-Clik-Adventure.

It had so much early promise, however.

I first heard about the game in a copy of Next Generation Magazine. Next Gen used to have a real website staffed by real gamers who could write extremely well. (They merged it into some net.monstrosity known as "Daily Radar", thus giving me back twenty minutes each day that I now use to work with. Appreciated!) They also had a magazine that I sort of garnered a free "subscription" to. (You see, if you work at an Electronics Boutique -- as I did when ZGI came out -- you can read every magazine that comes to your store. Even if they are wrapped up because the magazines are destroyed at the end of the month and they don't affect inventory. They will place them outside their store for the mall garbage collection to pickup when a new monthly issue arrives so plan your attacks accordingly, kids.) Perhaps I was more excited about the fact that Marc Blank was going to help write a text adventure that was to be released in support of ZGI. The fact that Blank doesn't make games anymore stuns me. The guy never made a bad game and by the time Activision swallowed up Infocom he just stopped writing them. He was (still is, in the general opinion of this website) one of the best video game designers on the face of the planet and we -- the unwashed hordes and masses -- were going to get a new game from him in Zork: The Undiscovered Underground.

Remarkable, Captain.

I bought Zork: Grand Inquisitor the day it came out. It was $54.99 and included a timeline poster of the history of the Zork Universe and a game on two CDs. I loaded it up and -- hey! This Grand Inquisitor dude! Just like in the Undiscovered Underground! How solid is that?

The Grand Inquisitor, as a character, is extremely well done and probably the hi-light of the game.

Sure, the addition of the text "description" of your death in ZGI is a very nice touch -- brilliant, even. But the fact that the Grand Inquisitor wants to stomp out magic and ruin the very empire, culture, phenomenon than I grew up with? OK, that's fricking evil. I am properly motivated to play this game.

Inevitably, that's what it all comes down to. Gameplay. And while Activision has -- through their yearly donation of prizes to the IF Comp -- made it very difficult for an interactive fiction aficionado to hate them for what they did to the greatest video game company that has ever existed -- it doesn't change the fact that gameplay is saddeningly unoriginal in Zork: Grand Inquisitor.

Michael McKean (TV's "Lenny") plays the part of the voice of the Dungeon Master who is initially trapped inside a familiar brass lantern. I can buy that. He's become kind of senile but still pipes in with the occasional mean-spirited crack like the old Zork parser used to do. After getting by the first few scenes I was honestly enjoying myself. Then I heard the words that I am still, to this day, shocked to have heard in my (yes, dammit, MY) franchise:

"The following puzzle will test your ability to ... blahblahblah... and lastly, clicking."

It is said because after wandering about the game you come to a set of towers that have different images on them. You have to click on them until you line the images up just right. Now, I could almost appreciate the fact that the game made no bones about it. That they were going to put a senseless clicking puzzle in the game and -- ha ha ha -- let's all have a good laugh and have some fun, blast it.

I'll admit that I laughed when I heard it. That's because the horror of what I was in for didn't hit me.

Zork Zero did something like that -- it had the "peg game" puzzle thrown in the mix for no decent reason. I used to go to crappy restaurants with my family all the time. They were nationalized greasy spoons that had the peg game in order to entertain the little monkeys (mainly, myself and my little brother) while Ace Waitress Debbie Squirrel took -- badly -- our order. I hated those peg games. Because of what they represented: pure wasted time. The place (oh hell, it was a Friendly's) pretended that they were better than fast-food dumps but really weren't. Nothing interesting, much less good, has ever happened at one of them. The peg game ensures it.

But because I loved Zork and everything Zork related I played through the peg game and got further in Zork Zero.

When I was presented with the "clicking game" in ZGI I went through that as well. I have no idea how I solved it. Brute force, I guess. It was stupid, pointless, and reminiscent of being stuck at a Friendly's at 2:35am in a loveless relationship driving an 87 GMC S-15 with 162,000 miles on it. There are certain things I liked to get from video games. A depressing reminder of the past? Not so much.

I played a little further. The save game file is probably still on my hard drive. But my heart wasn't in it. Activision, despite all the window dressing, cool-whipped topping and gift-wrapping ruined the game for me. I had no faith that the rest of the game wasn't going to be as equally inane as the worst game of all time, Myst, or the other worst game of all time, Riven.

When a free game dictated by Marc Blank and Mike Berlyn (programmed by Whizzard, natch) is much, much better than the thing I dropped fifty-five bucks on, then something, somewhere is hideously wrong. I am not a whore. I am into just about every game in the lineup but Zork: Grand Inquisitor made me feel dirty. Never again.







Simple Rating: 6.1 / 10

Complicated Rating:

Story: 9.1 / 10

Graphics: 8.8 / 10

Playability: 3.3 / 10

Puzzle Quality: 1.9 / 10

Parser Responsiveness: N/A

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