Review - Zork I: The Great Underground Empire

Okay, you will get verbose descriptions.

'Lo Sailor! It's time to take you brass lantern and your elvish sword and embark on an adventure through the Great Underground Empire! For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Great Underground Empire, it is the setting for the text-based adventure game called Zork I, released by Infocom in 1980.

"But, s69-5", some of you younger folk may ask, "what on Earth is a text-based adventure game?" The simplest answer I can give comes in the form of a mission for you. Take out your copy of "Fallout 3" and head over to the "Hubris Comics" building. On one of the computer terminals is a bare-bones text-based adventure game for you to sample. You can go do that now, I'll wait...

Played it? Good. As you can see text-based adventuring relies on the input of simple commands which allows the player to move through the terrain and interact with certain creatures and objects. Although this is a relatively simple concept to understand, mastering the intricacies is another matter altogether.

At your service!

Aside from being the title of the game, just what is Zork anyhow? Well, think of Zork as your avatar. Everything that is described to the player, is as seen through the eyes of Zork. When you an issue a command, it is Zork that will execute it. While this is not atypical in the video game world, the feedback given is. In any modern game, when you see a stick of dynamite, for example, you will instantly recognize it at a quick glance. However, Zork might have no knowledge of firearms and will describe the object to you as best he can. (Note: Zork is genderless, but for simplicity sake, I will use "he"). In such, dynamite might be described as a "Long cylindrical object with a piece of string on one end". So it is sometimes up to the player to make a few deductions about the objects in the environment.

> Take Lamp and Sword

The adventurer's ultimate goal in the Great Underground Empire, is to acquire 20 treasures, place them into the trophy case and escape alive. Every action taken by the player, counts toward the overall moves, and advances time by one unit. While this may seem unnecessary as there is a seemingly unlimited amount of moves that the player could theoretically make, it becomes important as one needs to manage the most important factor for a successful venture: Light. While your possible moves are unlimited, your light source is not. And as anyone who has ever explored the Empire knows, wandering around in the dark, will quickly lead to death in the jaws of a grue.

Just as light is extremely important, the underground is filled with unsavoury characters who would do harm to any intrepid adventurer. Luckily, the player is given a means of defense quite early on, in the form of an elvish sword. While it can be used in the most obvious ways, it is also your early warning alarm for potential danger. If you are near danger, the sword will begin to glow. Heed these warnings as in the underground, death comes swiftly.

>Take platinum bar
bar... bar... bar...

Now that you have been set up with a light source and a means of defense, it's time to explore the underground and its many riddles and traps. This is where the game begins to truly shine, as it tests your ability to reason and think critically. As I mentioned that Zork may not have an understanding of the objects in the environment, it is up to the player to decide where and when it is appropriate to use those items, in order to advance.

Thankfully, Zork has a surprisingly robust vocabulary and will understand many of the commands that you give (just try to keep it simple). Zork might understand a simple command like: "Turn the bolt with the wrench", but will not understand a complicated request like: "Take the wrench and put it on the bolt then twist it around".

This is where the game can sometimes be a little frustrating. While you, the player, may know better and say: "Loosen the bolt with the wrench", Zork might not understand, forcing you to re-word your statement.

>Swing sword at troll
The sword connects. The troll is injured and incapable of hindering your movement.

In much the same fashion as the puzzle solving, battle is played out by requesting actions be performed. Zork will fulfill these request to the best of his abilities. A minor complaint in this case, is that the battle outcomes, can feel somewhat random. Health is not displayed onscreen but can be analyzed on request through the "Diagnose" command. It is also not measured in terms of "hit points" but in sustained injuries and moves remaining until they heal.

>Take all
Your load is too heavy. You will have to leave something behind

In the same way that health is not displayed, neither is item encumbrance. You can view the items in your inventory with a command of the same name (or simplify to "i"). However, the items weight will not be displayed. In this case it is up to the player to use some common sense when managing items. Trying to take a sword, a lamp, a paper bag and a bottle of water may be fine, but as in the real world, a sword, a lamp and a large sack of gold nuggets may be a little too heavy.

West of House
You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.

Whether you are an experienced adventurer, or it be your first time in the underground, Zork is a challenging yet oddly charming and comedic foray into a world full of mystery. It will force you to put on your thinking cap, if you are to uncover its deepest secrets.

If you are the type of gamer that requires instant-gratification, killer graphics and action by the bucket loads, this is not the game for you. But if you are an inquisitive gamer who enjoys a challenge, a fan of adventure games or just curious about your heritage as a gamer, then Zork I: The Great Underground Empire warrants your attention. Be warned, this game is not for the faint of heart. It remains as one of the few games (of the uncountable many that I've played) that I have never beaten. Best of luck to you!

You have walked into the slavering fangs of a lurking grue!

If anyone has any comments, please feel free to share.
I realize that this is an older game and that it's not necessarily at the front of your memory, but... hey, all I'm looking for is some feedback. This was my first Escapist review.

What I'm thinking of doing is to review some of the most notable games from my experience as a gamer. I've got a few I'm already thinking of doing.

Either way, hope you enjoyed.

A well written review and fair review. Don't have much to say about it but I think that some infocom adventures do let you stack orders into longer sentences.

take all then go north

Something like that should work.


Reply to Thread

This thread is locked