Return to Zork. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Jay Kee
It's ba-ack. The best-selling text adventure from Infocom (a division of Activision) that revolutionized computer gaming 16 years ago has been reincarnated under the title Return to Zork. But other than the name and a few superficial similarities, any relationship to the original is purely coincidental,
Gamers expecting to find a CD-ROM version of the original Zork series are going to be disappointed: This is a whole new game. RTZ could best be described as an interactive movie adventure starring digitized full-motion film sequences. Professional talent, colorful costumes, authentically detailed sets and locations, and a theatrical-quality soundtrack make it look and play like a Hollywood movie.
A lot of effort went into the production of RTZ, and it shows. Too bad the same effort didn't go into the actual game. Intellectually, RTZ is beyond difficult, bordering on the impossible. A few puzzles echo the old Zorkian humor, but many are merely obscure or completely unfathomable. True, the game does provide hints and clues, but the plot is so muddy and the clues so vague that they just add to the confusion.
The easy-to-use interface is completely icon driven - all you do is point and click. Animated icons and picture menus illustrate all the available options. Movement is also mouse controlled. Instead of exits being displayed or described, the cursor changes into a red navigation arrow that points in different directions as it's moved around the screen. For all its simplicity, though, this system has a big flaw: There's no text interface. People accustomed to the speed and flexibility of a text-only parser are going to feel handcuffed.
There are some neat features that help make up for the textless interface, however. One is a camera that lets you take pictures of everything you encounter; another is a tape recorder that automatically records all your conversations. You show the pictures to characters so they'll give you clues, and you use the recorder to track the clues - a nice touch.
RTZ isn't completely nonlinear, but you can tackle puzzles in almost any order and backtrack to pick up things you might have missed. This is an important feature, since the game will let you go all the way to the end without much of a clue that you're missing a critical item. In other words, you're going to have to backtrack a lot.
While the CD version of RTZ is an audio-visual treat, the disk version is a weak facsimile. It's a bit like the old book-and-movie cliche: Don't see the film if you've read the book. In this case, don't play the disk version if you've seen the CD-ROM. All the full-motion film sequences and scene transitions are missing, characters talk with a simple hinged-jaw animation, and the audio seems thin and scratchy in comparison.
RTZ was definitely made for CD-ROM. If you want to survive it, take everything that isn't bolted down, photograph everything that moves, show pictures and items to everything that breathes, and save every chance you get. When you get frustrated, stab the mayor, blow up the incinerator, or aggravate a vulture. None of these actions will help you win the game, but you'll feel better. And RTZ can be a lot of fun as long as you don't play to win.