James V. Trunzo
Requirements: IBM PC and 100-percent compatibles; Apple II series (including GS); Macintosh; Amiga; Commodore 128. Some game features unavailable on some computers.
Certain venerable software titles instantly conjure images of the early days of computer gaming. Mention Pac-Man or Space Invaders and one immediately recalls countless hours of mindless but enjoyable entertainment. Wax nostalgic about Wizardry, and computer adventurers tend to gaze into the distance, recollecting their climactic encounter with Werda. Then mention text adventures and see what title springs to mind. There can be only one—and it is Zork.
Now, years after Zork III, the final saga of the Zork Trilogy, comes yet another text adventure spawned from those early classics and resurrecting the beloved title of its forebears. This new adventure continues the legend and at the same time advances the genre. From Infocom comes the latest in interactive fiction: Beyond Zork. And lest you think that this is just an extension of a tried-and-true theme, read on.
The Next Stage
Beyond Zork introduces the next stage in interactive fiction, blending the richness of the standard text adventure with the uniqueness of role playing. No longer are you faced with just solving the intricate puzzles that are the trademark of Infocom games; no longer is the character in the adventure one dimensional. Now, you must design your own character, determining which attributes you wish to emphasize: size, dexterity, strength, intelligence, luck, or compassion. Choose wisely: You'll literally live or die with your selections.
Beyond Zork places you in the land of Quendor, sending you on a quest for the fabled Coconut of Quendor, an artifact so powerful that it alone can prevent evil from dominating the land. If the theme sounds familiar, even trite, you needn't worry. Your adventure will be anything but commonplace. Traps, puzzles, and monsters appear with exciting regularity, and the game's interface is fresh and new.
Besides the role-playing element, Beyond Zork contains so many innovative features that if it weren't for the richness of the text, you might not recognize the product as having come from Infocom. To begin with, the screen presentation is unlike any other Infocom game. It provides the user with more information than ever. For example, onscreen mapping offers you help in determining where you are, where you've been, and where you might go. The map, however, shows only a small area of Quendor, so mapping skills are still necessary.
In the Apple II version, the status line no longer shows a point score: Instead, it displays your ever-changing characteristics as well as your current character level. Wounds reduce your endurance; potions increase or decrease your strength. If you want to see your intelligence take a dive, type a profanity and watch what happens. What about the text? Dialog boxes now hold the information that normally commanded 98 percent of the screen.
Another feature making its debut in Beyond Zork is the use of function keys. Previous games allowed the user to take a shortcut by pressing one key to represent a word (N for north, for example). In Beyond Zork, you can now define a single keystroke to represent an entire sentence. For example, you can create what amounts to a macro for the command Attack the monster with your sword. From that point on, simply press a key to carry out that particular command. The game comes with function keys programmed with the most commonly used commands; however, any or all of the default commands can be changed.
Seven new commands make their first appearance in Beyond Zork: COLOR allows you to change the colors on your screen. DEFINE lets you create the macros discussed above. MODE allows you to make the screen look like the standard Infocom screen, if the maps and other features distract you. MONITOR automatically monitors your character's endurance, which is the most important characteristic because it determines if you're alive or dead, and NAME lets you give a name to items and living things. You can name your weapon, for example, and Beyond Zork will use that name in its descriptions. NOTIFY is like MONITOR, except it tracks all other attributes. UNDO allows you to back up one move. ZOOM allows you to see more mapped area on your screen but in less detail. (Note: the UNDO command is not available on the standard Apple II version.)
Land Of Plenty
It's easy to see that Beyond Zork is aptly named. The new screen appearance and the plethora of new commands speak for themselves as worthy additions to text adventure programs. These features alone would be more than enough to satisfy jaded game players, but Infocom has added trimmings to this feast by making Beyond Zork its largest program yet. Beyond Zork spans an area at least four times the size of any existing text adventure, giving you a huge land in which to develop your character.
More frills? Certainly. This is Infocom, after all. A beautifully done, illustrated handbook titled "The Lore and Legends of Quendor" provides important information on the beasties (plant and animal alike) that inhabit Quendor, as well as well-disguised hints on dealing with these obstacles to your success. Also, a map of the Southland of Quendor provides a useful overview of the world in which you are about to adventure.
A final note: Beyond Zork is available for a wide variety of machines, and while most of the information in this review holds true no matter which computer is used to play the game, certain versions contain even more features, especially in the area of graphics. For example, the Amiga, IBM, Macintosh, and IIGS versions allow the use of a mouse to move from area to area on the onscreen maps. All of the above machines—as well as the Commodore 128—use colorful bar charts to display attribute levels. Also, some systems allow up to four colors on the screen at one time, as opposed to the two-tone screens of less-sophisticated systems.
Regardless of which machine is used to play Beyond Zork, the result will be the same: hours of enjoyment. Highly recommended, Beyond Zork reaffirms Infocom's position as king of the text adventures.
125 Cambridge Park Dr.
Cambridge, MA 02140
$49.95 IBM PC/compatibles, Apple II,
GS, Macintosh, and Amiga versions
$44.95 Commodore 128 version