Zork: The Undiscovered Underground

by Marc Blank, Michael Berlyn, and G. Kevin Wilson

Part of Zork

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A bit of a disappointment for die-hard Zork fans in 1997, September 18, 2015
by mjhayes (Somewhere east of Garinham)

The '90s was a turbulent decade for quite a few game franchises, Zork being no exception. Infocom was on its way out, but fortunately or unfortunately, along came Activision to the rescue. Return To Zork was the first multimedia Zork game, but sadly what would seem to be the last game that was truly Zork. Zork Nemesis was a beautiful game with an interface that wowed laypeople and seasoned gamers alike, but was Zork in name only.

So when Zork: Grand Inquisitor came along the following year, it seemed to be the best of both worlds. It had the same next-gen panoramic interface that Nemesis had, making it forgivable for falling into the "Myst-wannabe" genre, but had the same characteristic quirkiness of classic Infocom titles. To make things even better, a few guys now at Activision thought to throw a bone to the IF crowd by co-releasing this free IF piece.

I downloaded it with the expectation that it would be a true "Zork IV" (not Enchanter or Beyond Zork) but I was quickly disappointed. There was no sense of carefree spelunking with this one, if only because the player is commissioned by the Grand Inquisitor to explore a newly-discovered section of the Great Underground Empire. It's short too, more so than I was hoping for. What really ruined it for me though, was getting an actual verbal description of a grue, and also walking into a room that turns out to be a Grue Convention Hall. I know that other Infocom games like Journey had made the connection between orcs and grues and had illustrations of the orcs, but because those weren't Zork games, I looked the other way.

Another thing that irritated me was the description of the entrance to the hallway "the size of a large boulevard." I knew that a central character in Zork history was Lord Dimwit Flathead the Excessive, famous for his outrageous sense of proportion, but this over-the-top description shattered my "suspension-of-distaste." I will also refrain from talking about the rat-ants that make their return from Beyond Zork.

Now that it's not 1997 anymore, I can say that in hindsight, I'm glad this game was developed, since I believe it's better to have something mediocre than nothing at all. I just wish it had been better among the original Zork games.