Anthony's Film Review
Return to Zork
(Video Game, 1993)
A breathtaking graphic adventure in a mysteriously enchanting world...
Before I talk about Return to Zork, I should provide a brief history of the Zork games. The first Zork game was a text-only adventure game released in the late 1970s. From there, several text-based Zork games would follow for a decade and a half. Now, I haven't played these early games, but I know enough about some of the major milestones in computer gaming history to give you this background information. I mention this because Return to Zork is part of this series and is the first graphic adventure, stepping away from Zork's text-based roots.
There actually isn't much of a story in this game. You play the game in first-person as a nameless protagonist with an unknown past, and it's not clear what your objective is from the beginning of the game. As far as you, the player, are concerned, the only objective is to explore around until you find new objectives. For instance, the first screen in the game is at a mountain pass with vultures flying around. There is also a lighthouse by a river, and once you travel downstream, you reach the town of West Shanbar.
After some exploration of the area, you find your way down a long ladder taking you to Zork, the Great Underground Empire. It's a whole new world underneath the surface. There's a river and the town of East Shanbar, similar to what's above. But that's only the beginning. There are many places to explore, including the Forest of the Spirits, the Whispering Woods, the Troll Caverns, and the Cliffs of Depression. The sights, sounds, and ambient music can really make you feel like you are an adventurer in a whole new world.
Of course, the adventure is not devoid of character interactions. You meet all sorts of interesting people, such as a drunk named Boos, a wizard named Canuk, a witch named Itah, a blind bowman, and a rancher named Pugney. As with any adventure game, these characters may present as obstacles or as allies who provide clues for later puzzles in the game. Speaking of puzzles, they are quite interesting but with a difficulty level that is mostly medium to hard. I actually gave up halfway through the game and used a walkthrough to finish it.
With a game that is fairly challenging and barely has a story, does this mean the game is bad? Not necessarily. I enjoyed this game for what it is. It's a set of puzzles placed in a world that is just visually breathtaking. The sounds that accompany the world of Zork and the music are just great. Oh, and let's not forget that this game features filmed actors playing the characters you interact with, a method of game-making that was quite new for its time. All of it was enough to impress me the first time I played it, and to this day, it still does.
For more information about Return to Zork, visit the Internet Movie Database and Moby Games.