I heard on the grapevine that a half-decent FPS called Bioshock Infinite was released this week. And with said game being set in a city stuffed full of socio-political commentary, I thought the perfect tonic for this week’s BFTP would be a game that took the premise of serious political issues, and then rammed it full of satire and humour. Plus it seems outrageous that in the archives of BFTP history we have yet to mention one of the most famous early adventure game franchises. So to both those ends, ladies and gentlemen I present to you Zork: Grand Inquisitor.
Zork: Grand Inquisitor joins the franchise very late in its life when it was released in 1997 for PC. Way back in 1980 a quartet of MIT graduates designed and published the first Zork game under the Infocom name. The original Zork game was a text-based adventure game, and was made as a trilogy of games, with each one leading directly onto the next. For those who have not experienced the game, it is possible to play it in Call of Duty: Black Ops – just break out of the chair on the menu screen, and type in “Zork” into the computer screen and you’re all set.
But random information and stray trophies / achievements aside, we’re here to talk about a later game in the series. 17 years after the original Zork, Grand Inquisitor would see you take on the role of “AFGNCAAP” (Ageless, Faceless, Gender-Neutral, Culturally Ambiguous Adventure Person) as you delve into the depths of the Great Underground Empire, and with the help of Dalboz the Dungeon Master (unfortunately imprisoned inside a lantern) you will collect 3 legendary artifacts that will overthrow Mir “I am the boss of you!” Yannick – AKA The Grand Inquisitor.
Throughout your quest you will be using a combination of items and magic to progress. Items are stored in your inventory, and magic spells – once learned – will appear in your spell book for you to use as you please. As with most games of this nature, you can only interact with certain items and objects on the screen, and these become apparent when you hover the pointer over them accordingly. The trial and error aspect of using different item, object and spell combinations still exist, and as in similar games, it is possible to even kill yourself by doing something particularly foolish with your combination choices.
You’ll also meet three other characters who you can control for brief periods in the game. When you first meet them, they have been totemized - condensed into small disc-like boxes known as totems. Each of these characters will aid in retrieving one of the three aforementioned legendary artifacts from their current resting places far away in time and space. The voice acting of these characters, of Dalboz and Yannick, and indeed the rest of the supporting cast, is well done for the late 90s, and adds to the experience.
Visually the game was also appealing. Using the “Z-Vision” engine, the game features fully-rendered locations that – in the majority of cases – allowed for complete 360 degree horizontal rotation. This meant not only could you better get a feel for your surroundings, but also provided the option of hiding items and objects you can interact with at various points in the landscape to reward the eagle-eyed. This added character to an already varied array of landscapes that included hell, prison and a monastery, as well as a cameo appearance of Newark, New Jersey.
But where this game really sets itself apart from other adventure games is in its parody of its subject matter. It pokes fun at the Inquisition and Mir Yannick himself, best epitomised in the opening credits with Yannick’s speech against Magic: “Shun magic, and shun the appearance of magic. Shun everything, and then shun shunning”. It’s a game that’s not afraid to demonstrate that its own story is daft, and it makes you want to progress to see what crazy lengths the Inquisition will go to next in the bid to rid the world of magic for good. There are numerous nods to its own genre too, and not necessarily in the revering way you might expect. The game isn’t afraid to point out the nonsensical, the ridiculous or the convenient nature of adventure games – even if it means poking fun at its Zork predecessors.
What this all adds up to is an thoroughly enjoyable adventure game that will not only get your cerebral juices flowing, but will have you chuckling to yourself as you do it. It superbly combines wit and satire with a mythical backdrop to present an experience that is both rewarding and charming. It makes the adventuring more interesting, and – despite the numerous nods to its heritage – a unique adventure game in its own right. To quote the Inquisition: "The Grand Inquisitor rules!"