XYZZYnews

from XYZZYnews #10

Game Reviews

Zork Nemesis

Publisher Activision
Platform:DOS/Windows-95 CD-ROM, soon to be released for the Mac
System requirements: 486/DX2-66Mhz, 8MB RAM, 2xCD-ROM, SVGA 640x480, Mouse, 16bit sound card

review by Matt Newsome

Personally, I think Cecilia Barajas is brave. Imagine: you've been asked to design, direct and produce the next game in what is one of the most successful computer game series ever: Zork. Where do you even begin?

Well, if the final result is anything to judge by, you start with the design, then concentrate on the design for a while and, finally, you work on the design... Zork Nemesis is absolutely packed full of puzzles -- and for once, they're non-linear and central to the game.

For Zork aficionados, the story starts in the Temple of the Ancients in the Forbidden Lands, south of the Frigid River in the Eastlands. Four respected citizens of the GUE have vanished and when a spy fails to return from the temple, where they are believed to be held, you are sent to find out what is going on. So begins a totally captivating journey through the temple and, later, into four other game areas: a school of music, a monastery, a fort and a chilling asylum, all five areas are interconnected by an alchemical theme. Actually, "chilling" summarizes the general feel of the game throughout -- the recommended "15" rating is well-deserved. Nemesis has a similar kind of atmosphere to that found in Dave Lebling's Lurking Horror, except in Nemesis there's no humor to lighten it up...

The game's interface is revolutionary -- literally! In addition to moving between rooms, the new Z-Vision engine allows the player to rotate a full 360 degrees (as is possible in games like Doom) and interact with any of the game's objects along the way. Just like its textual predecessors, Nemesis basically centers around using the right object in the right place in the right manner, or manipulating some mechanical contraption to make progress. On the whole, the point-and-click interface is ideal for these tasks, and I found it a great improvement on the RTZ model, which I felt was an innovative but cumbersome design.

The very latest techniques have been applied as well, pushing my 486DX2-66 and quad-speed CD-ROM drive to the limit through the use of carefully integrated video clips directed by Joe Napolitano (X-Files and Murder One). Excellent use is made of the atmospheric, Enigma-like music, which sets off the 16-bit graphics to good effect. Similarly, the incidental sound effects and music enhance the action in the game and both benefit from the new "Q-Sound" system which gives superbly crisp output. Of course, all this extra technology takes its toll on storage space with the end result that the game comes on three CD-ROMs and requires at least 30MB of hard-disk space, preferably 100MB!

So how well does the game play? Well, thankfully, the news is good. For once, the multimedia aspects have been used carefully and intelligently. The designers have concentrated throughout on developing a convincing world and an exciting story to play out -- after all, anything else is just a gimmick. In fact, unlike the majority of "interactive movies", I'm hard pressed to think of any gratuitous use of video, though, as ever, the acting could still be improved. In fact, character interaction is completely missing from the game, but surprisingly that is not greatly to its detriment -- the player gains a sense of isolation which, I feel, enhances the gameplay.

All things considered, if (like me) you've waiting for a game with the quality of design found in that very first chapter of Zork, you'll want to order Zork: Nemesis immediately -- it's what we've been waiting for. Save for the hassle when changing from one CD to another (and even that's relatively infrequent), it's sheer gaming heaven for even the most diehard Infocom fan.

In fact, if you do start playing, you can expect to be hooked for around forty hours of solid playtime. Because, after all, if it's two in the morning, this must be Zork!


Lost New York

release 1.02f
Parser: TADS
Author: Neil deMause
Availability: ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/
Requires: TADS run-time interpreter; platform-specific standalone versions are also available at GMD
Response to the XYZZY command: "Sadly, recent city budget cuts have led to the elimination of the Department of Magic."

review by Rob Daviau

You're in New York to visit friends and have a few hours to kill. So you head off to the Statue of Liberty. Where a fog rolls in and strands you there. With a muttering old man, a surly concessions worker, and a cranky park ranger. And all you have are a few subway tokens and a credit card.

Welcome to the Big Apple.

The opening to Lost New York (by Neil deMause, author of MacWesleyan/PC University) plants you right smack at New York's most notable tourist attraction then takes you on a whirlwind tour of the city. Not through distance. But through time. Along the way you travel through the late 19th century, early 20th century, the 17th century, the 1950s, and even into the 21st century. All within America's biggest city.

For those of you who thought that New York geography had remained relatively untouched through its history will be pleasantly surprised. This is the type of game that manages to teach you a lot about a subject while making it a very pleasant trip indeed. Some of the effect may be lost to those who have never been to New York, but not all that much.

deMause has obviously done his homework (as the impressive bibliography attests). The descriptions, feel, and atmosphere of the different time periods is vivid and varied. It is one of the rare IF games with real geography. A nice feature to the game is the scoring system, which ranks you according to past New York mayors, complete with a mini-biography of that mayor's accomplishments (such as they were).

Another part I found particularly interesting was the fun that deMause had with the parser itself. I am so used to Infocom's gently playful parser or Mssrs. Nelson and Rees' British wit that it was a refreshing change to be served a fistful of New York sarcasm and attitude. The parser is from New York and lets you know it. Example: I tried to pick up a sewer grate, to which the game replied "So now all of a sudden you're Superman? It's far too heavy for you to lift by yourself." (Even better: try typing dirty words, assaulting someone, or just hitting return.)

Part of the problem with Lost NY may be that it has too much focus on ambiance. When I first traveled back in time, I assumed that I was trying to find my way back to meet my friends. Then I thought I was supposed to alter time for the better (kind of an anti-Jigsaw). Either way, it's not very clear what your purpose is in the New York time zones other than to solve puzzles and move forward. Even when you're solving puzzles, it's hard to tell what you're accomplishing in the big picture. Eventually, it becomes obvious how to get back to the present, then you just have to spend time getting it done.

The puzzles are logical and fairly straightforward. They are consistently challenging with few stumpers. I had a few problems with the parser but no more or less than with other games. There are a few places (especially near the beginning of the game) where you can get the game into an unwinnable situation by missing something or fiddling with something too soon. As usual, save often. There are few NPCs in the game and those that exist are relatively limited in their interaction with the player.

Lost New York is freeware. However, there is a registered version available that includes an online hint feature and a very well-written, nicely-laid out booklet detailing more of New York's history. The book adds a lot to the game and the help section gives successively clearer hints until it just flat out tells you what to do. Version 1.1 was recently uploaded to ftp.gmd.de. This version changes a few puzzles and fixes a number of minor bugs from v1.02.

Finally, a special request from Neil: "Please stop calling it 'Lost In New York.'"


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