Of Anti-Puzzles and Campy-Acting – Zork: Grand Inquisitor

>_look at the game

You see Zork: Grand Inquisitor. The last in the long and varied line of Zork games. They started out as text adventures in the olden times of ancient technology, then grown, spun-off and transformed into a first-person movielike puzzle games. Unfortunately, the good times lasted only until 1999 – the year of the series’ demise. I can’t comment on any of the previous games because I haven’t played them yet, but I can say that this Zork quite clearly indicates that the series didn’t end because of lack of quality.

>_play a bit

I got eaten by a Grue around the fourth minute of my stroll around the gameworld. No one knows what a Grue looks like, everyone knows that it eats people in the darkness. I didn’t know. I was too infatuated with my adventuring and problem-solving skills. I’ve found a rope, I used a rope on a well, I was glorious and wise, I climbed down a well and in the darkness of the underground I got munched by a Grue.


>_don’t kill me, you old game

Death isn’t an inescapable fate in Zork GI, though, at least to me, it seems to be a feature. It’s a prize for doing dumb things, like attacking invisible monsters expertly wielding six swords in their six arms. It’s also a slap on the hands for doing things that you’re warned against. That woman will call guards if you don’t stop touching her fish, and guards will have their way with you, you know? The rules are well-communicated, they are for you to see and comprehend the possibility of your character’s death.

>_follow the rules

But Zork: GI doesn’t like the rules. It’s a rebel of a game. The main villain is a half-witted dictator who wants to ban magic because he’s bad at it. He does that by taking over the world, setting up a totalitarian government and caring for propaganda. Zork isn’t above breaking the fourth wall either, the new Boss likes to shout that we should shun magic, floss vigorously and save often. Good advice.

>_i like advice

Zork: GI is a medium-difficulty game, therefore it’s not above helping the player and leading him onto the right path. It’s full of hints – most of the puzzles are mentioned in various books, signs and other written notes around the world. You just put the two and two together which requires a certain level of patience, but is also rather satisfying. Besides, there is murder, and there is brutality in Zork, too, you will meet a number of helpful but dead adventurers, and thoroughly unhelpful monsters. Still, this is an adventure game and paced like one.


>_solve the puzzle

Then again, this is not a straightforward game, it’s a comedy, sometimes dark, sometimes campy but always quite intelligent. So it treats all the puzzles in a different way. On occasion you are required to think outside the box, to use brute force instead of your wits. A Zork player is a wise player. He/She/It (or as game prefers to call us AFGENCAAP) knows that sometimes the puzzle is just a spoon. Don’t use it! Instead bend it and throw it at a wall. Be a Kirk. After all, this kind of puzzle-solving can be extremely satisfying too.

>_talk to the actor man

Grand Inquisitor is an archaic game. Today, we hear the actor’s voices, maybe see their computerized faces, but in the good old 90’s from which this Zork hails, we’ve seen them. We’ve seen them in silly costumes, pouncing around a green screen and overacting to their heart’s content. Here, it doesn’t really hinder the game, it actually elevates it to even more enjoyable levels. The voice acting of the creatures/monsters/talking lamps is top-notch, and the actors are delightful. There’s Dirk ‘Faceman’ Benedict being all old-school and charming, and Erick Avari villainously monologuing like there’s no tomorrow! It’s fun and often funny too.

>_gaze into the face of the pixel

However the graphics are slightly outdated. To me they are acceptable, because they don’t make my eyes bleed out in disgust, and clearly represent what they represent despite being old, but the same cannot be said of the movies and animations. The quality of the recordings is beyond lacking. It’s like a 240p video on Youtube. So compressed, the large pixels want to jump out and cover the screens whole.


>_i’m here for the story anyway

I haven’t written much about the story, because there’s just not much to it. As mentioned earlier, the world has been taken over by a despot who hates magic, so you travel to find three artifacts which will revive it. You don’t have any personality or character arc, because you’re Ageless Faceless Gender-Neutral Culturally-Ambiguous Adventure Person. The real strength of the game lies in the humor. Surprisingly, it isn’t even all campy or dumb for the sake of dumbness, but there is a lot of clever stuff. The writers knew what they were doing – the totalitarian reality and it’s propaganda is never overplayed, because the setting changes often and quickly. The delicious dark humor is often mixed with the proper amount of camp and crazy which make the results fun to watch and listen to.


I expected the game will be interesting, after all, I wouldn’t get it otherwise, but I didn’t expect it to be this cool. Zork: Grand Inquisitor isn’t stale in its gameplay, it’s not fresh but there’s still life in it’s creaky bones. I framed this review around pseudo text-adventuring, but the only moment you see a text parser in GI is in death. Being eaten, totemized, suffocated or slain. In this way it is making a tribute to the old Zork games. It’s a tribute in blood. You know, the one that tastes like ketchup and jam.
But with a longer expiration date.

[I got the game off GOG, because they care to make them oldies playable on modern PCs, and indeed it worked like a charm.]

About tobecooper

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4 Responses to Of Anti-Puzzles and Campy-Acting – Zork: Grand Inquisitor

  1. Jack Flacco says:

    Although I’ve heard of this, I’ve never played it. I love playing these old games, too. Have you ever tried DosBox? It’s a nifty, little software you can use to play old games. It emulates old dos environments complete with sound and graphics emulation (soundblaster, gravis, s3, etc.). It really is neat. I had an old game from 1994 called Relentless I’d thought I lost playing until popping it into DosBox. Worked like a charm. Anyway, you might like using it if you run into any problems in the future with older games!

    Great review, BTW!

  2. killkaties says:

    Zork! Sadly I am old enough to have played the original Zork. I never realised that this existed and am about to embark upon an epic quest to get a copy…

    • tobecooper says:

      You’re totes elderly! Watch out for Grues while questing!

      Though, I wouldn’t say playing the first Zork is a sign of age, because I expect it to be pretty fun even today, 35 years later. It’s texty. Words don’t get old that fast.

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