Zork 1: The Great Underground Empire

Zork: The Great Underground Empire DOS Front Cover

Publisher: Infocom
Developer: Infocom
Year: 1980
Platform: Everything

Yes, Zork was the most important computer game of the early 1980’s. Perhaps even more important than King’s QuestYou are standing in an open field, west of a white house, is quite possibly the most well-known line in gaming history. It laid the foundation for many wonderful things to come. And it was an incredibly impressive, engaging adventure when it was released. But other than nostalgia, it has little going for it after all these years.

A simple treasure hunting expedition can actually be a welcome relief form more story-based games, but Zork breaks so many conventional rules of modern gameplay that most fans of current interactive fiction would rip it to shreds were it released today. First, there’s the pointless maze (of twisty little passages, all alike). Then there’s the random enemy encounters and random battle elements. There are several ways to lock one’s self from victory without even realizing it, and a few puzzles are so poorly clued (or not clued at all) that it doesn’t matter anyway. And all that onto a time limit (due to a finite light source, at least early on), and you have one maddening game.

To be fair, the atmosphere still holds up well after all these years.  The parser is impressively strong.  And a few of the puzzles are rather ingenious. But I don’t have patience any longer for the aforementioned annoyances. Zork used to be a giant, but so many others have piled on top of its shoulders that it has weakened considerably. Still, I would recommend this to those who do have an interest in seeing how computer gaming first exploded in the market.

Zork: The Great Underground Empire DOS The starting location

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