First posted on 05 February 2006. Last updated on 07 September 2009.
Activision has taken a new direction in the Zork series with the development of Zork Nemesis (also known as Zork Nemesis: The Forbidden Lands). Although Zork Nemesis is billed as a sequel to Return to Zork, the story in this game bears no authentic link to previous Zork titles except for a few passing references. Such a risk taken by the developer is likely going to stir up mixed feelings from diehard Zork fans. To gamers who are unfamiliar with the Zork series, Zork Nemesis stands well by itself as an adventure game that commands a welcomed challenge. For the first time, the grandiose view of the Zork Empire can be fully visualized inside the game, bringing scenes which once can only be described in text in the original adventures to a new level of experience. Together with a hefty dose of challenging puzzles, Zork Nemesis represents a dark side of the Zork universe that any gamer is surely enticed to experience.
The story of Zork Nemesis centers around 4 prominent Alchemists in the Zork Empire who have been kidnapped by a mysterious figure from the Forbidden Lands known as the Nemesis. Your predecessor, Agent Bivotar, has succumbed to the Nemesis' curse in an attempt to investigate their disappearances. Searching through the deserted Temple of Agrippa, you soon realize that they have been murdered and that the captives have been previously researching together to control a power known as the Quintessentia, so called Philosopher's Stone, that is supposed to grant them immortality and unlimited powers. Guided by the Alchemists' spirits, you set off to retrieve the 4 elements and 4 metals that are needed to resurrect their bodies. However, when the sorrow tale of a pair of lovers named Alexandria and Lucien is unveiled, you discover a darker secret behind the Alchemists' evil doings. The line between good and evil is finally blurred when the truths are revealed on the identity of the Nemesis and his quarrel with the Alchemists.
Zork Nemesis features a number of new innovations with its MADE engine to help bring the great Zork Empire to life. Z-Vision Surround Technology allows for true 360° movement left to right, and at times up and down, within the game in stunning 16-bit graphics. These panoramic views are interleaved with pre-rendered Full Motion Videos clips, compressed using Duck Corporation's TrueMotion, to provide realistic transitional effects when traveling between locales. QSound technology is employed to emulate 3D sound effect by shifting a single speaker channel back and forth as the player moves about inside the game environment. Surrealistic sound effect mix, provided by the Academy award winning Soundelux Media Labs, completes the illusion of immersion. Over an hour of live action videos have been shot that are directed by Joe Napolitano (The X-Files, Murder One) for this game. The Windows 95 version contains an optional online component and a rollover bar within the game to access system commands. In addition, DirectX support in this version allows for simplified setup and significant performance improvement over the MS-DOS version. Subtitle display within the game is available through an upgrade patch.
Gameplay in Zork Nemesis unfolds over 5 richly detailed worlds—Agrippa, Asylum, Castle, Conservatory, and Monastery. Except for the occasional passing references to previous Zork titles such as Dimwit Flathead the Excessive and Flood Control Dam #3 (and a grue, of course), the general atmosphere of this game is eerie and serious—a dramatic change in both tone and style from the classics. Still, there are the occasional Zorkian innuendo hidden in references and character names such as "Venusnv" (pronounced as "penis envy"). The puzzles in this game are all well integrated into the story. Most are inventory based, but some are logic oriented. There are over 65 puzzles in the game that provide over 40 hours of gameplay.
Zork Nemesis breaks many new grounds as an adventure game. The story is dark and gripping, with numerous subplots and twists that are heightened by a surprise climactic revelation. Character developments are complex, and the portrayals of the dark side of mankind in these characters are chilling. The acting performances are also strong. All of the Full Motion Videos are tastefully done and used selectively to propel the story forward.
On the other hand, Zork Nemesis has a few distracting annoyances. Fans of the Zork series who are expecting ample Zorkian humor may not identify with this title. The virtual environment can be disorientating at times, making navigation within the game a challenge. The later puzzles in the game are quite difficult, and certain puzzles contain much gore and blood that may be offensive to some players. There is even a puzzle that requires the player to behead a corpse with a guillotine and then place the head on a contraption in order to make it speak!
Overall, Zork Nemesis is a dark interpretation of the classic Zork universe. It is an adventure that can be appreciated by both fans and non fans of the series. With this game, the great Underground Empire has once again been rediscovered in its full glory.