Zork: The Undiscovered Underground
First posted on 03 April 1998. Last updated on 15 May 2014.
Infocom is a legend in the realm of interactive fiction. Among the text adventure titles that have defined this genre, the Zork series is the most famous. Zork: The Undiscovered Underground is the official prequel to Zork Grand Inquisitor and returns to the legendary past of the series. In the classic style of the original Infocom games, this is a pure text adventure title. Albeit gamers who are familiar with only graphical adventures may have difficulty getting accustomed to the text interface, this game is still a must play title for all adventure fans. Its story reads like a great book and is filled with classic Zorkian humor.
The year is 1066. You are a Private in the Inquisition Guard. The Grand Inquisitor has assigned you to explore a recently uncovered portion of the ancient Great Underground Empire. Your task is to explore the area and report back on your findings. Of course, as soon as you enter the cave entrance, it collapses behind you. Your mission is then to explore this Undiscovered Underground and then find a way back out.
It is difficult to review the production merit of a text adventure. In one sense, it is obvious that the game in not on the cutting edge. After all, there is not a single screen of graphics present! It does not even have a basic auto-map feature that is incorporated in the prequel Beyond Zork. In another sense, this game is supposed to be a flashback to the good old days of the original text adventures. In this light, Zork: The Undiscovered Underground succeeds admirably. In both look and feel the game is completely reminiscent of its predecessors. The simplicity of the interface allows the player to concentrate completely on the story and puzzles without being distracted by fancy features. The text parser is flexible enough that there are only very few times that I have been stumped on a puzzle because I cannot find the appropriate words to use. My only complaint with its production is the fact that the game is simply too short. This is, however, intentional on the part of Activision since the game is distributed for free and is meant to be an introduction or a taste of what is in store in Zork Grand Inquisitor which is also produced by the company.
Zork: The Undiscovered Underground is the first text adventure in the Zork series since the release of Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz. It is written by Marc Blank, one of the original founders of Infocom. An emulator, such as ZorkTUUWinFrotz for Windows 95, is needed to run the game. ZorkTUUWinFrotz is a special version of the WinFrotz Interpreter 2.22 R4.5 written by Rich Lawrence. WinFrotz is a Win95/NT native version of Frotz, the original Z-machine emulator from Stefan Jokisch. Jokisch's code is based on Mark Howell's Zip. The function of WinFrotz is to play Interactive Fiction files, such as titles from Infocom that can contain text, sounds, and graphics. With Interactive Fiction, the player types in the commands in plain English each time the prompt (>) is seen. Most of the sentences that The STORIES can understand are imperative sentences. When the player has finished typing the input, the STORY then responds, telling the player whether the request is possible at this point in the story, and what happens as a result.
The gameplay is definitely the highlight of this title. The text descriptions are so complete and elaborate that no picture is needed. The environment is nonlinear in that you can reach nearly every area to explore even very early in the game. The puzzles, however, are of a more linear nature in that for most part you need to solve them in a certain order since the puzzles essentially build on each other. At times this can be frustrating because if you are stuck on several puzzles you have to solve the right one first before you can solve any of the others. Unfortunately, there is often no clue as to which one is needed to be solved first. The puzzles themselves are very well done. They are challenging but not impossible or illogical. The game does not feel like a disjointed story with several interspersed puzzles. The puzzles fit perfectly into the storyline. Even the easier ones are great fun to solve just because they often have clever or humorous solutions. The classic Zorkian humor is spread throughout the game, both subtly and bluntly. The short length of this game may take away from some of the satisfaction of finishing it.
The biggest draw of this game for me is the simple fact that this is a Zork text adventure which brings back the fond memories of all of the classic Zork titles. Incidentally, the release of Zork: The Undiscovered Underground marks the 20th anniversary of the Zork trilogy. The strongest elements of Zork: The Undiscovered Underground are its rich text, Zorkian humor, and clever puzzles. This is a must play game for any text adventure fan, especially one of the Zorkian leaning.