The series of Zork games is, arguably, adventure gaming at its finest. The first games were humble text adventures, while the last two in the series were full-blown 3D adventures. Return to Zork appeared between the two extremes, a few years before Zork: Nemesis, and the graphics are fairly low-res 2D compared with the 3D of the two later sequels. But for fans of the series, there is plenty to keep them entertained and challenged, from experiencing off-beat magic that only exists in the Zorkian lands, to fighting off deadly Grues and Vultures, to meeting the quirky characters, and finding the way through three mazes while exploring the Great Underground Empire of Zork.
While watching the credits scroll at the beginning, I was amazed by the cast of thousands assembled to make this game. This, alone, earned some respect. Then begins the rather cheesy (yet still enjoyable) musical introduction, and the familiar text appears: "You are standing beside a white house..." Then, finally, the enchanted world of Zork springs to life as you watch the introductory video. You, the adventurer, are the winner of a sweepstake holiday in the Valley of Sparrows, and at the beginning of the game are standing on a narrow mountain pass overlooking a green valley. However, the vultures flying overhead add to the foreboding that all is not as it appears in the peaceful valley below. The sign beside the road gives another clue: "Valley of the Vultures," it reads and the population has apparently dwindled to a mere 47. When a vulture whizzes past your ear and lands upon the sign, you - lucky sweepstake winner - had better take action before the population dwindles even further. Then your tele-orb announces that the Valley of the Sparrows has been recently renamed the Valley of the Vultures, and you realise with trepidation that this vulture-riddled place is actually your dream holiday destination.
There are rumours that the Great Underground Empire of Zork, now a legend, could have once existed and that some caverns have been discovered in the Valley of Sparrows leading to this lost empire. The land of Zork was believed to be destroyed long ago as it harboured dangerous magics. You, the adventurer, are hoping to explore some of these caverns and discover the answer for yourself.
To make your long journey through Zork a little speedier, here are some shortcuts:
F1: Displays your Zork System Menu and lets you take a look at your score, quit, restart, save and load games, or change your current game settings.
F2: Gives you a quick way to save your game when you anticipate an imminent death.
F3: Loads a previously saved game instantly. Press F3 as early as the opening title sequence that follows the Infocom logo to display the Load Game screen and continue a game right away.
F4: Not feeling your usual keen-eyed adventuring self today? Press F4 to repeat the last message printed on your screen.
When you reach West Shanbar and the Zork Underground, you'll be asked a few copy protection questions. Here are the possible answers to choose from:
SEVEN DAYS OF THE WEEK:
1. Sand Day
2. Mud Day
3. Grues Day
4. Wands Day
6. Frob Day
7. Star Day
BTW, to discover the hidden entrance to the underground, you'd better brush up on your toasting etiquette by attending an Abandonian birthday party or by reading the files in the Mayor's office in West Shanbar. In the nearby mill is where the now-famous glass of rye makes its appearance. While working your way through the very complicated toasting ritual, watch out for an opportunity to ask Boos for the keys - for without them, you can't open the secret door to the Great Underground Empire.
When you've found your way inside the Underground, then the magic really starts, and witches, forest sprites and wizards regularly appear. However, the puzzles are insanely difficult, and if you miss out on something earlier on then you have to replay from a much earlier stage. (Clue: Be sure to take photos of everyone you meet and record any interesting sounds, such as a dog barking.) My advice is to save multiple games to avoid this hazard. However, the game is laced with humour and unexpected fun, so you won't mind too much if you have to go back over certain scenes. Another reason to save often is that death comes as unexceptedly and often as the fun does.
You've been warned, adventurer! Have fun and stay alive!
I played the game using Win98, and it performed flawlessly in Windows and DOS. XP'ers should have no problems playing the game through DOSBox, although no guarantees can be given for every individual system. Download at your own risk.
When you unzip the files put them in the root of either the CD drive or drive C or D on your hard drive. What this means is don't put the unzipped files into a folder. Put them straight onto the C drive or the D drive. The same when burning to a CD.
Now, when you've unzipped the files to the root of a drive, click on install.exe. They will ask where you want the files to go and also the name of your CD Drive. For the name of your CD Rom drive, give the drive letter where the initial files were unzipped. I think it might work best if you put the files that are uncompressed into another drive from the inital unzipped files. Burning the files to a CD and placing them in the root of the drive will also work.
After clicking on "install.exe," you will also be asked ask if you wish the project files to be installed. Choose "yes," because although these files are already on your system, I think they - and others - have to be uncompressed. Just accept the directory name that is offered. Then you are asked to select your sound card. Care must be taken to choose exactly the right name and port numbers, as not only will you not have sound, but the introductory movie (and possibly others) will not play as a consequence of wrong choices.