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Activision has done it! This is the one, this is THE game. Close your eyes, imagine the most pleasurable feeling possible, multiply it to the nth degree and you are only vaguely experiencing what is "Zork Nemesis".
Activision is perhaps better named "Phoenix", this once lost company has soared out of the smoldering ashes and taken flight into the sky. Brightly illuminating the darkness that has been shrouded over the gaming industry. With mighty strokes from its awesome wings of fire, resurrected, revitalized it swoops down and perches on the mantle of greatness where it so rightly belongs.
In "Zork Nemesis" the player journeys into the fantastic realm of the Forbidden Lands, a doomed region in the darkest corner of the great Underground Empire. There, the souls of the Empire's four great Alchemists are trapped in perpetual hell at the hands of the Nemesis. Now, the forces of the underground beckon the player to uncover the mystery behind the Nemesis' curse. The player must discover the ancient secret of alchemy that will free the trapped souls before the Nemesis imprisons them for eternity. Only by mastering this ancient and mysterious art can players discover the Elixir of eternal life and unlock the secrets of the Forbidden Lands.
Finally, after years too long to count, Zork has returned to us all. Activision's second attempt at a Zork adventure, this is their finest hour. The last title "Return to Zork" was financially a big success, but the childish misdirected approach to the Zork game left an awful lot of "Zorkians" very empty. "Zork Nemesis" however is a mature captivating adventure-noir that does justice to the originally inspired "dungeon" (Zork).
From the very beginning, the first read of the CD, "Zork Nemesis" bares its dark noir setting. At the opening, "Activision Presents" is swept away by a fast moving wispy cloud, replaced with a blazing sun. The bell tolls slowly, the planetary body moves to intersect, the sun becomes engulfed. At the full eclipse, "Zork Nemesis".
No long overdrawn intro, no camp acting or voice over by B-grade wanna-be's taking any assignment up for grabs. "Zork Nemesis" engulfs you into the world. As in the pristine yore, the focus is on you, putting you into a realistic environment. Entirely first person, "Zork Nemesis" has set a new precedent in interactive entertainment.
After viewing the superb intro, you are taken to the entrance of the world you will be entering. Suddenly 16 bit, 65,000 color graphics are "around" you. A world so enticingly beautiful, so incredible in every detail, you would swear the images were scanned from reality. But no scene could look like this, fully rendered, the world in front of you is remarkably Zork.
The use of the 65,000 colors is just simply breathtaking. Once, 256 color was an incredible achievement, 16 color EGA games just paled into insignificance once a VGA game was sighted. Well, "Zork Nemesis" does this to every game ever seen.
Scenes are photo-realistic with incredible amounts of detail that would normally be reserved for over budgeted Hollywood movies, or professional single stilled renders, but these are beyond single still renders, these are beyond anything you have ever seen. Walls are adorned with renaissance quality paintings. Carpets appear hand woven with beautifully intricate patterns, and hallways are dark and shadowy with perfect light sources.
Despite these phenomenal renders, Activision wants to take it one further, not content to blow your mind, they want to release you into a whole new dimension.
Welcome Z-Vision, the next dimension! What adventure games have needed for a long time, the revolutionary sparkling touch that is the difference between immersing you, and pure "immersion". Initially it appears to be Quicktime VR, but labelled by Activision as "proprietary" you realize the truth of the matter when you see animation within the scene.
Z-Vision allows players to successfully navigate the game's puzzle landscape with a seamless 360 degree perspective, completely engulfing them in a rich 3D world. Moving the mouse to the left or right of the screen the cursor changes to signify 360 degree motion, the fully rendered world in front of you will rotate on the X axis. The effect is perfect and totally convincing, like doom, but of a quality unparalleled. Unlike doom, certain areas offer the view to be displayed up and down, along the Y axis. The effect is perfect, with everything totally in proportion.
It is not just Z-Vision that is the only unique example of forward thinking in Zork Nemesis. Video within Zork is of two different types. There is the "interlaced video" or video that comprises "film" type sequences. Then there is the non interlaced video that is reserved for cut scenes to depict non vocal/acted activities such as walking down a hallway.
Interlaced video is a term decided upon because of no other definition. This form of full motion video incorporates sound, 16 bit color and runs at 20 frames per second. It involves taking video files and displaying them with a blank line in between each row to give the effect of video much larger than it is.
Normally, video is reserved for the middle of the screen, and to date, interlaced video has tended to stand by itself amidst a sea of blackness. In "Zork Nemesis", this effective method is used in the most intriguing places. Portals, Paintings, in fact anywhere. Activision has figured out a means where this type of video can be displayed over rendered scenes making for some absolutely awesome effects.
The acting present within "Zork Nemesis" is top notch. As this is a dark foreboding dramatic Zork, the over hammed often laughable attempts of defining dramatic prose offered by other games, have been replaced with surreptitious sonnets portrayed with dignity and feeling so deserving of a Zork adventure. The big name to encrust this crown jewel, however, is Joe Napolitano. Director of the X-Files fame, he was responsible for the direction of all the live actors consisting of 14 people, and a severed head.
Non interlaced video is uniquely used in Zork for scenes that deserve the full attention to detail that interlaced video cannot. Non-interlaced video is 16 bit and runs at a res 2/3 of 640 x 480. Non-interlaced video does not incorporate sound, and therefore can offer greater frame rate / res for your dollar. Within the game, this video form is used to display opening doors, walking down hallways, or breathtaking flights over Zorkish landscapes.
As if your emotions have not been toyed with enough, and your mind exhausted from the festivity of vivacious visuals that "Zork Nemesis" has to offer. Activision wants to make a clean sweep, walk away with every award, and so another sense is bombarded, your ear drums, with the most perfectly atmospheric music ever to grace the pits of a CD.
Imagine a temple, columned terraces, the scent of incense in the air. In the distance, the mild beating of a drum steadies with your heart beat, the sound of water flows gently, and a murmur raises itself to the pitch of soulful chants that engulfs you and carries you onto a sea of tranquillity. This is the effect that is the sound in Zork.
Atmospheric, ambient, alluring, emotional, poignant, rousing, stirring, soulful! The music in Zork reaches out and seeps to your absolute inner core. It perfectly compliments the immensely beautiful graphics and offers a feel to the game unlike any generated ever before.
With sound as good as this, it would be a crime were it not to surround you. Thankfully "Zork Nemesis" comes at you in Qsound. Qsound is the process of emulating surround sound systems with two forward facing speakers. By using a fast Qsound processor at record time, it is possible to record in surround even if you do not have a surround sound decoder or rear speakers.
To take advantage of this excellent technological achievement, it is necessary to set up your speakers in a particular fashion, they must be an equal distance apart at the same height and not placed in a corner. The effect brings new life to sound in computer games and is an excellent bonus for those with less fancy sound cards.
The game play within Zork Nemesis is a breath of fresh air in the stale pungent atmosphere generated by mediocre adventures lately. Like the original Zork, "Zork Nemesis" uses a scoring table so you can judge your progress. Instead of a long series of complex puzzles with no sight of the end, "Zork Nemesis" utilizes a panel that tracks your progress.
Each realm is classified as a puzzle. Early on in the game you travel to each of the four realms: Earth, Fire, Air and Water. Solving the series of smaller puzzles and problems within a realm completes the overall puzzle. As each realm is solved, the relevant symbol is displayed on the table.
After the four realms have been solved, a key is given to travel onward to the four planets, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and Venusnv (Venus envy, just one of the many clever puns within "Zork Nemesis") where more puzzles are solved. The 9th and final puzzle is a showdown with the Nemesis himself.
Within each realm, every item, tool and problem is provided to solve it. There is no need to scavenge objects from other realms or enter into them for any reason at all. By utilizing this brilliant method of gaming, the player can set their mind to a particular realm and focus on it until solved. This simple premise of achievable goals has long been absent from modern computer games and its return is fully welcomed.
This process also provides the player immense satisfaction, as each realm is solved, the player is returned to the central point. Therefore effectively offering the player the satisfaction of solving something significant. It is like having nine games in one, each offering their own graphical and emotional reward upon completion.
The puzzles themselves are also well balanced. At the beginning of the game, the problems are quite easy, and as the player progresses they become respectfully harder. Like a well balanced arcade game, or well written training manual, the player after learning to solve the smaller problems is being mentally prepared for the harder problems. Not only do you receive the emotional buzz of solving a realm, but you also feel like you'd do quite better if an I.Q. test was suddenly slapped in front of you.
Finally, Activision has plodded an Internet add-on (a la Spycraft) in "Zork Nemesis". Definitely not as fancy as the "Spycraft" Internet ordeal. It just points you to a Web page using Netscape. The page is nice with a hint section, and the promise of things to come, but no interviews.
"Zork Nemesis" is a very mature game and although playable by all ages, takes itself very seriously. From the intricate patterns on the carpet, to the myriad of beautiful paintings on the wall, "Zork Nemesis" reaches out, takes you by the hand, and gives you the ride of your life.
If I make only one prediction, it will be ... Zork Nemesis: Game of the year.
Written by Jere Lawrence
Click here for screen shots.
100% Sound Blaster 16-compatible sound card (for digital and general MIDI audio).
Designed for DOS & Windows 95 operating systems.
Notes: 8-bit sound cards are not supported
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