Zork Nemesis: The Forbidden Lands
You are standing in a field in front of an old temple. There is no mailbox here, but there is a certain something permeating the air around you, and which you sense ever more strongly as you pan the camera around. Yep, it’s that unmistakable infusion of Myst.
Just like its prequel (the flawed yet funny Return to Zork, then developed by Infocom), Nemesis successfully vaults the series forward through sheer technical prowess. Photo-realistic vistas dot the landscape wherever you look, higher resolution and better acted live-action sequences are to be seen, the music is epic and orchestral, and, most importantly, a node-based navigation system lets you pan the camera in a lateral 360 degree viewing angle. There’s also a game tucked away under all that gloss.
Once There Was An Evil Wizard
The story is part 7th Guest, part Phantasmagoria and also part Zork. A quartet of alchemists have been murdered and are now kept in some form of suspended animation or whatnot by an evil entity known as the “Nemesis”. They implore you to find the elements of earth, air, fire and water that they apparently desperately need in order to survive. Herein lies your quest.
The search for the elements takes you through all corners of the temple, a desolate place with eerie sound effects and strange devices – perhaps more like Myst than Myst itself. Once the elements have been acquired, the alchemists further persuade you to find the four metals with which their elements are associated. You consider placing a help-wanted ad for them because truly you have done enough; but the lure of the game continues and you decide to travel to their four worlds – castle Irondune, the Conservatory, the Asylum and the Monastery.
In each world, there are insights into the alchemists’ histories and relationships and you learn of the prelate’s daughter Alexandria and her lover Lucien. In a very Phantasmagorian kind of way, touching seemingly innocuous items rewards you with a snippet of history via digitized video. In fact, Phantasmagoria lovers will be very impressed with this game…except that they probably won’t be able to solve it as fast. Nemesis isn’t something a seasoned adventurer would find too challenging, but will definitely stumble those new to the genre.
But take heart! There is an included hint feature, which may be enabled or disabled during setup. Think twice before disabling it though, because not only are hints very helpful in a game this tough, there is also a beautiful, half-naked Venus who acts as your guide (?!). It’s rather simple really. Press the question-mark key and she will let you poke her for obscure hints, but only three times. After that, you’re on your own. Of course there’s always the save-ask-restore cheat.
So what’s not to like? A few things. The unappealing lack of character interaction tops on my list. There just aren’t any people here (not any live ones at least), nor are there any ethical considerations to take into account as you would in previous installments. You’re thrown into an attractive but all too rigid and lifeless world. Although the 360-engine provided a wonderfully smooth scrolling panorama, navigation is just a bit problematic at times, fighting to be facing the thing with which you want to interact. Of course any graphic representation of what had been a textual conception is bound to alienate seasoned fans as well.
Sure, there are numerous Zork references…a grue here, a Dimwit Flathead there, but the tone here isn’t as lighthearted as it was once before. So the seasoned Zork enthusiast will find references which remind of the tongue-in-cheek humor that brought us the famed Coconut of Quendor, but will soon notice that Nemesis is almost always severely serious and purist and lacking in quirkiness. Nitpicking aside, I still recommend Zork Nemesis to all adventure fans. It might not be as imaginative or as complex as it could have been, but it’s still a worthwhile game that delivers the goods.
System Requirements: 486DX2/66 MHz, 8MB RAM, 25 MB Free Space, MS-DOS, Win 95