Puzzles and Solvability
Zak McKracken has lots of puzzles! Not only that, but there are often multiple ways that these puzzles can be solved. Maniac Mansion already had quite a few examples of this, but Zak turned it into a major feature. It’s just as well too, as with such a large playing area spread right across the globe and beyond, finding every little item and piece of information available was tricky. The reader comments have made it pretty clear that I missed quite a bit in this game, and yet I finished it just the same. I often did things differently to other players, yet achieved the same goals. It’s damn impressive that the creators managed to achieve this level of complexity without the game feeling like a confusing mess. A large majority of those puzzles were pretty logical too, with very few examples of trial and error required. Once I’d travelled to all the destinations, I was able to look through my inventory and start piecing everything together in a pretty satisfying way.
Even the first room of the game offers multiple solutions and hidden secrets
However, all is not perfect for this category! There was a little too much reliance on reading the National Inquisitor newspaper that came with the game to make sense of things, and there was unquestionably an overuse of mazes. Getting through each maze was a chore to begin with, but the game forced me to play through many destinations multiple times, meaning multiple trips through the same annoying mazes. Some didn’t even appear to be mazes at all (you end up at the destination no matter what path you take), and were clearly there for no other reason than to delay my progress. Finally, while I freely admit that I underutilised Annie’s archaeological skills, in general the use of multiple characters was gimmicky. At least in Maniac Mansion each character had pretty well defined skills that were useful in different scenarios. In Zak, they felt contrived, and multiple characters were often required for numbers alone. I still think the pros well and truly outweigh the negatives, so it’s a 7.
Eventually I figured out what Annie's skill was, but it offered little assistance by that point.
Interface and Inventory
The interface is identical to Maniac Mansion, which certainly isn’t a bad thing. That game had revolutionised the way adventure games were played, so it’s not surprising to see the creators of Zak just running with a good thing. It took me a little while to get used to it again after a long run of Sierra games, but I was quickly interacting with everything around me, with very little thought involved apart from puzzle solving. I don’t really know why I noticed more with Zak than in Maniac Mansion, but I do think the lack of a “look at” verb was felt more strongly with this game. Sometimes I had to “read” items to see what they were which made the lack very obvious I guess. I also think the inventory is still a bit of a problem. It works very well on a functional level, but once you have more than about eight items, it becomes very difficult to find the one you need, particularly when you need it quickly! Maniac Mansion got an 8, but that was released a year earlier, and was rewarded for being groundbreaking as much as it was for quality.
Having to "read" objects, such as the pyramid, to get a description feels clunky
Story and Setting
This is a tough one. On the one hand, the story of Zak McKracken is quirky and intriguing; managing to make admittedly cliché use of several world cultures combined with mythological and alien conspiracy topics. It also has a very satisfying ending that ties everything up nicely indeed. But, the jigsaw nature of the game, with the player pretty much forced to try experimentally visiting each destination just to find out what puzzle needs to be solved, before restoring and trying to find the required solution elsewhere, means the story has very little flow at all. The villains’ motives are also completely ridiculous and their actions throughout the game leave little sense of danger. Both LucasArts games so far have had really stupid antagonists, whose actions are revealed to the player throughout the game, if not to the main character(s). It’s unlikely that story was a major factor in the design of the game, but I can’t ignore how nonsensical it really was.
Apparently us Earthlings don't really need to be all that concerned
Sound and Graphics
I know it’s slightly controversial for me to judge the enhanced version of Zak McKracken, but since it was released in the same year as the original release, I really don’t see why it should be considered unreasonable. There’s no doubt that the game is the most impressive that I’ve played so far from a graphical perspective. The sheer variety of environments is impressive in itself, but the detail, animation and overall attractiveness is just above what the SCI engine had produced for Sierra. There is some repetitiveness however, particularly when it comes to the numerous jungle mazes and airports (they do all look the same in real life though!), but overall it’s all good. The sound is less remarkable, with merely adequate sound effects and a less than pristine quality overall. The music is not too bad though, with the main theme not being the only memorable and enjoyable tune found throughout. I’m giving the first 7 for Sound and Graphics!
When looking at Zak, there's really not that much progress to be made to reach Monkey Island
Environment and Atmosphere
There are a lot of environments to be explored in the game, and many of them are locations I’d love to visit during my lifetime. They’re all fairly well represented, even if my motives for going to them were not (Zak seemingly picked random destinations and the airports miraculously led straight to famous landmarks). Without doubt though it was Mars that most captured my imagination, and the cut scene of my characters travelling on the tram across a red Mars surface to alien made pyramids really exemplifies the mysterious and captivating nature of the game when it works. The atmosphere is somewhat lessened though by the constant shift and inconsistency in surroundings, as well as by the purposeful delays that were created through frustrating mazes and random landmark searching.
Who wouldn't want to explore this?
Just as in Maniac Mansion, Zak does what it has to do from a dialogue point of view, without really having enough to draw praise or criticism. It is quite humorous at times, particularly when eccentric characters such as the Guru, the King and the witchdoctor are involved, but it doesn’t have the wit of a Leisure Suit Larry game, nor does it have the convincing language of a Police Quest game. Annie’s ability to translate language and symbols is a cool feature, but as mentioned before, it’s one that I completely underutilised and so really isn’t a pertinent part of the game. It was a 5 for Maniac Mansion, so it’s a 5 here.
.lliks s'einnA desilaer I tnemom ehT
Add it all up and I get 37. Divide it by 60 and I get 0.6166, which is 61.66%. Rounded up is….62! Hang on a second…that’s exactly what I gave Maniac Mansion! Well, I now have my point that I can add or subtract. How do I feel about Zak McKracken and Maniac Mansion being equal leaders? I actually think that I enjoyed Zak a little bit more than Maniac Mansion, so it would feel wrong to remove a point just to make it come second. But then there’s the mazes, which I probably haven’t punished the game enough for, and I really should take into account how pioneering Maniac Mansion was too. You know what, I feel completely comfortable with 62, so 62 it is!
So who won the Quest for Glory collection???? I haven’t even looked at the list yet, so I’m going to go and do that right now…………….congratulations rotgrub! I don’t believe I have your email address, so if you just pop me an email to email@example.com, I’ll send you through your GOG code. Once again, thanks to Lars-Erik for being the legend sponsor that he is! Finally, thanks to everyone for being a little patient with me over the last month. Rest assured that this is about as busy as my work life gets, so this is likely to be as irregular as my posting will get too.
Companion Assist Points for Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders
It’s time to dish out (and perhaps deduct) some points for those that predicted things and assisted me along the way.
54 CAPs for Chumazik
* Lifesaving Award - 20 CAPs - Reporting a bug in certain versions of SCUMMVM
* Minor Assistance Award - 10 CAPs - For answering my question about the Egypt puzzle
* Dylselxic Award - 10 CAPs - For correcting my unfortunate Melissa / Michelle naming issue
* Clairvoyant Award - 9 CAPs - For correctly predicting the score I would give the game
* Matrix Award - 5 CAPs - For bending spoon, and then selling them
45 CAPs for Lars-Erik
* Major Assitance Award - 20 CAPs - For helping me find the missing device piece in an ideal format
* Sponsor Award - 20 CAPs - For sponsoring the blog with free games!
* George Lucas Award - 5 CAPs - For finding the THX 1138 reference
35 CAPs for Alfred n the Fettuc
* Legend Award - 20 CAPs - For playing along with me, and completing the game without a walkthrough!
* Sob Story Award - 10 CAPs - I almost cried...no, I really did!
* Poop Award - 5 CAPs - Poop!
30 CAPs for TBD
* Charity Award - 10 CAPs - Who will he give them to? Stay tuned to find out?
* Companion Award - 10 CAPs - For playing along with me and completing the game
* Minor Assistance Award - 10 CAPs - For helping me find the missing device piece...a different way.
25 CAPs for Andy_Panthro
* Dr Evil Award - 10 CAPs - I'm dying to know what this secret project is. Don't make me regret it!
* Companion Award - 10 CAPs - For playing along and completing the game
* Better Late Than Never Award - 5 CAPs - For being too late, but doing a fine job nonetheless
25 CAPs for Canageek
* Marketing Award - 10 CAPs - For linking to the blog from Metafilter
* Genre Support Award - 5 CAPs - For commenting about a new adventure game sale on GOG
* Genre Support Award - 5 CAPs - For commenting about a new adventure game release on Steam
* Useless General Knowledge Award - 5 CAPs - for talking about James Doohan for no apparent reason
20 CAPs for Jarikith
* Obsessive Award - 10 CAPs - For becoming the world expert on door slot dead-ending
* Mission Impossible Award - 5 CAPs - For getting down the hole in the bedroom without making any noise
* Words of Power Award - 5 CAPs - For drawing my attention to the fact the Word actually means something in reverse
15 CAPs for Bleaghhhh
* Blackmail Award - 10 CAPs - Keep it to yourself mate! ;)
* Sherlock Holmes Award - 5 CAPs - For finding the hole in the floor in the bedroom
10 CAPs for Charles
* Bribery Award - 10 CAPs - For a very convincing case that left me with no choice
10 CAPs for Tk
* Wingman Award - 10 CAPs - For all his moral support
10 CAPs for Zenic
* Dedication Award - 10 CAPs - For leaving his own blog behind for mine...that's dedication people!
10 CAPs for rotgrub
* Clairvoyant Award - 10 CAPs - For predicting the score I would give the game
5 CAPs for bunyip
* Minor Assistance Award - 5 CAPs - For helping me find the missing device piece in an unideal format
5 CAPs for Ilmari
* Charity Award - 10 CAPs - Because he wants to give it all away!
* Enlightenment Award - 5 CAPs - For answering unimural's question about karma
* Gambling Fail Award - (-10) CAPs - For incorrectly betting against me
5 CAPs to shankao
* Sarcasm Award - 5 CAPs - For pointing out how wrong I can be
-10 CAPs to Cedric
* Spoiler Award - (-10) CAPs - For breaking the rules, but I forgive him
Did I miss anything?