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Zak McKracken Review

No one ever said journalism was easy - or if they did they obviously never experienced what it's like to stand around a press conference next to 30 other people all shouting in your ear to get their questions voiced and emitting a smell so pungent that it could wilt a Giant Redwood. No sir, writing for the masses is not all it's cracked up to be, a great deal of effort is required to fabricate so many facts in a reasonably convincing manner (especially when you get lumbered with stories like 'How I was Mugged by my Dog' from the editor) and if you don't have a flare for it, or debts of monolithic proportions, the urge to chuck it all can be overwhelming - which is the exact state of affairs for lonely, disease-ridden Zak McKracken, tabloid reporter.

Just Run Through That One More Time...
After being booted out into the wild peaks of Mt. Rainer on the search of a deadly two-headed squirrel bearing nothing but his clothes, a cash card and a loaf of bread so stale that you could use it to cull baby seals, Zak sets forth on what is, without a doubt, the most mind-boggling and incoherent set of adventures that was ever secreted out of the LucasFilm Games corporation.

In pursuit of our unwitting press correspondent is a group of aliens known as the Caponians. Despite the fact that they appear to be vegetables on legs and have a frightening penchant for Elvis, the most sinister thing about these extra-terrestrial visitors is that they aim to reduce the brains of the world to a mush with the colour and consistency of cottage cheese through a telephone company. All of which bears an uncanny resemblance to the current BT regime, coincidence? I think not.

In order to thwart their diabolical scheme Zak employs the help of Annie, a woman devoted to explaining the unexplainable, along with Melissa and Leslie, perhaps the only interstellar adventurers to wear *gulp* pink space suits. Communicating to each other through their dreams, our four rather unlikely heroes work in their own separate environments to prevent global domination.

And if this isn't weird enough to capture your imagination I'd just like to point out that there's a yak with a phone in it. Does that or does that not just make it all worthwhile?

Globe-Trotting Is The Name Of The Game
After their earlier blunder LucasFilm certainly excelled themselves in this production. The multi-character point, which I have already touched on, is now used as a necessity rather than a chore, there are parts which one character can do which another can't, such as Annie using her sexual prowess (assisted by a bottle of whiskey) to overpower a beefeater in order to gain access to Stonehenge. If Zak tried this same trick he'd probably end up getting trounced with a baton and spending the remainder of the night in a damp cell with a big guy named Bubba.

To compliment this, the actual puzzles themselves, though obscure, maintain a very eerie and profound logic. So much so, in fact, that you will kick yourself for not having remembered the well-known fact that all mystical Shamans have an affiliation with 5-Irons. These conundrums are frequent, humorous and, only occasionally, terribly confusing, but it's all worth it in the end because they are so enjoyable that you inevitably forgive and forget.

Now...Here Is The First Ink-Blot
Yes, Zak is still hindered with pixels that give you the impression of watching a huge mobile chessboard rather than a game, but if you play the enhanced version you will find it far easier on the eyes and you soon forget how inferior it looks by today's standards. Of course, the fact that sound blaster is still yet to be invented means that the audio is, alas, synonymous with an out-of-control combine harvester finding its way into a hands-on farmyard. Amazingly, this handicap does not detract from the strangely hypnotising beat of the opening sequence; maybe not quite the talent of a fledgling Bach, but a masterpiece of internal speaker improvisation nonetheless.

There are other bad points in this game which should not be omitted. There is the well-known and well-loathed on-mistake-equals-restart syndrome that plagued so many adventure games to date. On the other hand you will all be pleased to hear that getting killed is now a virtual impossibility but remember to still keep those peepers open.

It's A Deal, It's A Steal…
Those nagging problems aside, Zak is still an ace piece of software and any self-respecting adventurer should not be without it on his or her shelves. The humour, while obscure in places, is genuinely funny, giving a far lighter feel to the whole experience. The explorable areas spanning across the Bermuda Triangle, the Incan Temples, and even Mars ensure that there is never a dull moment. This, coupled with the fascinating cross-section of mystical devotees, bums, and…er…living-dead broomsticks (don't ask), means that as long as you can see past the out-dated appearance and play it for its fun rather than as a demonstration in what we were depressingly amazed by 13 years ago, you will have an enjoyable game under your hands.

Review by Michael Benfield
© The International House of Mojo 2000

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