Zork Nemesis has been out in stores for a while and still remains the best and strongest competitor to Myst. Several previously released competitors come to mind, including the Eleventh Hour from Trilobyte and Phantasmagoria and Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within, both from Sierra Games. These games suffered primarily from frustratingly arbitrary puzzles, bad acting, and, particularly in the case of Eleventh Hour, a weak storyline.
While Zork Nemesis may not push the boundaries of technology as much as some games, it is still a step beyond Myst. It still uses a point-and-click interface for movement, rather than allowing you to move between points (as in Mission Critical from Legend Entertainment). However, unlike Myst, Zork Nemesis uses a technology called Z-Vision which, much like Apple’s Quick-time VR, allows you to rotate a full 360 degrees and, in some locations, to look up or down.
Fortunately, Zork Nemesis goes far beyond its relatively minor technological advances. As you may have heard, there’s less to tie this Zork game to its predecessors, although nice touches like a stray Zorkmid can be found along with references to Lord Dimwit Flathead and Flood Control Dam (number 7, in this case). Central to the game is a story, a mystery of sorts, that plays itself out in a series of letters, diary entries and brief movies, magical flashbacks to past events triggered by certain objects. It’s not necessary to solving the game to note all the dates and names (like I did the first time I played this game!), but it certainly doesn’t hurt if you find yourself getting confused about the sequence of events.
The story is more complex and intriguing than that of Myst by several degrees of complexity, which puts it head and shoulders above nearly anything else out there. It’s laid down with subtle details and a more complex setting where information gathered in one location ties together with narrative discovered in another location.
The story revolves around the girl Alexandria and her relationship to the four alchemists imprisoned by the Nemesis in the Temple of Agrippa. The four, Doctor Sartorius, Bishop Malveaux, General Kaine, and Madame Hamilton, have a long and complex history that is gradually revealed during the course of the game. You learn how they met, how they came to study alchemy and how they decided to pool their talents to create the Quintessence, the fifth alchemical element. Even if you ignore the rest of the story, pay attention to what is said about the Quintessence. It’s the key to understanding the story that underlies Zork Nemesis.
The puzzles of Zork Nemesis are not unusually complex, though some require thought and experimentation. In most cases, clues and their relation to the puzzles are immediately obvious. Occasionally, it may be necessary to retrace your steps to find a clue or an area you may have missed. This seems to be particularly true in the Monastery, which is the least linear of all the areas in the game.
You begin the game at Agrippa’s Temple and must solve four puzzles, one relating to each element: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. After solving each one, you are transported back to the central area of the Temple and one of the Alchemists speaks to you. When you have solved all four of these puzzles, the Nemesis makes his first appearance.
You then travel to each of the Alchemists’ homes in search of the alchemical metals and find further clues to the mystery of the Nemesis. I recommend you make careful notes from the beginning, particularly the names of the Alchemists and their respective symbols. Most of this information is found in the library or in the laboratory in the Temple.
As you explore, take time to enjoy the scenery in each location and allow the soundtrack to transport you to the edge of the Great Underground Empire. It’s a journey well-worth taking and one you won’t likely experience again until the release of Riven, the sequel to Myst.