Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is one of the granddaddies of the graphical point ’n’ click adventure game genre.
It was created by the talented people of Lucasfilm Games in San Rafael, California, co-designed by Ron Gilbert and David Fox, and injected with tons of creativity, humor, interesting characters and a pretty solid if bizarre sci-fi story line.
Following on the heels of the brilliant Maniac Mansion graphic adventure, Zak McKraken takes players on a seriously strange and long trip: from San Francisco to Seattle to a dozen other locations, including Mars! It very much feels like a spoof on the UFO paranoid X-Files types, except the X-Files hadn’t been invented yet (the UFO paranoid types had, of course). Ever hear about the “face on Mars”? It’s here, too, along the the alien Greys and Men in Black.
Originally created on the Commodore 64 then later ported to various platforms, most conversions didn’t deviate far from the C64’s capabilities. So, on that end, Zak is slightly disappointing from an artistic and technical standpoint on the Amiga. When the Monkey Island and Indy adventures from Lucasfilm are released in future years on the Amiga, we are left to wonder what could have been had they started with the Amiga rather than its older brother the C64.
Regardless, the scope of the game is ridiculously vast. The look and feel is very similar to Maniac Mansion (MM), which takes place entirely in a very large house (a.k.a. a mansion). It’s as if they took MM and tried to make an entire world for it. And, like many text adventures before it, they decided to make it painfully obtuse in every nook and cranny. How one might have played this game in 1989 without an internet connection is hard to imagine today. Perhaps if several friends huddled together for days on end, faces red and tears leaking down their cheeks, bits and pieces could be figured out by endlessly clicking on the craziest combinations of things to try and proceed in the game.
For example - take the much beloved airplane scene in the early part of the game. It’s fondly remembered because it requires Zak to do the most awful things, perhaps, hitting just the right spot of meanness some teenaged boys might love to perform in their minds but never have the courage to actually do. But with Zak - why not? He’s only a tabloid newspaper journalist, so being horrible to people to get his way should be second nature. Yes, let’s distract the bitchy stewardess by taking toilet paper and clogging the sink, then overfill the sink so it turns the floor into a lake. While she’s dealing with that mess, let’s run to the front of the plane and put an egg (which we brought from home, long story) in the microwave and turn that on until it explodes. Then while she’s dealing with that let’s open up all of the luggage compartments and, eventually, find an oxygen tank and steal it. Why? Who knows!? But the pattern of this game is to basically fill your pockets full of every single thing you ever find, and then mindlessly use those items in every way imaginable. Eventually you'll unlock “puzzles” (otherwise known as locks) that, in hindsight, must have sounded clever on paper but only make sense if someone tells you to try it and it works.
Almost 30 years later, Zak remains a historically important game in the SCUMM-engine line of graphical adventures. But, frankly, it is by no means the best of the bunch. The characters and story are very clever, and some of the locations are truly fantastic. But the actual game play really requires a walkthrough within arms reach unless you plan on playing Zak while trapped in purgatory for about 9 years. So, if you don’t mind “cheating”, you’re in for a fun few hours of very imaginative entertainment.
Most of the Lucasfilm adventure games were created for the average adventure gamer to have a fun time, and really immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the stories - and eventually figure out. This included Maniac Mansion, the original SCUMM game, Loom, the original Monkey Island and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.
Zak definitely has its moments and the creativity is there. But it feels like they almost tried too hard to make it too hard. The result is an interesting and sometimes humorous - if not very pretty - game for the truly hard core.
Back of the box:
A Typical Day in the Life of Zak McKracken
Two-headed turtles...possessed toasters...carnivorous cantaloupes...reincarnated rock stars...vegetarian vampires...
To Zak McKracken, it's just another day at the office. He's the roving reporter who's scoffed at by his peers. Dreaded by his creditors. And relished by readers of his tabloid sleaze.
But one night in bed, Zak McKracken uncovers evidence of an extraterrestrial plot. And unlike all the other "alien conspirators" his tabloid churns out with regularity, this one's for real!
Another Comedy Thriller from Lucasfilm Games
Zany humor, off-the-wall one liners.
Challenging, mind-bending mystery.
Travel with Zak and his friends to San Francisco, Miami, Egypt, England, Katmandu, Zaire, Mexico, Peru, Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, Mars...
High resolution 3D graphics
No typing ever! Just point 'n' click to select characters, objects, and actions.