The shape of things to come

Zak Mc Kracken and the Alien Mindbenders logo

Save as you go with Dave Eriksson.

A CLASS of game that brings the cinema screen to our monitors has recently come into its own. Animation has had a fatal attraction for programmers from the very first. With the early graphics this produced all shades of disaster; with the Amiga, animated sequences have come of age.
Lucasfilm's latest adventure is Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders. Apart from having the longest title yet, Zak is also the latest in the field of total animation. Not quite true cartoon animation, but certainly a step in the right direction.

The year is 1997. the place is San Francisco. Zak is a reporter for a crummy newspaper called The National Inquisitor, packed with the ultimate in utter drivel but boasting an enormous circulation among the less intelligent. Unbeknown to all, space aliens have invaded and built a stupidity machine that will steadily reduce everyone's IQ to that of a cretin. This is a ruse David Sullivan would be proud of.

Immediately before going on an assignment in Seattle Zak has a dream. This is the opening animated sequence to the game, and includes a visit from an alien from the distant past, a vision of a pretty girl, a strange device and being chased by one of the aliens.

The girl turns out to be Annie Larris, head of the Society of Ancient Wisdom. She has two friends, Melissa and Leslie, who have travelled to Mars in a converted camper van. All three have had dreams similar to Zak's.
The future of the world depends on these four working together to construct a machine to defeat the aliens. Parts for this Skolarian Device are hidden on Earth and Mars.

There is no text input, commands being initiated by selecting a verb from the list beneath the graphics window, and nouns from either the inventory list shown under the verbs or by clicking the cursor on an object.
One important verb is Walk To, the default command that appears after any action. Click in the graphics window, and provided it is possible, your character will walk smartly to the new position.
Nearly all actions are displayed as an animated sequence. Select Push and double click on a switch across the room and Zak will stroll across and push it for you. Every now and then one action will trigger off an event elsewhere with an animated cameo.

SEQUENCES can go on for some time and usually provide you with additional information. Clicking the right-hand mouse button halts the action and returns you to command mode.

The list of command verbs is limited, with Use being a general dogsbody to cover a multitude of operations. Another verb appears once you have teamed up with Annie - Switch - to select which of the four main characters you want to control.

Linking words are supplied by the program, so "Use cashcard in slot" will appear on selecting the verb and the two objects. Many objects are only accessible from the graphics animation window.
An illogical application of the What Is command occurs in locations that are completely dark. Run the cursor around to find a torch, double click and Zak walks to this spot, and can then light the torch.

Included with the two program discs is a simple instruction booklet and a current copy of the National Inquisitor. Read the newspaper carefully, as it contains several fairly obvious clues.
Anti-pirating codes will be needed when you buy airline tickets. These codes are printed in dark blue ink on maroon paper - virtually impossible to photocopy. Not exactly easy to read either.

The game starts in Zak's apartment the morning after his dream. All he has is a ticket to Seattle. Search his two-room apartment carefully. Almost everything has at least one use and because there is no limit to the things Zak can carry, you may as well take everything which is not nailed down. Only four items are visible in yur inventory, but others can be scrolled into view. There are a few locations to explore before you take the bus to San Francisco Airport. The bus driver is asleep and Zak will have to attract his attention before he can board. Zak's cashcard is vital, in 1997 this is the accepted way of paying everything.

There are three useful objects in the plane, but to get them he will have to create diversions to distract the stewardess who is officious and objects to Zak prowling around, poking his nose into things that may not concern him.

SEATTLE has only four locations, one contains the artifact needed for his meeting with Annie. Once Zak realises there are four of them to work as a team, you can switch between the two girls on Mars or Annie and Zak on Earth.

Now Zak can start exploring on Earth to find the parts of the Skolarian device. As he will have stripped the neighbourhood of movable objects, you must not forget to give Annie something with which to wake the bus driver.
Without transport to the airport Annie will be stuck and unable to fulfil the tasks only she can complete.

You'll need to swap between the four to learn clues either to aid one of the others or because characters have special skills.
There are interesting mazes to be found in Mexico, Egypt and on Mars. To activate doors and locks they traced a pattern on sensors. The modern approach is to trace out the pattern with Zak's yellow crayon. But first you have to know the pattern.

It is not easy to get anyone killed. Careful use of cashcards is important - air travel is expensive so you will need to plan the order in which to tackle the various puzzles. Visit all the locations on a trial run to learn when to visit each and for what purpose.

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is great fun to play. It has interesting puzzles with tons of good humour.

Starring the two-headed squirrel and Ken D Fish's younger brother, Sushi Fish

Zak Mc Kracken and the Alien Mindbenders logo Zzap! Sizzler

Lucasfilm/US Gold, C64 £14.99 disk; Amiga £24.99

Go on, do it - name a fate worse than death. Being stampeded by a herd of sheep in green wellies? Being forced into close hair-to-hair contact with Gordon Houghton's blubber belly (aaargh! I can't stand it!!)? Swallowing ten gallons of cod liver oil in one go without breathing, being forced to listen to a bloke screeching his ten foot nails down a blackboard for FIVE DAYS? Pretty bad, eh?

Ha! Still not as bad as the fate Zak McKracken faces. Nope, not half as bad as that, not a tiny weeny bit as bad as that. I mean, if you were just an average, ordinary newspaper journalist trying to make a crust reporting about two-headed squirrels and the like, you'd be pretty horrified if you found out that nasty bald-headed aliens were trying to invade the world. Shock, horror an' all that and everyfin'. And how are they trying to invade it? They're slowly sapping everybody's intelligence so that they end up as stupid as Maff... er... I mean as very stupid people in the end.

Now Zak's clever and he wants to stay that way, so he and (eventually) his three companions, Annie, Leslie and Melissa try to hit on a way to save the world. Cue very loud fanfare, MGM music, hymns and songs.

Rockford: Hello gadget Maff peeps!

Zak's saga is play out pretty much in the style of Lucasfilm's other joystick operated adventure game - Maniac Mansion. The action of Zak and his mates is controlled using cursor, joystick and a menu system of possible commands and displayed a bit like a film in the top half of the screen. Basically, you move the cursor over verbs like WALK TO and USE and then move it over the appropriate object either on the screen or in your inventory. Easy eh?

It's up to you and your own little set of brain cells (whaddya mean you haven't got any?) to direct Zak from his humble first floor flat to Miami, Stonehenge, Mexico, Seattle and finally... wait for it, wait for it... MARS. Wooh!

Meantime, Zak can go into all sorts of different shops, buy a Groucho Marx disguise, watch TV, play with his pet sushi (er... yeah), get on buses, turn on taps, talk to religious devotees, try to map a Mayan maze in Mexico, look for a space suit (vot no helmet?), collect ancient artifacts, mess about with holographic projectors, explore secret chambers, try to survive an encounter with a shark and play the kazoo to his heart's content (phew! That was a long sentence and that's only about half the things you can do). It might not always do any good but anything's worth a try when the future of the world's at stake. Well it is, innit?


Every now and again the action's interrupted by cut-scenes. Whassemthem? Little cinematic scenarios designed to let you know what's going on, that's what. You don't control these - you just sit quietly with your legs crossed and watch.

When you finally meet up with one of the other three characters (and remember, you're all gonna be heroes) you can even select SWITCH to become a girly. Far out!

And that's about it really. Well, OK, there's quite a lot more but to find about all that, you'll just have to play it, won't you?

Kati I haven't seen anything as silly as this since... erm... the last really silly thing I saw, which was Ken D Fish in a penguin suit dancing the samba (Oi! Less o' that - Ken). Yes, well he'd had a few too many swigs of pond weed that night. Anyway, back to Zak - not only is he pretty silly and a lot of laughs, his game is also incredibly deep and dead involved. Once you get into this, I bet you'll be sitting up night after night playing through it over and over again. It doesn't matter which format you play it on (the sound isn't all that hot on either, but I don't care) you'll love this right from the word go. The story's funny, the plot's really clever and there's loads of thinking involved. What more do you want? A million quid? Well, if you're going to be like that... mumble, mumble, mumble...
Maff OK, anyone who hasn't got a sense of humour leave the room immediately - this is not the game for you. Everybody else, get this or you'll be missing one of the funniest (chortle, chortle, fnar, fnar, etc) games I've seen in ages. If you want to see a couple of real berks, take a look at some of the cut-scenes - they're dead funny. I reckon it's just as good on both formats, though the sound on the Amiga (there is a bit more than on the 64 but not that much) is a bit of a disappointment. Disk access is actually quicker on the 64 version for some reason... Look, just forget about all the differences - both versions are brilliant, and whichever machine you own, you'd Zak McKrackers to miss it! (That joke is RUBBISH, Maff - Ed).
Gordo Well, I thought Maniac Mansion was brill and I think that this is even briller... It might take a bit of time to get into but once you've sussed the input method and found a couple of really weirdo objects, you're most definitely hooked. There isn't all that much sound, but the controls are really smooth on both versions and the gameplay is even better. In fact, right from the bizarre beginning to the eccentric ending, Zak is compelling, enthralling and utterly hilarious - simply the best action/adventure combo I've seen. If you've got a disk drive (any size) keep bothering your friendly software dealer until he'll let you buy it. Pity it's only on disk, though.