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-
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.