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SummaryHard call... Zak is solid in many aspects, and lackluster in many others.
The GoodA much closer view of what is normally regarded nowadays as the "Classic" adventure game than it's predecessor and forefather, Maniac Mansion, Zak McK. is your archetypical semi-linear adventure game with a globe-hopping, epic storyline, multiple characters, light npc interaction, "the-weird-item-that-you-get-at-the-beggining-and-use-only-at-the-end" cliche, and heavy-duty inventory and deduction puzzles. Nothing wrong with that, uh?
As far as plots go, Zak's pretty bizarre, it's far more surreal and humoristically appealing than Maniac Mansion, mostly because of the lack of Ron Gilbert as head honcho (whose sarcastic edge is always recognizable in the games he helms), so it's weird and funny but in far more "mainstream" way than Maniac Mansion. That's not to say that there isn't weirdness to be found here, mind you! As a tabloid journalist whose usual assignments include taking pictures of two-headed squirrels, you find yourself in the way of a world-threathening plot to stupidify the human race with copies of Final Fantasy 8 and Metal Gear Solid!! .... uh, wait...no... that wasn't it... though it makes sense to me!
Anyway, as Zak and his main love interest Annie, you'll enlist the help of a couple of coeds by the name of Leslie and Melissa who can Commander-Keen their way to Mars with a mini-van (!!??) and somehow try to make heads and tails of a plot so sinister and evil that it could only be crafted by the most phalic-headed aliens of the universe. Very entertaining stuff and quite interesting indeed!
Technically speaking the game takes some major leaps from MM, mainly in the graphic front, with characters far better proportioned, and much more detail and items as well as NPCs to interact with. Most of the improvements come courtesy of the grander scope of the game, but the technology itself is pushed way past the edge seen on Maniac Mansion.
There are also a small amount of non-linear elements included in the game, such as money management and multiple solutions to some puzzles to add some flavor to the game, which makes it far more open-ended than the usual adventures but falls in the pitfalls of making the game unsolvable or incredibly hard to beat at times.
The BadAs long as we remember this was the first "super-production" of Lucasarts in which the concept of adventuring is moved closer to the accepted ideal of being an epic game, chockful of characters and locations, we can forget some issues. But the fact is that I think Lucas wasn't yet ready for something so big, and it shows in the game. Kind of like a shoe that is just one size too small for your foot, the narrative cohesiveness for a game like this just isn't "there" and you feel quite lost in a game that is pretty hard by itself, with long stretches of seemingly inconnected adventures that never seem to truly aim for the jackpot (or anything for that matter). It takes quite a bit of patience aside from the usual neuronal work associated with adventure games to survive in Zak, and the addition of money-management elements and several dead ends don't help it either.
Furthermore, the code-system sucks. Since it forces you to use it constantly as you travel from location to location, while on MM you only had to open the door to the upper floor once, in here you'll be checking the manual eeeeevery time you want to travel to another destination and believe me, that happens a LOT in this game. More than it's funny, I'm affraid.
In fact so much more than the comedy aspects seem rather dull and forced, and the whole ordeal starts to reek of the "click-on-stuff-until-some-shit-happens" with alarming ease, not just from the difficulty but from the lack of interest you'll soon be experiencing... "Oh yeah, the aliens just brainwashed my character.. ho-hum.. cute. Next!!"
Oh, and before I forget: THE ENDING SUCKS ASS!!!!!!!!!!! Sorry for that, but quite frankly after wrestling with one of the hardest adventure games ever for months, wading through innane Martian mazes, and bashing the monitor in frustration for countless times (I beated this game back in the days Before handy-dandy internet and it's collection of game faqs and tips) all your reward happens to be a text-epilogue that scrolls by as the two leads gaze in idyllic joy!!! F@#K YOU ZAK!!!!! Even Maniac Mansion had a little animated cutscene!!!!! Heck, even SNK fighting games have more rewarding endings!!!