Zak McKracken was Lucasarts’ second ever SCUMM title. It didn’t really have the same impact as the various Monkey Island or Indiana Jones games, but it contained loads of personality and a few interesting twists on adventure game mechanics.
The good stuff:
- Zak McKracken, the game’s protagonist, dreams of winning the Pulitzer Prize but is stuck working for The National Inquisitor, a trashy tabloid. Despite Zak’s disgruntlement, his job is a very good excuse to have the player investigate suspicious phenomenona and travel to exotic locales.
- The game came packaged with a print version of the National Inquisitor and featured headlines such as “Two-Headed Squirrel Attacks Two Campers At Once!” and “Scrambled Son Tries To Kill Parents With Eggs.” Incidentally, not everything in the newspaper is supposed to be fabricated — a concept that was a big part of Men in Black.
- The game’s story revolves around a devious alien plot to overthrow humanity. This is achieved by a group of aliens — disguised in Groucho-style masks — running a phone company that’s slowly eroding earth’s intelligence through dial tones.
- Being exposed to the aliens’ Mindbender machine results in game commands being sucked out from the user interface. This is a rather clever way of simulating Zak getting stupid. It also serves to gate the player and justify some rather perplexing behaviour.
- The National Inquisitor doesn’t have the biggest budget, so Zak must pay for his own flights. Aside from being another logical gating mechanic, it also serves to tease the player with impossibly expensive flights. It’s debatable whether such red herrings are actually a good thing, but they add the illusion of scale.
- A vital way of getting the funds to travel around the world is winning the lottery.
- International flights also double as copy-protection, requiring the player to enter “Visa Codes” (that are provided in the game’s manual) when travelling outside of the US.
- Zak can “mind-meld” with animals and control them, but this is often just an amusing distraction, e.g., making your goldfish smile or having a yak poop.
- The game is split into five main parts, each one involving getting a piece of “The Device.” It’s a very non-linear approach — especially for an adventure game — as it allows the player to explore and the world in almost any order he wishes.
- The game’s female characters were based on at-the-time significant others of the various individuals on the development team. One of these women was notorious for dyeing her hair, so her in-game equivalent appears with differently coloured hair every time she takes off her space helmet.
- Zak’s pet goldfish is named Sushi.