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The Lurking Horror

by Dave Lebling


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Number of Reviews: 7
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Get rid of the mass, January 8, 2021
by End Master (The Outer Reaches Of Your Mind)
One of the issues of writing reviews for the old Infocom games as opposed to other old text adventures is they were popular enough to stand the test of time so more people even to this day have gone over them quite a bit already. Still, no reason to not try to to say a few things about them even if one is probably treading old ground.

Lurking Horror honestly is probably my favorite out of all the Infocom games mainly due to the genre. Funny thing is I had no real idea of what I was supposed to be doing in it for quite awhile. I probably wandered the halls of the university several times wondering what to do never realizing the “plot” didn’t actually start until I turned on and logged on to the computer I started out sitting in front of.

Might have helped if I’d read some of the feelies that came with the game immediately since there’s clues about in game elements in some of the booklets (like a needed password for the game). I guess I was more fascinated by the little rubber centipede instead.

While I liked this one a lot, there are more than few problems with the game as far as the storyline.

The plot that sort of drives you to be wandering university in the first place doesn’t really inspire. I can’t say losing my term paper in the system would be a big motivator for me to suddenly wander the university’s steam tunnels and forgotten basements. Might have been better if your character had a friend that was one of those that had gone missing which caused you to start your search. At least more of a motivator.

Another thing that would have increased the horror aspect would have been a more pro-active “lurking horror.” As it stands most of the hostiles you encounter are stationary. You’ll encounter them in one area, deal with them once and then they’re gone. The semi-exceptions being the rats and maintenance man who even then still only move around in a particular area until you figure out how to get past them.

I could have seen maintenance man continually popping up randomly nearly anywhere (Because, y’know he’s a maintenance man) a lot more as a constant threat much like how the thief would move about in Zork I. Being occasionally being harassed by an undead janitor would have at least made wandering empty corridors a little more interesting.

The timer aspect and the way it was integrated into the game was fine and at least there was a way to extend it (up to four times)

As far as the parser and puzzles go, well it’s an 80s Infocom game so it’s pretty good for it’s time, though there is ONE very infuriating area involving a ladder where the game really needed to be able to recognize more commands. I swear getting stuck just because I didn’t know I had to specifically use “Lower ladder” as opposed to several other more obvious phrases was the most frustrating thing about the game. Even the maze wasn’t as bad since there was an easy alternate way around it.

Despite the problems though, it doesn’t change the fact that this is the Infocom game I kept coming back to the most.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An homage to MIT, November 15, 2019
by Mikalye
Related reviews: Infocom
I went to MIT. Almost all of the Infocom team went to MIT. It would make sense that there would be at least one game set at MIT, and this is it. The GUE Tech Map is basically the same as the MIT campus. The Aero lobby sits at the entrance to the department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Great Dome sits on the infinite corridor (which is what it is really called), and with some minor changes (e.g. what in real life is the Green building, is now the Brown building), the map is MIT. Even the steam tunnels are largely real (albeit exaggerated to make a game).

Given that, I perhaps have a different response to this than many others, because there is an element of nostalgia built in, but I finished this while still a student at MIT. Looking at it with fresh eyes, 30 years on, many of the criticisms leveled at the game are both right and wrong at the same time.

They are right, in that this never really becomes an atmospheric horror game. At no point are you even a little bit creeped out (compared to say Anchorhead). Rather, Lebling's silly sense of humour, which was at the crux of the Zork series) is given full rein. Be it the inscription over the western entrance to GUE Tech, or the graffitti in the elevator, Lebling regularly puts in a gag because he can. Partially, as a result, the horror never really builds. This has led many to dismiss the game as a horror-less horror game. But while that is true, it is also wrong as well.

It is not a valid criticism of an apple to note that it is not a banana. Someone going in looking for a horror game that will scare their socks off is in for a bad time. However, this is a Zork game with a horror overlay, and a decent one at that. The puzzles are generally decent. The internal logic holds together, and while it is a bit silly, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent title, modern reviewers are missing the mark..., August 23, 2019
The Lurking Horror, like nearly every Infocom game on the site, is being unfairly compared to modern titles. These are games that wouldn't exist without Infocom. I wouldn't blame you for believing that internet reviewers are incapable of rating games with historical consideration in mind.

Interactive Fiction is gradually turning into short-form, choose your own adventure games. This game is a refreshing game for a few reasons. The first is that it respects the player. This game is difficult. You're going to want to create a map. From what I understand modern auto-mappers don't play well with Infocom games so you're on your own. You're likely going to need to restart as well. There is an element of keeping the player character awake that I won't spoil here.

But that's not to say that the game is unfair. The game is surprisingly fair for the time. I became stuck for a long period on two puzzles. I made the mistake of assuming that the puzzles were unfair. I sought hints and in both cases I realized that they both were logic based puzzles. No moon logic here.

In 1996, Next Generation ranked The Lurking Horror as the 24th top game of all time, calling it "the best adventure game of all time," as well as "one of only two in the horror genre that has ever seemed genuinely scary." And I'll be honest. This game frightened me. I mean it. Gamespot ranked it as its 10th scariest game of all time. It made ME jump on two occasions. You see the game, if set up properly, comes with sound files. I highly suggest you make the effort to set them out. because the game receives a lot of atmospheric aid from these sound files.

Oh, and this game IS atmospheric. From the descriptions of the snowy oppressive landscape that acts as a deterrent to the player, to the unmistakably 80s vibe you get from the game. In a time where every tv series and movie is banking on 80s nostalgia, it's a relief to play something that feels authentic.

I'm trying to avoid spoilers here... so I'll get back to what I touched on in the title. Nearly every review I've read for this game is bad. Not just bad, but pretty awful. From the sound being called "gimmicky" and the horror being called dated. 1. Anything not text in Interactive Fiction is gimmicky. The gimmick here provides charm and can actually be frightening. Any review before 2006 will agree on this. 2. Of COURSE it's dated. You know what's dated? John Carpenter's Halloween. It's still a great film.


If you can enjoy a hard(but fair!) text adventure with the context of 1987 in mind then you will love this game. If you're into the CYOA fair then maybe skip this one.

Custom Soundtrack: Tangerine Dream - Phaedra
Played using: Windows Frotz
Hints Used: 2
Difficulty Rating: Hard/Fair

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Inspired great games, but offers few terrifying vistas of reality, May 11, 2019
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)
One of Infocom’s most overrated titles, The Lurking Horror is essentially the company’s only foray into the horror genre. Unfortunately, it feels more like a Lebling Zorkian dungeon crawl than an atmospheric mystery. While there are some creepy parts to this college campus caper, it is mostly a disjointed puzzlefest with a smattering of Cthulhu mythos.

Admittedly, I played both Theatre and Anchorhead first, which had the advantage of better development systems. With that in mind, I'll give the simple NPCs here a pass. But the things that annoy me the most about this game have nothing to do with technical restrictions. There's a hunger daemon, which is the slider puzzle of text adventures. There are several illogical walking dead situations. And while I can deal with inventory restrictions (oh how I miss thee, bottomless trenchcoat), even here I felt like I could reasonably carry more than the player character.

Ultimately I would have forgiven all this if I had been immersed in a scary story. But I found the writing mediocre and the ending abrupt and unsatisfying.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Infocom's Lovecraftian game set on a campus: mixed puzzles, great creatures, February 3, 2016
It's hard for me to review this game (the first horror IF game by Infocom, and one of the first horror games ever) without comparing it to later Interactive Fiction based on Lovecraft's work. Specifically, Theatre, Anchorhead, and Lydia's Heart come to mind. How does this one compare?

First, size. The Lurking Horror is on the small side, due to PC capabilities at the time of publication. It is about the same size as Theatre, and much smaller than Anchorhead or Lydia's Heart.

Next, setting. The game is set in an alternate version of the MIT campus called GUE Tech during the winter. This worked well for me in the end, with the creepy Department of Alchemy, dark buildings and deep basements, and the gross muddy areas. It gave them game a more campy feel though, like Theatre, as opposed to the bigger games.

NPC's and enemies. While The Lurking Horror has a few okay PC's, it really shines in the creature department. I had played for a few hours without encountering more than one 'creature', and nothing that threatened me, so I was quite shocked when I (Spoiler - click to show)buried an axe in the chest of the maintenance man without any reaction from him. The further the game got, the more disturbing the creatures got. The enemies are more like Theatre's than the later games.

Puzzles. The Lurking Horror has some puzzles that are just dumb (especially the carton in the fridge). Later on, though, the puzzles get more fun, especially as you use the same objects in more and more ways. In the end, the puzzles are more like Lydia's Heart than the other two games, although there are much less puzzles overall.

Overall, it seems to me that the Lurking Horror was a great success that became eclipsed by later games. Theatre ('95) seems to be strongly inspired by The Lurking Horror, while Anchorhead ('98) seems to be inspired at least partially by Theatre (as it includes some similar puzzles). Lydia's Heart ('07) was more of a successful reboot of the Lovecraft idea using newer technology.

1 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
One of few text adventures I have ever completed., August 3, 2010
This is an outstanding adventure. I first played it circa 1990 on an Apple II plus!! I still have the original box that contains the plastic centipede! I still have very fond memories of playing through this game. Highly recommended. Overall not too difficult or frustrating.

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
Solid, Fair, Entertaining, July 24, 2009
by Mike Ciul (Philadelphia)
I played The Lurking Horror right after Anchorhead, which served to highlight the limitations of Infocom's older games. The Lurking Horror, because of the style and size limitations of the time, lacks the depth and richness of Anchorhead, where virtually nothing reasonable produced a default response. On the other hand, it shows Infocom reaching its maturity, with smooth, elegant gameplay despite some necessary terseness.

The thing that impressed me most about TLH was that I never got really, really stuck, despite having to spend several days on some puzzles. Throughout the game, I was free of the nagging sensation that I'd screwed the whole thing up right at the beginning. Instead, I was always sure that the solution would come to me if I just looked at the situation in the right way. And when the solution did come, it was immensely satisfying. My favorite puzzle was one I encountered early on, but didn't solve until several weeks later. (Spoiler - click to show)(Using the elevator to break through the wall in the Steam Tunnel. As soon as I realized the two locations were connected, the pieces fell right together.) The game provided perfect encouragement when I was on the right track and led me quickly to the solution, once I had a basic grasp of what was going on. It was a really deep level of game-world interaction that could have been a nightmare of guess-the-phrasing - yet it posed absolutely no parser problems at all.

The game is full of wonderfully reusable objects, and useless things are relatively few and relatively obvious, although you're likely to do some trekking back and forth across the map at the end, for things that you had to drop because of capacity limits.

The atmosphere of "Lurking Horror" was consistent - a few horror-appropriate laughs and not too much MIT in-jokiness, and lots of creepy stuff going on. I think perhaps the game lacked focus; there was a colorful variety of monsters, but how they related to each other or to the main story was quite vague.

Amazingly, this is the first Infocom game I've ever played that did not require me to draw a map. Along with the PDF I used from the Masterpieces collection, it was very easy to make my way around. I did eventually draw a map, simply because I was stuck at one point and needed something to do, but I ended up not using it most of the time. I have one spoilery comment about the map, which may serve as a hint without giving away too much: (Spoiler - click to show)There is a maze. I mapped the maze. But it turned out that I didn't need to. As soon as I finished mapping, I discovered a shortcut. Unfortunately, the shortcut won't help if you've left behind an item that you need, because you can't use it to go back. Save your game.

Like many Infocom games, and perhaps appropriate to a horror-themed game, there are plenty of learn-by-dying situations. It pays to save often. But none of these situations seemed terribly unfair to me: there's usually a pretty obvious point right beforehand where you can save, and if you keep on restoring from there, you're likely to sort the problem out eventually.

I have only one complaint about this game's otherwise phenomenal parser. Right at the very end, there is something of a guess-the-noun problem. (Spoiler - click to show)The final monster can't be referred to as "grey," "gelatinous" or "mass," despite being described that way in the text. It also can't be referred to as a "monster" or a "horror." The only words I could discover that worked were "creature" (not in the text) and "being" (in the text, but I didn't notice it at first). This was only a minor annoyance, and didn't stop me from completing the game, but it was a surprise after the smooth interactions I'd had up to that point. I think it might be another case of the endgame not being as fully implemented or tested as the earlier portions.

So with some great puzzles, flawless interaction, and strong atmosphere, why was I slightly disappointed? Is it just the standards of modern IF, or was this a bit below Infocom's other work? Maybe the puzzles were too easy. I really appreciated being able to complete the game without hints, and the best puzzles did seem pretty hard. But at the start, I breezed through several initial steps - making it to 50 out of 100 points - without any real mental effort. In fact, a few of these very early puzzles were more tedious than challenging, requiring multiple steps and trial-and-error of some obvious combinations. (Spoiler - click to show)Heating up the Chinese food felt like hashing out an example from the I7 manual, not a real puzzle. I think also, this was a game that could have benefited from having the plot and characters fleshed out more. There probably was no room for Infocom to do so at the time, but I sorely missed that extra depth. The characters were some of the highlights of the game. The hacker's final scene is brilliant and somehow touching. The urchin was so brilliantly painted with so few strokes, I only wished he had more than half a dozen lines. But perhaps his elusiveness made him more poignant. (Spoiler - click to show)Even the rat - and perhaps especially the animated hand - were memorable personalities that lit up the console. I think a little bit more from each of them could have taken the game from merely fun to truly powerful.

One final note: I got a bit of a teaser for the sound in Lurking Horror, but unfortunately I could not find a Mac interpreter that could both play the sound and save the game, so I only heard a couple things. I look forward to playing the game through and hearing more of the sounds - the couple I did hear enhanced the spookiness quite a lot. Since they come as a total surprise, they can be very startling - perfect for a horror game.

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