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My third most favorite Infocom game (after Trinity and A Mind Forever Voyaging), The Lurking Horror is, without a doubt, one of the best horror computer games ever made. It is nothing short of extraordinary that a genre that is commonly associated with spooky music, frightening visuals, and suspenseful pacing can be so effectively portrayed in a text adventure-- a genre with nothing but words to convey those horrific elements (actually, The Lurking Horror was the first Infocom game to include sound effects, and they are appropriately spooky).
The first few minutes of the game are innocuous and quite mundane, and bear no resemblance to what lies ahead. You are a student at G.U.E. Tech, a university in the Zork universe (Dave Lebling remarked that it was modelled after M.I.T., where he was a student. M.I.T. graduates will definitely recognize vast underground passages that connect various parts of campus). On this fateful night, while stuck in a computer lab trying to finish a twenty-page paper, you feel a strange urge to explore the campus basements -- the sites of many horrific rumors. You soon find yourself wandering away from your computer, and into the dark regions of G.U.E. Tech where hideous sights worthy of H. P. Lovecraft await...
The Lurking Horror is memorable for many things, chief among which is the near-perfect blend of storytelling and puzzle. If anyone ever doubts that Lebling's fame as the author of Zork series is undeserved, The Lurking Horror will silent all critics. The writing throughout the game is excellent, and the plot and pacing provide the right amount of suspense and intrigue to keep you glued to the computer screen. There are many memorable characters and puzzles-- even today, IF fans often reminisce about the elusive hacker and his key, which is one of the cleverest puzzles in the game. A few puzzles can perhaps be considered "unfair" due to obscure clues, but they are overall very logical and will provide a good challenge for both beginners and veterans alike.
As the box cover accurately claims, "[The Lurking Horror] recalls the ghastly visions of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, as author Dave Lebling turns an everyday world into a frightening web of uncertainty. The numerous puzzles will challenge both first-time and experienced players, and Lebling's chilling descriptions will leave you with images you'll never forget." If you like horror games or just IF in general, The Lurking Horror is simply a must-have.
Note: Although the PDF version of the (bad quality) black and white manual (included with Activision's Masterpieces of Infocom CD compilation) is available here, I strongly recommend that you download complete color scans of the original manual from the Infocom Gallery. Aside from high-quality color scans of every page, you can also see a scan of the cool sticky red centipede that was included inside the game box, which is one of my most favorite freebies from Infocom (right up there with the scratch-n-sniff card for Leather Goddesses of Phobos and sundial for Trinity).
The Lurking Horror was Infocom's only attempt at a game with a horror setting. The game itself is not too hard (though it does have some very obscure puzzles) and IMO has a great plot. You are a student at GUE tech (a name that will be familiar to fans of Zork) and one night you have an irrestible urge to explore the universities basement. Well, the actual story is much more interesting and well thought out, but to learn more you will have to play the game and not rely on the description of someone who has the writing skills of a mental patient.
The pace of the game works very well and the puzzles and plot blend together perfectly, the many memorable characters and twists in the game also add to the experience. I enjoyed The Lurking Horror, it might not appeal to everyone but for a desensitised horror fanatic like me it was great.
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Lurking Horror, The screenshot
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