The Lurking Horror (IF)

David Lebling, 1984. Release 221 Serial 870918. Infocom original.

I have written a Lurking Horror Walkthrough that you might find of interest.

I also have a copy of release 221 in .z3 format along with a manual, some invisiclues, and the sound files packaged in I do this with the understanding that its "abandonware". If this is NOT the case, then please let me know and I will take that down immediately.


Being a horror fan, the horror sub-genre, as brief and inconsistent as it is, of IF was the first place I turned. For nearly ever game I looked at, there was a review that mentions "shades of Lurking Horror". Some games were nearly discounted for being too similar. Now that I have played the old Lurking, I have an idea of what they mean. Whether intentionally or not, scenes from the 1984 classic, the only mainstream IF that was fully horror in the original run, show up all over the place. In Anchoread you have, amongst others, a computer log on scene that feels familiar. In The First Mile go to sleep somewhere outside and you will meet death in a deja vu inspiring way. Theatre has its sewer rats puzzle, similar in several ways to the one in Lurking. And The Awakening, the shortest of all of the mentioned titles, reinacts the elevator chain puzzle almost precisely. Baluthar also involves a puzzle with a detached body part (though is the less directly referential of all the ones mentioned above).

For whatever reason, I played Lurking last of all of these horror IF. I think part of me knew that a game so often referenced probably would be best saved. And I think it worked out for the best. Rather than me merely thinking "Wow, way to rip off The Lurking Horror!", I enjoyed the puzzles and solved them in a whole new way. Then, playing the original, I could appreciate its veteran place and the respect shown it all over again.

And respect this game deserves. Consisting of maybe half the rooms of most mainstream IF (by guess, I haven't counted), only four NPCs with not much true dialogue between them, and a relatively small amount of points and items; it still manages to be a carefully crafted game with extremely solid puzzles, excellent progression, and both a quasi-open game play AND enough direction to keep you from feeling completely lost.

The storyline goes that you are waiting to the last minute to write a paper. If you have ever been in college, you probably feel for the character. And then, shortly into the game, the character finds out that his/her paper is gone. Corrupted. Possibly transferred over to another fileserver. Thus begins the quest that gets increasingly tense and increasingly requires correct actions to get through.

The mood involves a good mix of horror themes with humor. It very much so fits into the 1980 motif of horror. Generally good guys who are not perfect confront bad guys who are more thematic than truly scary, run into some "jump scares" and have to battle evil in unexpected ways just so they can make a sarcastic remark and credits can roll. And while the game overall isn't exactly terrifying, there are a few scenes that get your attention. It even has a somewhat primitive sound method that interjects a handful of sound effects into key scenes, though a lot of these are simply too loud and too nonspecific ambient to do anything besides scare you when you speaker explodes. If you are playing in a public place, "$SOUND OFF" is going to be your friend.

There are roughly 20 puzzles (I say roughly because sometimes it is hard to define what's a puzzle and what's merely picking up a key and unlocking a door). Each of the primary puzzles are worth 5 points, so the point system is mostly a percentage of game completed. Though a couple of puzzles sort of involve slightly unexpected results, most puzzles are logical and can be simply thought out by looking at surroundings and thinking of uses for things. If I had to nitpick, and I would rather not since the solidity is top notch, here, I would say that my one complaint about the puzzles are that they put more emphasis on a couple of items than others. For some reason, that sort of imbalance has always sat a little poorly with me, but that's just a personal take.

The four NPCs are pretty much there for one real event each, maybe you could say two events in the one case. This means their interaction is kind of limited. Most things you do will be ignored. At the same time, even their "no answer" comments are flavored to each NPC. Every response they make is with a particular theme that fits in with the whole. The overproud Hacker cannot be confused with the skittish Urchin. This is a case of doing a lot with a small set of tools.

This game is ultimately satisfying and is probably going to be considered my overall favorite IF for a while. Solving puzzles takes some replays and some experimentation, but never requires a completely leap of faith. And the room count is kept small in favor of room strength. You do not spend any long time having to run back and forth. Entire floors of buildings are sometimes summed up with a single room for simplification. In the style of this game, it works really well. There is not a lot of optional action, but most of it is kind of fun to play with, however briefly. If any complaints are forthcoming, there are a couple of places where it is hard to figure out which direction the game is implying, and there are a few places where actions that feel like they should have been incorporated (propping open a door with a brick, for instance) are left out while actions of equal obscurity are implemented. I only found one bug and it was so minor that I cannot recall it.

High marks and definitely recommended.

Final Scores

(0-100, 50 = Average)

Interactive: 85*

Fiction: 85

Reviewer's Tilt: 100

Final Average: 90

* This one is hard one to judge. It does what it does really well with almost no real issues, recognizes a lot of synonymns, is not buggy, and never require you to write "Push the box" as opposed to "Shove the box". At the same time, it also has a few limiting factors that will occasionally, and only occasionally jar the experience.


How I Did

I beat it. 100 points. Do not think you can score less than that and win. Only "cheated" once due to an unexpected glitch-ish event in the engine. While checking out something in one room, I was vaguer than I thought, and its clarification text alerted me to the presence of another object in the vicinity.

Hints, Suggestions and Mild Spoilers (for what they are worth

I have written a full The Lurking Horror Walkthrough if you want to read it.

Watch your resources is the biggest piece of advice. Assuming that you are exploring and not reading a walkthrough, battery and soft-drink management may make the difference between being able to experiement a lot or having to restore a saved file several times because it comes down to the wire.

This game does have a maze portion, but it also has a clever way of downlplaying the maze portion. Either type of solution (easy or hard) can get the same results, but it highly awards experimentation, and the sort of experimentation required is fairly reasonable.

There are a few items that are completely not needed in the game, but you can usually do things with them for fun results if you do it at the right spot.

The ending couple of events can require items you wouldn't expect to need again and it is not really easy to backtrack past a certain point (if at all possible). Probably should keep a "base save" somewhere in the basement that you can call up no matter where your main save is.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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