Written by  :  Unicorn Lynx (181375)
Written on  :  Aug 09, 2001
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4.4 Stars4.4 Stars4.4 Stars4.4 Stars4.4 Stars

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Outsmart fierce Orats on your way to Ulence Flats!

The Good

Back in 1986, King's Quest was still the hottest (actually, the only) "3D" adventure series on the market. Things began to change when two Sierra employees, utilizing the same template that brought the miraculous Daventry escapades to life, created a humorous take on the formula, dubbing their creation Space Quest. This was the first challenge to King Quest's dominance, and the starting point of the first series of humorous graphical adventures in history.

Space Quest is more than just a sci-fi variant of the older franchise. First of all, its tone is quite different, relying much more on the silly extravagance of Zork than on the mild, kid-friendly style of Roberta Williams' flagship series. Taking cues from popular sci-fi movies, Space Quest is a merry melange of cliches, pop culture references, and genuine elements of an adventurous space saga, happily embracing the goofiness of exotic monsters creeping beneath planet surfaces and aliens playing slot machines in bars.

The humor is indeed one of the main selling points of the game. The entire premise of the game is humorous: instead of a familiar valiant adventurer, you control a lazy janitor who survives an alien onslaught only thanks to his own incompetence. Your actions aren't commented upon as dryly and matter-of-fact as in King's Quest. On the contrary, the omniscient narrator has quite a lot of ironic and sarcastic comments at his disposal, and the game's text descriptions are one of the chief reasons for its humorous impact. Another one, of course, are the famous death scenes. You could die in King's Quest, but it was never really funny. Space Quest is actually the first Sierra game that started truly focusing on black humor accompanying the many possible failures of the hapless hero.

Another thing Space Quest brought to adventure game design is tight scripting. King's Quest games had assorted hazards and random character appearances, but for the most part they were free-roaming games with much of the playable area available right at the beginning. I usually prefer that design philosophy, but Space Quest, being a comedy, needed more events, more focused storytelling. It is considerably more linear, but it makes up for that with its variety of locations and a continuous string of occurrences that contribute to the feeling of being on a grand journey. It was probably the earliest adventure game with real setpieces, dramatic happenings, and suspenseful atmosphere.

The game starts with a tense, nerve-tickling sequence: you must figure out how to escape from a doomed spaceship within the allotted time limit. Afterwards, you travel to a desert planet where hazards abound and where only your wit can help you in your confrontation against ferocious monsters, environmental dangers, and bad weather. Then you relax for a while at a civilized outpost, shopping in places such as Droids-B-Us and listening to live bands in the local bar, before you infiltrate an alien ship and use cunning and disguise to reach your ultimate objective. As you can see, this is a real story divided into several clearly defined, contrasting episodes, each with its own ambiance and style of playing. You may like this more or less than the open-ended King's Quest, but this type of experience was fresh, exciting, and quite influential in the long run.

The version I'm reviewing here is a remake. I rarely favor remakes over original versions, except in the case of those wonderful VGA games Sierra released in the early 1990's. The new version of Space Quest has everything the older game had, with the addition of lovely graphics, MIDI soundtrack, excellent interface, and even a few enhancements: there are more elaborate text descriptions and more varied feedback to your actions. Undeniably, this is the definitive version of the game.

The Bad

Space Quest is fairly short and simple. Paradoxically, the game owes much of its life span to death sequences. Once you figure out how to avoid them, you discover there isn't that much left to do. In fact, almost the entire game is based on various situations where a deviation from the prescribed path leads to the hero's untimely demise. If you decide to replay the game, you'll notice how easy some of its puzzles actually are. The game smartly uses the ever-present lethal dangers to make you panic and cloud your judgment, but when you know what to do it becomes just a matter of a few simple actions to solve any problem.

Granted, you could complete early King's Quest games very fast as well if you knew what you were doing, and death traps played a role there too. But part of the experience in those games was gradually uncovering their worlds, familiarizing yourself with the structure, looking for convenient paths, shortcuts, etc. Space Quest is much more straightforward: locations change dynamically without a "hub" area of any kind. They felt the need to sacrifice open-ended design to its scripted nature, but perhaps there could be a way to have both. You can get stuck in the game if you failed to collect a particular item in an area that has since become inaccessible - some people hate this design element, but at least it forces you to be careful and spend a bit more time in every place you visit.

Like some other Sierra games, the remake of Space Quest suffers from compatibility issues. On faster computers, Roger is always thirsty on Kerona's surface. If you don't react extremely quickly, three messages appear one after the other at head-spinning speed, killing the hero outright and ruining his vacation plans on the gorgeous 256-colored orange planet. Slowdown utilities and tampering with BIOS cache may solve this problem, but I wonder how they overlooked so many programming quirks.

The Bottom Line

Space Quest is hardly the most fulfilling adventure game in history; it is probably not even the most interesting and rewarding experience within the series its started. And yet, it is a strong beginning of a future janitorial space saga, one of the first graphical comedy adventures around, and a pioneer of tightly scripted, suspenseful, imaginative, humorous games we've come to love and enjoy.