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SummarySuspense and adventuring in a concise form
The Good"Space Quest II" is all about adventuring. The plot of the game is great in its simplicity: you are a simple janitor who has been captured by an evil scientist and his goons. An accident makes it possible for him to escape, but he is stranded on an alien planet with very few means to survive. Now he has to avoid all possible dangers and to find a way to escape from the planet.
This plot works great simply because it allows to offer the player plenty of adventuring, that is always supported by the urge to learn about the outcome of the story: will Roger be captured? Will he be able to defeat his enemy? What other dangers await him? There's nothing in adventure games that can be compared to the feeling of being lost and trapped among hostile creatures and other dangers. There's hardly anything that stimulates the player more to keep playing. Every time Roger dies you are interested to discover what could have prevented his death and what other terrible encounters will happen. The nerve-tickling, tension-loaded atmosphere of "Space Quest II" is almost unparalleled, the only other classic game I know that is also enveloped in this aura of adventure and danger is Another World.
"Space Quest II" has more suspense than many action games out there. In fact, the greatest achievement of "Space Quest II" is the fact it feels like an action game - like an action adventure, to be exact. There's almost no backtracking in the game, the puzzles usually require an immediate solution, and almost all of them has something to do with avoiding death - all typical for action games and not so characteristic for later adventures. Only instead of quick reflexes you'll have to think about how to guide Roger safely to the next destination.
Yes, I know you die too much in this game, but that same dying brings so much suspense that I don't think the game would be better without it. In fact, the dying is the whole point of the game, which is about surviving. And what could have suited the game's plot better than the constant danger of getting killed? The whole story of the game deals with Roger's attempts to escape from Vohaul and his henchmen. He is in an unknown, possibly dangerous world, where death lures at every corner. I found it fascinating how the game always required you to be careful. It made the whole "stranded on an unknown planet" business very realistic, and I was totally immersed into the game's world. It is a very old game (over 16 years old now, if I'm not mistaken), which has very old and outdated graphics, but this small 16-color world was more immersive than many real-time 3D environments I know.
I don't know if many people have noticed it, but "Space Quest II" has a really great atmosphere. When you are so near to death, you start paying attention to everything - every stone, every tree might contain a possible danger. You walk around carefully, trying not to step on suspiciously looking plants and not to come close to dangerously looking bizarre alien organisms. The game has two main locations (planet surface and Vohaul's asteroid), both very detailed, both full of traps and dangers, and both menacing in a strange, alien way, perfectly fitting the sci-fi setting of the game.
The gameplay of "Space Quest II" is fluent, uncomplicated, and (in most cases) very natural. At the time it was released, there were still no monsters with extremely complex puzzle systems, like later LucasArts and Sierra adventures. Adventure games were less artificial, more intuitive, and designers didn't worry much about complexity of puzzles. The puzzles in "Space Quest II" are in fact very imaginative and elegant. They mostly serve as elementary protections against death. For example, you enter a swamp and get eaten by a monster - so you have to figure out how to avoid this. Some puzzles still belong to the good old epoch of text input, and would be impossible to solve in games with modern interfaces. Such puzzles are simple, but not always obvious to figure out, and require real imagination instead of mad clicking on everything you see. I remember how I was constantly dying while attempting to dive, and didn't think of a simple solution: what people usually do just before they dive?.. Such realistic, extremely simple, yet interesting and even (in its own way) challenging puzzles ceased to exist after text interface was replaced by point-and-click.
The BadThe bad things are obvious. You die too much, and almost the entire gameplay is based on dying. The most annoying thing, however, is not the dying itself, but the messages you receive. Many of them are amusing, but almost all of them try to insult the player. When you die, you usually receive messages like: "You are beaten again to a bloody pulp. Will you never learn? Come on, other people are looking at you and seeing what a bad player you are". I know it was supposed to be funny, and it really was the first couple of times, but since you die so many times in this game, and receive similar messages every time you do that, it quickly got on my nerves.
The game is very short and underdeveloped in certain aspects - there are very few other characters, basically no dialogues, and the plot could have been a bit more complex.
The biggest flaw of "Space Quest II" and the main reason why many fans of the series consider it the least successful Space Quest title is its lack of satire. All other Space Quest are intentionally humorous, while "Space Quest II" is "just an adventure". It has some humorous places (beside the death messages), but compared to the first "Space Quest" (and especially to later ones) the humor in this one is rather poor. I don't think this sequel was too rushed, it's just that it contains more adventuring, but less parody. The first "Space Quest" didn't quite have the same atmosphere, but had much more wit.