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SummaryLeather babes, tentacle monsters?.. No, it's not what you think
The GoodSpace Quest IV is considered the most brilliant installment of the lighthearted sci-fi saga by many fans. The pre-requisite for that choice partly lies in the trajectory of the series' development. Unlike Larry with his ups and downs, or King's Quest, which took upon itself the task of testing out new engines and gameplay mechanics, Space Quest found its tone and style right away, and has been steadily building up upon them. The fourth entry is therefore a more polished, better executed version of the same concept that gave life to the franchise. It does little new, but intensely focuses on everything that made us love the series in the first place.
What really stands out in Space Quest IV is the sheer abundance of action, changes of setting and pace, and creative ideas thrown at you. Energy surges through the game, and no moment is dull. Remember the disappointing lack of civilization in the second game or the drawn-out factory level in the third one? The fourth does away with such filler material, presenting well-measured, exciting setpieces. You'll be constantly switching locations, and almost each one is cool and memorable.
Gameplay-wise, Space Quest IV utilizes the same melange of tricky situations with an occasional puzzle that characterized most Sierra's early adventures. You may or may not like the style, but this game is probably its most perfect incarnation. Almost every area you travel to contains traps and dangerous situations, but they are more logically placed and cleverly designed than the more randomized hazards in some of the company's older games. The game starts strong, much more so than the previous Space Quests; using the always-working time-traveling concept, it whisks you away to a future installment of the series (Space Quest XII!), the initial segment taking place in an atmospheric, post-apocalyptic area with a scary mutant threatening to take your sanity and life. Later, even a leisurely episode in a shopping mall culminates in an indirect confrontation with the omnipresent time police. You'll be exploring sewers, traveling to exotic planets, outsmarting horrifying tentacle monsters to please scantily-clad women, and even taking a part-time job in a fast food restaurant.
There is a solid reason for this game's unofficial position as the leader of the series: it is very funny. Even hardcore haters of classic Sierra design would find it hard to deny that this game is worth playing just for humorous value. The game takes advantage of the new icon-based interface more than its contemporaries from the parallel series, providing funny text feedback when you try to experiment with such extravagant commands as "Smell" and "Lick". The death scenes are as hilarious as ever, and the sci-fi movie spoofs are more clearly pronounced. The comedic highlight of the game, however, is the brilliant software store containing parodies of well-known games, including not-so-subtle jabs at Sierra's main rival.
Space Quest IV is one of those "next-gen" adventures Sierra started making in the early nineties, reforming the gameplay system (icons instead of text), and introducing gorgeous VGA graphics. Generally, that visual style was and will always remain among the finest, most artistic, aesthetically pleasant ones in the history of video games. Space Quest IV is so much more cinematic and immersive that the previous titles, separated from it by just a few years, thanks to the graphical overhaul.
It was also one of the first adventures with a subsequent CD version, featuring full voiceovers. Be sure to get that version; like in so many early games, the voices are delightfully goofy and make the game even more attractive. Also, even though the character cast is more or less on par with the amateur acting of King's Quest V, it is less grating; also, a particular mention should go to the narrator, who reads his amusingly written parts with a proper sense of slightly concealed sarcasm.
The BadPretty much the only thing that can be said against Space Quest IV is that it is still a typical Sierra game, for good and for bad. It has a few annoying dead ends, and lethal situations galore. Personally, I didn't mind that - but then again, the things that attract me so much in Sierra games by far outweigh their quirks and even render them charming and lovable. I like the suspense, the fear of death, the necessity of remaining vigilant at all times. I liked the nerve-tickling moments when I was frantically choosing icons and clicking on the screen, hoping to get it right this time so I won't see that "Game Over" screen again. But I understand it can be frustrating.
Programming problems have been plaguing too many Sierra works, and this particular game is one of the worst offenders. Space Quest IV has serious speed issues that made the timed sequences almost unbeatable on faster computers. People had to use slowdown programs or even go to system BIOS and disable internal cache. I don't think there was ever enough support for making those games run on slightly more advanced hardware, just a few years following their releases.