Review by Mr Creosote, Wandrell (2011-05-29)
[Wandrell] We are talking about a nice remake. Maybe if you have played the Quest series you'll remember that, back at the beginning, they were not like the mouse-driven games we know. Until someone decided to make a remake of the original game of each saga. And one of them is the game we are going to talk about.
[Mr Creosote] That's right: This particular incarnation of Space Quest dates from the early 1990s and it uses Sierra's then brand new SCI system. Meaning it is mouse driven and uses VGA graphics.
[Wandrell] The same was done with King's Quest, Quest for Glory, Police Quest and Leisure Suit Larry. And I must say it's a shame they didn't to it with other AGI games.
Story & Humour
[Mr Creosote] There are a couple of more changes from the original version, but we'll get into these details later. Let's start with the story: The hero in this game is, of course, Roger Wilco, the janitor of a spaceship seized by evil aliens.
[Wandrell] The game won't center into the janitorial aspects of Wilco, no chance to advance on that career. Instead, he will suddenly find itself as the last hope of the universe, the only one capable of recovering a new technology which, in the wrong hands, can be devastating.
[Mr Creosote] Roger's first task is much more pressing, though, for personal reasons: escaping his ship which the evil Sariens have put into self-destruct mode. So it is the story of a clumsy, regular guy saving the world in spite of himself. Meaning we're in the humour genre...
[Wandrell] Or an attempt at it. Mostly I think they are trying to make fun of space opera, mostly Star-Trek, and that new secret project sounds too similar to the one on "The Wrath of Khan". But don't get your hopes up, all this parody thing ends in a bunch of random references all around the places you visit.
[Mr Creosote] Yes, the main side of the humour is pop culture references. Some are concerning the science fiction genre, but as you said, unfortunately, many don't go beyond the basic satisfaction of recognition: "Oh, I understand this reference". One aspect of this I found well done was the graphics: Especially the close-ups are done in a very "retro" drawing style which get the right cheesy atmosphere across. Apart from that, it's more "miss" than "hit".
[Wandrell] Yes, the style looks very "50s", and a bit Flash-Gordonesque at times. But the humor is clearly shown at the robot store, which serves just to have references to British shows and sci-fi films. Well, most of the desert town is just a bunch of easy jokes, like the cars shops, and their too obvious wrong decisions.
[Mr Creosote] That droid store, for example, is called "Droids B Us". So the name is similar to "Toys R Us". I get it. But where is the joke in that? It's not even worth a chuckle.
[Wandrell] It would have been nice buying all the robots and seeing which stupid mayhem each caused, but for some reason you can only buy three of them. And the correct one is, again, way too obvious, like the only one that doesn't have "funny" painted all over. Still, it's a missed chance they could have taken.
[Mr Creosote] Another aspect of the humour is just regular snarky comments towards the player - a tradition undoubtly inherited from the text adventure genre. Playing Space Quest felt a lot like someone tried to do Planetfall, but with graphics.
[Wandrell] Well, wasn't Planetfall a humorous parody of adventures in space? Where the main character was also a janitor? But my experience with that game ended as I died of thirst while the robot remarked obvious facts about the room.
Still, the Space Quest games never looked like a fresh approach to sci-fi parody. I don't know how it got so popular to last so long, actually it would take years, until the "two guys from Andromeda" took different ways and the fifth game appeared, to create a good Space Quest.
Gameplay & Death
[Mr Creosote] So we're both not too convinced of the humour aspect. That leaves the gameplay: Space Quest offers what you'd expect of an Adventure game. Meaning, you walk around picking up stuff to use for the solution of somewhat arbitrary puzzles later on.
[Wandrell] But there is also dialog! Well, no, ok. Actually you can choose yes/no once, and all the other times you just get a piece of text, just like you looked at them, no interaction, characters are here to give and receive objects.
[Mr Creosote] Which is quite a letdown considering Planetfall had had some of the best human interactions (albeit with a robot) of the genre up until that point. Space Quest has inventory/object based puzzles, but they don't really define the game, either. It's more of a constant chase.
[Wandrell] Well, it's not like you can do much more. There are a few times you can use an object, for pushing it for example, and you must do it in the precise moment. But usually all you can do is take object, use object, look, talk and... licking? Why a licking option?
[Mr Creosote] I don't believe that has got any relevance towards the solution. Licking is just used as a catalyst for more jokes. So the game starts out at a pretty frantic pace: The ship's self-destruct sequence has been triggered, you have got only a few minutes to escape. So unlike many other Adventure games, there is no time to explore the surroundings. Which makes it easy to miss some object or detail - which the game will punish mercilessly.
[Wandrell] A countdown to self-destruction along with aliens chasing you around. So you not only lack time, but should keep moving. Still, the first thing I thought when seeing all the bodies that fill the ship was "Oh no, you are not going to make me check them all". That's the kind of thing that makes you miss important key objects, monotony.
[Mr Creosote] Yes, but you can even easily miss the encounter with the dying scientist at the beginning, and consequently miss the key card. This doesn't just serve as copy protection, but also makes it impossible to progress in the game later on.
[Wandrell] That's a Sierra trademark, luckily in this game it's not bad as in others. To me the biggest nuisance was that at the middle of the game you are given an important piece of information for the end. Forgot where you noted it? Don't worry you can always... wait a moment, you can't read the vital message again... Not that it wouldn't be hard to let you read it again without loading your closest savegame or replaying half the game.
[Mr Creosote] At least "half the game" isn't that much - the game is very short overall. What makes it extremely annoying is the amount of death scenes, though. Although death was a common occurence in Sierra games anyway, Space Quest has got to be the most merciless of them all! A self-destruction countdown isn't enough pressure - there also have to be Sarien sharpshooters hunting you. Then, after landing on the next planet (and skipping many more opportunities to die), it's not just a killer robot chasing you, but you can also die from dehydration. Or be eaten by giant sand worms which appear out of nowhere.
[Wandrell] Or my favorite: Walking through a rain of acid, to see if it kills you or you make it, and of course many stupid actions, like touching the pool of acid, reward you with a quick death. Actually death is an important part of the game, which expects you to die a lot. A too important part, Sierra games are the kind of game which hates their players and where others would just make fun of you this one will kill you and then make fun of your death.
[Mr Creosote] This sometimes softens the blow a little, but after the tenth failure to escape some death trap, it just won't help anymore. Also, there are many completely unnecessary death scenes: So you've just escaped the Sariens, you want to board your space shuttle, but if you just click on its door to enter, you will "walk wrong": right into a chasm. So some dangers may be an inherent part of the gameplay, but others are just random and completely pointless.
[Wandrell] Actually, the space shuttle contains more than that one. You have to find out the correct button to turn it on, and there are several to try... along with the one for not fastening the seat belt, or for not opening the hangar. At times it looks like they are filling a quota of deaths.
[Mr Creosote] Of course it's not like you can ever "undo" any action which lead to your demise. All you can do is hope for a saved game from not so long ago. However, combine this with the danger of dead ends we already mentioned, and you've got a completely game killing experience.
Changes from the original version
[Wandrell] The Sierra experience. Fun for all the family. But as we said before, this game doesn't bring just death and gloom, it's actually an improvement over the original AGI based game. Where the first version of the game had keyboard and typed commands, this one is mouse driven, leaving behind its pseudo-IF roots.
[Mr Creosote] Actually, I think it's a mixed blessing. Running away from the spider robot would have been much easier using the keyboard, for example.
[Wandrell] But still the part about having to type the commands always looked uneasy to me. If you are stepping into the graphical adventure world, why keep the controls hidden behind a text console? Just like Legend would do a few years after the original SQ, they could at least have given a selection of key words.
[Mr Creosote] The new interface certainly makes some things easier as well, of course. We already mentioned the graphics. What's probably more important, in my opinion, is that they gave the game at least a little more character: The nameless protagonist of the original has now become "Roger Wilco" officially, for example.
[Wandrell] I played little of the AGI version. But the arcade part of the desert looked like a new extra, or was it on the original game?
[Mr Creosote] It was, and the change is that in the remake, it can be skipped. So that's an advantage over the old version.
[Wandrell] I wouldn't like to be forced to do those things. Also, of course, some the changes easy to spot are newer references, to add to the big list, just like the joke where you end in Conquests of the Longbow.
[Mr Creosote] On the whole, though, this is still the old Space Quest. They took a game which was hardly playable to begin with and used some graphics from the fourth part of the series to make it prettier. So they changed the cover, but not the book itself.
[Wandrell] "Why?" They thought, "It's one of our best!". But I would rather say, the Space Quest saga is a joke too long. One of those games that make you think that in its own time, it probably was the shiniest newest game, but now, or just a few years later, when the novelty passed, you wonder what people saw in it.
[Mr Creosote] Nevertheless, these games have stayed popular to this day. I wonder how much of that is just very old childhood memories with absolutely no halfway recent experience to back them up.
[Wandrell] Not me, my childhood memories with these games are quite bad. Never got the hang of most Sierra games.
[Mr Creosote] So we seem to agree: This one is not really worth playing. If you do, do it only for the continuing historical importance and in order to see for yourself what the big fuss is all about.
[Wandrell] So that's it, let this be our warning to future mankind: Don't believe the hype, and you would be better playing real games.