Written by: Rik

Date posted: February 24, 2008

One of the few times you get a warning that doing something might result in CERTAIN DEATH.

While we’ve made a few tentative attempts at reviewing them in the past, it’s fair to say that the Sierra Quest games aren’t too well represented in our otherwise (comparatively) well-furnished adventure section. It’s not that we’ve adopted a policy of deliberately shunning them, more that we weren’t really all that fond of them first time around. Which may call into question the wisdom of revisiting them now – I mean, if you can’t be bothered with something when it’s brand new and shiny, the chances of you enjoying it more than fifteen years later are fairly remote.

Still, they proved popular enough with lots of other people, and there’s certainly no denying the significance of Sierra’s contribution to the genre. And with a reasonably priced collection-pack back on the shelves, it seemed like a good opportunity to give them another crack.

Seasoned retro-gamers will be familiar with Sierra’s penchant for remaking their own adventure games at various points, and as you may have noticed, it’s the 1991 reissue of Space Quest that we’re dealing with here. While there is perhaps something to be said for playing the original version, Sierra didn’t deem it worthy of inclusion on the above-mentioned collection CD, and seeing as I’m not desperately interested in dealing with blotchy EGA graphics and text parser just for the sake of it, I’m happy to go along with their decision. From past experience, I think it’s fairly safe to say you won’t be missing out on too much by playing this one, with the most significant changes involving the inclusion of shinier graphics and a ‘point-and-click’ interface. If you don’t like the sound of either of those things, then, er, fine – go play the original instead.

The spider-bot follows you about. When it catches up with you, you die. There’s some mildly entertaining MIDI music that plays whenever it’s on-screen though.

Anyway, Space Quest is the first outing for intrepid janitor Roger Wilco, and as Roger you awake from your nap in the supply cupboard to find that the ship has been boarded by sinister aliens, known as Sariens. They’re after a piece of onboard machinery called the “Star Generator”, which was designed for peaceful purposes but, naturally, becomes an extremely dangerous weapon should it ever fall into the wrong hands. Your task is to escape the clutches of the Sariens before returning to destroy the Star Generator prior to it being used for nefarious purposes.

As with many early adventure games, it’s short but tough, and in this case death almost literally lurks around every corner. When you start, you have exactly 15 minutes to work out how to get off your ship before it self-destructs, all the while avoiding the numerous laser-toting Sarien guards prowling the corridors, and the game largely continues in this vein, offering you numerous opportunities to fail, get stuck, or die horribly.

There are a couple of different perspectives on this approach, for which Sierra games were notoriously consistent in employing, and my own is that I don’t much care for it. There’s nothing wrong with having death in an adventure game, especially if particularly dangerous bits are well signposted and used sparingly. Here, though, it’s almost a feature in itself, with relatively innocent exploration and manipulation of interesting-looking items often resulting in ‘game over’.

You will not encounter a more wretched hive of scum and villainy…

While you can of course save your progress as regularly as you like to get around this, Space Quest has a few other tricks up its sleeve. Some puzzles are time-limited, without ever really warning you of the fact (you find out when you’re closed to death), and the game also includes that most heinous of adventure game features, allowing you to progress through the game while leaving essential items behind so that you get horribly and impossibly stuck at some point in the future. In this age of 10-terrahertz PCs and humongous hard disks, it’s fairly irritating (ALWAYS use a new save slot in case you messed up somewhere) – but how anyone tolerated this kind of thing back when you had to save and load your games from a separate floppy disk, God only knows.

On the plus side, the dialogue is gently amusing in places, and the humour is reminiscent of other sci-fi spoofs such as Red Dwarf or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. There isn’t all that much dialogue, though, and your own character remains largely silent throughout – it’s worth noting that the character of Roger Wilco didn’t initially feature, and in the original the player was invited to input a name, with ‘Roger Wilco’ included as a default. So if you ever wondered why the lead character in an adventure game series was given a rubbish play-on-words name that sounds like it took a bored programmer all of ten seconds to come up with, you have your answer, although by the time this remake was released Roger’s place in gaming folklore was already well-established.

A sarcastic robot – great!

Aesthetically, it’s reasonable enough – while it’s a long way removed from the kind of mid-80s EGA horror show that would make Xbox kids run screaming, there’s nothing particularly memorable, and though locations are well-drawn, the characters are anonymous and fairly badly animated. On the sound front, there’s a handful of squelches and zaps that intersperse the generic MIDI music on offer, but nothing particularly worthy of comment. The interface can occasionally be fiddly, but it works well enough, save for the odd bit of pixel hunting, although many of the options (especially ‘taste’ and ‘smell’) seem to have no practical use in the game.

Overall, the best thing that can be said for Space Quest is that it is what it is: a marginally enhanced version of a fairly primitive adventure. However, despite going in with fairly low expectations, and making plenty of allowances for the age of the original, the game was still a disappointment to me, and despite my predilection for both sci-fi and humour, I have to say that I much preferred playing the comparatively po-faced Police Quest, which is a longer and altogether more involving adventure. Still, while it may not readily qualify as fun, it’s worth a look if you like adventures and haven’t come across the series before.