Space Quest: Roger Wilco Not Over And Out

By Richard Cobbett on January 19th, 2012 at 1:30 pm.

Ah, Mr. Vohaul, we meet again. Wait, we've never met. You were totally retconned for the sequel and your connection to Slash Vohaul who actually was in that game only ever mentioned in tie-in books.

For a classic series like Space Quest to get a fan-made sequel is an achievement. To get three in one month is unprecedented. First came the polished-up remake Space Quest 2 VGA, in which intrepid hero space janitor Roger Wilco finds that saving the galaxy comes with a price, followed by two full-length, brand new adventures picking up where the series left off back in 1995 – Vohaul Strikes Back and Space Quest: Incinerations. But are any of them worth digging your trusty Golden Mop out of storage for? I played them all to find out…

Space Quest 2 VGA

Could be worse, Roger. And has been. At least 73 times today alone.

Space Quest 2 VGA is an excellent remake of a deeply awful game. I’m aware it has its fans, but they’re wrong. The original Space Quest 2: Vohaul’s Revenge is a sadistic, finnicky, witless, and above all boring adventure that ranks as one of my least favourite sequels of all time. Everything about it is terrible, from the death-trap jungle of its own tedious planet, Labion, to the asinine story that features series baddy Sludge Vohaul (who wasn’t even mentioned in the first game) downgrading his ambitions from trying to blow up planets with a super-weapon to infesting one with an army of cloned insurance salesmen. True, Space Quest isn’t exactly known for its deep, emotive sci-fi plotlines, but that’s still really bloody stupid.

Complete lack of bias established then, let’s dig into this new version!

SQ2VGA isn’t the comprehensive attempt at a crapectomy that the equally terrible King’s Quest II: That F***ing Bridge got a few years back, but it does make the original far more bearable – and much, much less difficult. Most of the fiddly puzzles were down to the use of a text parser, which has now been swapped out (aside from a couple of ‘input a word’ sections) for the icon-driven interface of later Sierra games. That makes it easier to find things on the screen, and to solve the puzzles. Space Quest 2′s most infamous was a section where you had to light your way through a dark cave by specifically typing ‘put gem in mouth’. Now, you just use the gem. The no-win situations still remain though, and you don’t get many save slots to play with.

Oh, the movie wasn't *that* bad...

The biggest upgrades to the original are obviously the new graphics, which look excellent, and a full voiceover, which is fine. I don’t care much for Roger’s voice or acting, but the Narrator slips pretty well into the Gary Owens shaped hole in the series left by Space Quests IV and VI. There’s also a brand new intro, which sets the scene by putting Roger onto a chat-show hosted by David Letterdroid (voiced by Space Quest writer/designer Josh Mandel) and lots of minor tweaks throughout the game, like switching out the generic Hunter for a Predator, and adding some cool animated details to many of the static rooms. Original players will be happy to know that the hideous Vine Maze is no longer a pixel-perfect exercise in agony, though it does have one nasty new twist, while the underground dark maze is even more annoying. (I say ‘happily’ since enjoying Space Quest 2 is inherently something of an exercise in masochism.)

For the most part though, the dullness that is Labion remains as it was, without even a tweak to fix the series-long plot hole involving that Terror Beast Mating Whistle. A few more dramatic changes come in the second half, set on Vohaul’s evil asteroid base. In the original, this was a spectacularly empty set of corridors and tall things to fall off. Here, things have been jazzed up with the additions of rooms like a Monolith Burger and a few new sci-fi cameos, even if the puzzles themselves remain basically unchanged. It’s still not a desperately exciting location however, and both the ending and final confrontation with Vohaul remain damp squibs.

All remake projects are inherently labours of love, and this one is no exception. In this case though, it feels like a lot of time and effort has been spent on a game that really doesn’t deserve it – especially with Space Quest III, the game that got the series back on track, still waiting for its turn. If you like the original game more than I do, you won’t be disappointed with this VGA remake. If not, it’s not likely to change your mind. And it shouldn’t. Screw SQ2.

Space Quest: Vohaul Strikes Back

Is it pie? I hope it's pie.

Vohaul Strikes Back takes place after the official games, with Roger and his tragically named future wife Beatrice Wankmeister taking a much-needed vacation. Unfortunately for them, Vohaul has survived his death in Space Quest XII (long story, and explained in the intro if you need to know the details) and been reborn in brand new robot form. Seeking revenge on the grounds that, hey, seventh time’s the charm, he sends his ape goons to abduct the duo and bring them to his fortress on the ice-planet Radon. And a new adventure begins…

This is an excellent fan sequel, though one that takes a while to find its feet. Early on, there’s a lot of padding and many long-winded conversations, not to mention clunky issues like the game blocking your path with a monster in the middle of an ice-field and offering no reason why you can’t just walk around the damn thing. The script and puzzles are amusing enough during these bits, but there’s a distinct “I’m doing this why?” feel to it that initially put me off. Fortunately, the further into the adventure you get, the tighter it becomes. By the time you break into Vohaul’s scary doom fortress (not even halfway through the game) it’s firmly found its groove.

Well, this character animation is kinda crappy. Does that count?

As a Space Quest sequel, my first thought was that the feel was a bit different to the official games… immediately followed by remembering that the series never had a particularly coherent one anyway, so that would be a hell of an accomplishment. The main elements you think of are present and correct though, including Roger Wilco’s place as the universe’s whipping boy, janitor related puzzles, and more than a little meta-humour amongst the expected parodies.

Looking back over the whole game, the main shift is that the regular series has almost always worked by taking a reasonably serious sci-fi universe and adding a comedy layer that contrasted with it. Here, everything is much more knowingly silly, with characters cracking more jokes as opposed to being them, and the referential humour turned up to 11. In Space Quest V for instance, you’d catch sight of Obi-Wan and Darth Vader having their final lightsaber battle as a background joke. Here, at one point you actively bump into the Penguin in a sewer, and some screens are so packed with shout-outs it’s a wonder there’s any space left for puzzles. It more than gets away with it though, with good-natured humour and excellent comic timing.

Give it an hour or so to get past the shaky start, and Vohaul Strikes Back becomes both an excellent tribute to the series and a very enjoyable game in its own right. It’s funny, surprisingly long, and well worth the download. But how does it fare against rival sequel…

Space Quest: Incinerations

You know, I'm having this incredible feeling of Space Quest V related deja-vu. Only with 375% more 'bitch'.

Honestly, I had little hope for this one when I installed it. I’d never heard of it prior to release, the title was such a tortured attempt at a play on Star Trek: Generations that I feared for anything that bore its name, and the screenshots I saw looked spectacularly cheap – Poser quality 3D characters sticking out against clumsy rendered backgrounds. Inspired, I was not.

Then I played it. And you know what? It’s absolutely superb.

Incinerations completely re-imagines the whole Space Quest series as a sci-fi action thriller, focusing hard on character and drama while still managing to be just as tongue-in-cheek and funny as anything else that bears its name. The opening scene sets the mood beautifully, with Roger stumbling around in search of his morning cup of coffee without even noticing that the ship he’s on is under attack from any spacecraft. As he flees for the semi-safety of planet Aries 6, both the space battle around him and the CG fly-throughs of its orbital station as he arrives make it clear that this is going to be a Space Quest adventure on an epic new scale.

He doesn't like you much. Restore, Restart, Quit?

It doesn’t disappoint. What starts as fairly a small scale story about Roger finally popping the question to Beatrice soon explodes into a convoluted but well-crafted tale of time-travel, interplanetary conspiracy, planet destroying superweapons and more, all served up with tons of action, awesome deaths to subject Roger to, some genuinely tender moments, and a script that somehow still finds time to be really, really funny as well. Like Vohaul Strikes Back, it starts reasonably slowly, but that’s easily forgotten once the main story gets revved up.

Supposedly, Incinerations was designed so that the Space Quest characters and references could be ripped out and replaced with original ones in the event of a Cease and Desist, but I have no idea how the story would have worked afterwards. Everything here is intricately tied to events in the main series, not only wrapping up just about every lingering question and lingering plot thread short of finding what willan on-happen on Estros and finally mollifying the Gippazoid Novelty Company, but providing the series as a whole with a satisfying sense of closure.

In the future, there is no copyright infringement.

Even more noticeably than Vohaul Strikes Back, Incinerations’ feel is completely different to the official games. It’s more dynamic for starters, with the action often segueing into fully rendered cut-scenes, and entirely built around its narrative rather than treating its plot as something to simply hang a few gags onto. Incinerations still features those moments, from a Dalek cleaning droid to a Roberta Williams theme park, but prefers to spend more of its time on new running themes, like Roger’s war with a cheery ship’s computer that just loves to torture him, and the jagged love triangle between him, Beatrice, and Space Quest VI’s Stellar Santiago.

This side does showcase one of Incineration’s few big stumbles though – its handling of Beatrice. While Roger himself is very different to the intrepid space janitor of earlier versions, often dipping into realms of stupidity that only exist to give Ralph Wiggum someone to look down on, it’s easy to overlook that because he remains an endearing kind of fool. Bea on the other hand has gone from being a smart, dedicated ambassador who spent much of Space Quest V being won over by his inadvertent acts of heroism to being one of the the most toxic women in gaming history. Sure, her future-relationship with Roger and the child destined to come of it was a millstone around the series’ neck from the moment it was mistakenly added at the end of Space Quest IV, but ye gods, Incinerations has it in for her. She’s cruel, vicious, violent, at times borderline sociopathic, and every single second Roger spends trying to win the cold dark void where her heart should be is time that would be better spent taking Stellar out for a round of drinks. And actively not drugging her unconscious for the sake of solving a puzzle. Again.

Wankmeister-hatedom aside, the writing is fun throughout, with both new and returning characters slipping easily into the universe – a mysterious informant from the future, a new robotic pal, and even Roger’s new rival, General Havoc, who ends up having rather more depth than you’d expect for a character called General Havoc. Most importantly, everyone feels like they’re playing for high stakes in this one, giving things a palpable sense that they actually matter even as you scour the universe for new ways to kill and humiliate poor Roger.

Let's see, Stellar's been turned into an elite super-spy who flies around on a hoverbike while wearing sunglasses, often in front of big explosions, lost those unsightly Klingon head-ridges, and unlike Beatrice, can actually go outside when it rains without melting. Anyone else thinking 'Author's Pet' here?

Incinerations was a wonderful surprise. It’s not Space Quest as we know it, but it packs every bit as much charm, considerably more action, and isn’t afraid to poke a little fun at itself where necessary – not least its own occasionally dodgy graphics, and specifically the fact that Roger appears to have grown boobs since his last outing. When it wants to show off though, it has no trouble impressing with the kind of action the Space Quest series never came close to, and to a scale that goes above and beyond the call of duty for any fan-made game. Both of Roger’s new adventures are worth a play, but if you only have time for one, download this.

And The Rest…

In the mood for more Space Quest action? Many fangames have been started, but only a few ever actually see a release. Here’s a rundown of the ones that made it onto the interweb.

I JUST WANTED TO GO INTO SPACE!

Space Quest: Replicated is set before the first game in the series, with Roger Wilco waking up from yet another nap only to find all his crewmates dead. Uses the classic AGI parser interface, and is pretty long. Unfortunately it’s also largely set on Labion, and Labion sucks.

Jungle. Why did it have to be jungle?

Space Quest: The Lost Chapter takes place between Space Quest 2 and 3, with Roger’s escape pod crashing on a new planet after an accident. This planet is not Labion, but may as well be. Why are people obsessed with that stupid planet? I have no idea…

Wait, those weren't here last time I came into this bar...

Space Quest 4.IV: Roger Wilco and the Voyage Home is another interquel. Fully voiced, but mostly made up of backgrounds ripped from other adventure games. Honestly, not played this one much, but it can’t possibly be worse than Quest for Glory 4 1/2. Shudder.

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38 Comments »

  1. Dominic White says:

    Seconding that Incinerations is a great game. It’s well written, surprisingly well animated, the puzzles aren’t frustrating, and it just feels *right*.

    As for Roger looking like he has boobs, the game actually references this. It is *very* self-aware.

    Y’know what? It feels like a Futurama movie, made into a game. But better written than the movies. And a good game.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Yeah, it’s referenced both in his first conversation with Stellar (which is what I was alluding to above) and in a timeline that adds all of the fan-games and was written by Incinerations’ creator. Which was a relief, because I was starting to wonder if I was seeing things after a whole weekend sitting on my own in a darkened room playing Space Quest fangames…

    • Igor Hardy says:

      So… so Roger has boobs on purpose?

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I suspect it’s more acknowledgement of something realised during development. Though the fact that Vohaul’s new form looks like a more… cough… family friendly Dr. Manhattan seemed to escape a riff.

    • Dominic White says:

      The 3d models used in the game are from all over – there’s a lengthy chunk in the credits for them, although the game itself is largely a one-man project. The Roger model is just a little flawed, and they cutely acknowledge this in the game.

  2. TheGreatSashimi says:

    I’m mildly ashamed to admit that I gave a gleeful air-punch when I saw the VGA Space Quest 2 was out. Seeing as the original SQ2 teamed up with the (also deeply flawed) King’s Quest 4 to usher my preschool self into the hobby that would come to define my entire existence, I can’t help but love the sadistic bastard.

    Obviously time-since-last-played and my nostalgia prevents me from defending the game with anything approaching rational objectivity, but I feel for all its Jungle-sameyness and pointlessly frustrating death-mazes it works a bit better than SQ1. My young self hated that most of the environments in the first game would kill you for waiting in one place too long or for exploring past its invisible death-fences. For most of SQ2 you could wander around as you pleased and enjoy your pixellated freedom in an alien world (though admittedly at the expense of the narrative, the remainder of which 6-year old me still found hilarious).

    Obviously freedom doesn’t excuse shitty puzzle design (Hello King’s Quest 2, 3 and 5!) but I think that many of SQ2′s challenges (again, godawful death-maze and grammar-troll glowing gems aside) were fun and exciting. I vividly remember the suspense and excitement of the original incarnation of the captured-by-hunter scene depicted in the second screenshot, which was the first time in my life (in a game or otherwise) that I felt I had outwitted an opponent rather than outmanoeuvred him.

  3. Bluerps says:

    Uhm. Is that a joke I’m not getting, or is that sentence supposed to be this way?
    “[...] short of finding what willan on-happen on Estros [...]“

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Consult your copy of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, specifically the entries on Dr. Dan Streetmentioner’s Time Traveler’s Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations.

    • Bluerps says:

      That won’t do me any good, because I own that book only in german. But I don’t need the book anyway, since I think I know now what you’re talking about there.

    • Josh W says:

      Wow, the time travel tenses bit translated into german? I hope they had a particularly witty translator to take advantage of that opportunity!

  4. pcj says:

    “First came the polished-up remake Space Quest 2 VGA”

    Actually VSB was released a week before SQ2.

  5. Richard Cobbett says:

    A couple of people have brought up the number of saveslots thing in Space Quest 2 claiming that you get either unlimited, or a generous number of saves. In my copy – I just went back and counted to make sure – I got 20 slots before I had to start overwriting them*. That may sound like a lot, but only if you already know your way through the game and don’t have to worry about screwing yourself over anywhere. And no, there’s no Change Directory button to fall back on.

    (* And my PC currently has 600GB of free space on its primary drive.)

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      Agree on the limited saves, although I consider 20 to be a lot (I re-used a few by the end).

      Seemed a little unnecessary really, a bit like the text-input bits.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      It’d be okay for a game not of the time that brought us the words ‘save early, save often’. (The other two games have just as many deaths, though no dead ends, but follow the SQ6 approach of putting you right back where you left off. You still want saves in case of crashes, but not, say, sudden Xenomorph attack.)

  6. Andy_Panthro says:

    On the subject of graphical adventure gaming, there’s a fine fellow by the name of The Trickster that’s working his way through every graphical adventure game released for the PC.

    He’s already done a few Sierra games, and a few other early adventures that I’d not heard of. He’s now on The Black Cauldron.

    http://advgamer.blogspot.com/

  7. paralipsis says:

    I guess I am one of those rare people that has a great fondness for the original version of Space Quest II. I freely admit this may be a case of video game Stockholm syndrome, but I was only around 12 or so when I developed this attachment, so I don’t think any reasonable arguments against the game can penetrate that kind of deep indoctrination.

    • mjomble says:

      Heh, I know how you feel, I have the same thing with SQ6. I stumbled upon the game back when I could barely understand English, but still somehow made my way through it with a walkthrough. Years later I rediscovered the series, played through the earlier ones and found out that everyone hates SQ6.

      And even more years later, I helped some friends make a sequel to the series, which ultimately got released and now reviewed on one of my favourite gaming sites: RPS

      Thanks, Richard – glad you liked our game! :D
      We’ll be sure to let you know when the voice pack is finished so you can do it all over again :)

      - mjomble, Team VSB

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Thanks for making it – had a great time playing :-)

      (And I’ve always felt SQ6 gets a slightly bad rap. It’s not great, most of it’s not even that good, things like the Datacorder and what happened to Mandel are obviously inexcusable, and the second half is dreadful, but I did enjoy some of the stuff on Polysorbate and the Deepship and the demo sold me on it with just the crap on Roger’s table and the Soylent Clear jingle.)

    • mjomble says:

      And the Bjorn! You gotta love the Bjorn.

  8. Grey_Ghost says:

    Oh man I was crazy for just about anything Sierra Online did back in the day, though oddly enough I consciously avoided all things Kings Quest (I don’t remember why). Space Quest 5 was the pinnacle of the series for me, I hated SQ6.

    Heroes Quest / Quest for Glory 1&2 are my favorite games from that era. QFG3 turned me off the series. The first thing you were asked to do was pick a class, which enraged my younger self.

    Games like Space Quest, Police Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Codename: ICEMAN etcetera took up nearly all of my PC gaming time back then. Now I can’t be arsed to finish playing that copy of Monkey Island I bought off steam a year and a half ago.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Er… not sure what you mean about QFG. The first thing you have to do in all of them was pick a class. QFGIV was by far my favourite of that series, as I wrote about a while ago. Mordavia was such an awesome location.

      And yeah, Space Quest V is my favourite of the series too. SQIV is clever and you can’t beat the Bargain Bin, SQ3 blew me away when I first played it, but I really like the sprawling nature of V – the ship, the character development as Roger wins over his crew, the illusion of control.

    • Grey_Ghost says:

      I could have sworn QFG3 pigeonholed you into a certain story aspect depending on your choice. I remember there being a lot of freedom in the previous games. I didn’t start any new characters in QFG3, I was importing mine from the first 2 games.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      It’s more restricted than the rest (Thieves are very underserved), especially when it comes to raiding the Liontaur village and joining the Simbani, but… I don’t know, I was kinda okay with that. Magic User wins the drum with a test of spellcasting, Thieves steal it and so on. You also fight the Demon Wizard in different ways depending on your class. Most is the same though.

    • Igor Hardy says:

      Quest for Glory 3 was much better if far shorter and less non-linear than its predecessors. They finally balanced the stats correctly – in QfG 1 & 2 your prowess was regularly inadequate to the challenge. The game world felt much more alive and events developed nicely as time went by (rather than killing you immediately if you didn’t prepare for them QfG 2 style).

  9. Carra says:

    This reminds me that I still have to play the fan made Broken Sword 2.5.

    It’s great to see these projects which are done for nothing but the love of creating games.

  10. Datadog says:

    Thanks for the write-up! You’re right about Roger’s boobs being an after-thought in SQInc (it was about halfway through production when I finally got glasses.) As for Beatrice, I feel there was a lot of missed opportunities (i.e. all of them) to help the audience empathize with her. Fortunately, people have been giving me some good creative feedback on how to better handle her character arc, so I’ll probably give her side-plot an overhaul (among other things) when the special edition gets started down the road.

    VSB was my favorite project among the three. It was a great team to work on, and we had a lot more elbow room for puzzles, exploration and humor. I didn’t even realize how big a game it was until after release when someone on the team made a casting list and revealed the 70+ characters to voice.

    Anyway, thanks again for the reviews and for putting so much effort into playing all the games in so short a time! I’ll be sure to consider your criteria for future releases and projects.

    • mjomble says:

      And it hasn’t been mentioned here yet, but the Renegade ending of VSB does sort of pave the way for Bea’s behavior in Incinerations. Although scaling it down a bit in the special edition couldn’t hurt :)

      As for the size of VSB, here’s some approximations that just went up on our FAQ:
      90 playable rooms
      70 speaking characters
      8000 lines of dialogue
      7700 sprites
      50 pieces of music
      80 inventory items
      60-70 unique ways for Roger Wilco to die

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Thanks for the game, sir. Look forward to seeing them.

  11. Ankheg says:

    Is this a Deadshot on seventh picture? :/

    • fiasco says:

      That’s General Havoc, who to me looks kind of like Gordon Freeman

  12. Prime says:

    WHAT is the HERESY of that HERETICAL version of the universe’s favourite Paranoid Android doing cameoing in that top screenshot? A plague upon their houses, sayeth I!!!

  13. unless says:

    In spite of being a huge Sierra fan at the time (especially QfG), I somehow missed out on the Space Quest games. I think I played one of them for about half an hour, got immensely frustrated, and wrote off the whole series. Anyone have some advice on which ones are worth playing now, and which ones I should just look up an LP for so I know what happened? I’d like to give these new ones a shot.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      SQ1 had a VGA remake that’s not a bad starting place. Of the later games, SQ5 is the most welcoming, followed by SQ4 if you ignore the extremely hostile starting area (complete with instant death wandering monster). SQ3 is great when it gets started, but has a veeeerrrrryyyy slow first area.

      SQ6 is best saved until last. SQ2, you may as well play in remake form.

    • mjomble says:

      My recommendation: Download VSB, use the Recap option in the main menu, watch everything up to SQ4, then stop it (there’s some spoilers in the SQ5 section) and play the actual SQ5. It’s one of the most liked games in the series.

      …but later do play VSB and Incinerations as well :)

  14. 11temporal says:

    I loved space quest 2 and still do. Labion was awesome.

  15. vegaswanderer says:

    “In this case though, it feels like a lot of time and effort has been spent on a game that really doesn’t deserve it”

    Well, that’s only your opinion there. Particularly, i enjoyed SQ2 much more than the frustrating and crowded with arcade sequences SQ3. At least in Space Quest 2 Roger has an objective: escape, and he is forced to go to Vohaul’s fortress instead of absurdly playing hero like in SQ3. Also, Labion is awesome and “Labion Escape 2″ is one of the best themes in the whole saga. In SQ3 you just wander around until you are bored to death and decide to spend your time with the Astro Chicken arcade machine. Besides, it always bugged me that Roger is willing to risk his neck for the two guys which he doesn’t know at all. Doesn’t make any sense. Still, SQ3 has some nice parodies (Arnie, Sierra/Scumsoft) but too many arcade sequences and non existent plot lowers the score for me.