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