Review by Flashman85
Weakest entry in the series, but necessary.
Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge was released in 1987, just over a year after its tremendously popular predecessor hit the shelves. Like other sequels, it ran the risk of being a huge disappointment, precluding the possibility of further sequels. However, as the sales figures, four subsequent Space Quest games, one remake, and fan-created games prove, Space Quest II was very successful... but is it any good?
You once again play as Roger Wilco (assuming you choose the default name when given the option at the beginning of the game), the unexpectedly heroic space janitor who recently saved the universe from the evil Sariens. You have been reassigned to Xenon Orbital Station 4 (XOS 4) and are going about your routine when you are captured by Sludge Vohaul, the mastermind behind the events of Space Quest I. As punishment for ruining his plans, you are sent to the planet Labion to labor on in the Orium mines, but you never quite make it to the mines; your hovercraft crashes in the Labion jungle, killing the guards escorting you and leaving you to find a way off the planet to stop Vohaul from his latest nefarious plan.
Like other adventure games of its time, Space Quest II uses a text parser interface where you type such eloquent commands as LOOK TREE and THROW BABY to interact with your environment. Text parsers are notorious for, among other things, trial-and-error typing to accomplish tasks that would be simple with a point-and-click interface, such as trying to USE, ACTIVATE, CONTROL, TURN ON, UTILIZE, and OPERATE the COMPUTER that is right in front of you, when the only thing that works is to LOOK AT COMPUTER SCREEN. Fortunately, Space Quest II's text parser is intelligent enough that you're likely to only find about two or three spots in the entire game where you know exactly what you want to do but not how to say it.
The graphics are similar to those of Space Quest I (EGA version, of course), but a little more detailed. Given that the game uses a maximum of 16 colors, the graphics are pretty good, and the level of detail is such that you'll rarely have to guess at what any given thing on your screen is. The only problem is that you'll probably get sick of looking at most of the backgrounds after a while. Your time on the visually interesting XOS 4 is extremely short, and then the remainder of the game is spent in the dull jungles and caves of Labion and the hallways of Vohaul's secret hideout. Almost everything is green in the jungle sections of Labion, almost everything is blue in Vohaul's hideout, and all but a few screens of the Labion caves are pitch black.
The uninteresting locations on their own might be tolerable if there were more to do on each screen, but this game often takes more of a King's Quest I approach, an approach that leaves you to wander around large areas while picking up whatever items you happen to find, avoiding enemies, and maybe solving some minor puzzles here and there. Vohaul's hideout isn't so bad due to the fact that the hallways are small and can be traversed quickly, but the Labion jungle is expansive and repetitive enough to make you forget what you're doing.
Labion is the worst offender in this department, but the puzzles in this game are easily the lamest or worst-designed in the whole Space Quest series. Some of the puzzles will make you feel as though you're doing what you're supposed to do, but for some reason it isn't working; these puzzles feel like they weren't meant for a text parser. Others feel like they were only put in to make the game longer by wasting your time. To illustrate how obtuse and frustrating some of these puzzles are, I'll need to use a few minor spoilers, but I'll keep everything as vague as possible; if you don't want to hear them, skip the next three paragraphs.
*BEGIN MINOR SPOILER SECTION*
For example, there's one part where you need to dive underwater, but you start to drown. One would assume that you either need to find an item that will help you breathe. In reality, you must HOLD BREATH before diving, which one would assume is done automatically (especially given how far you can swim before you start to drown).
The most painful puzzle in the whole game and, indeed, in the whole Space Quest series, is the root monster maze. You must carefully walk through a maze of roots that takes up about 3/4 of the screen to get to an item on the other side. If you touch any part of the roots, you die, and there are places where you must walk diagonally with only a few pixels to spare on either side. Reducing the game speed and saving/reloading every few steps is truly the ONLY way to get through this maze. Can it get worse? Yes. After you claim the necessary item on the other side, there is no other way out except to go through the maze in reverse.
About halfway through the game there's a screen that you MUST pass through, where if you did not rescue an alien earlier on in the game, you get killed with absolutely no explanation why. There's a certain point well before this screen where the alien you need to rescue simply disappears, which means that you have to load a much earlier saved game or restart entirely to be able to continue. And do you know what that means? That means you need to replay most or all of the first half of the game, which includes--you guessed it--the root monster maze. You may begin screaming... now.
*END MINOR SPOILER SECTION*
Something positive about the puzzles is that many of them have multiple solutions, which is good because it's possible to miss collecting some of the items that are necessary for some of the solutions. Still, there are a few places where you can get stuck and need to restart if you don't have the right item, and nobody likes that. Most of the puzzles in Vohaul's hideout, at least, are a little more intuitive, and it's much easier to make sure that you've gotten everything because of the more linear design. Of course, the puzzles mostly consist of dodging enemies, but the point remains.
But enough about the puzzles. Along with the low-tech graphics are the low-tech music and sound effects, which are really as simplistic as you can get while still calling them music and sound effects. Even though there's something magical and nostalgia-inducing (for some people) about hearing the Space Quest theme blipped and bleeped through a PC speaker, this version is probably the least inspiring out of all of them. Aside from the main theme, you'll also hear Vohaul's theme (which you'll hear again in Space Quest IV if you're paying attention), but scarcely anything else. Even the sound effects aren't too plentiful; you'll end up playing most of the game in silence until you either do something important or die.
...And that's something you'll do a lot: die. There are plenty of ways to die in this game, which range from drifting off into space to being shredded apart to being flattened by a floor waxer, but for as long as you're on Labion, every other screen contains something that will eat you. There's also a respectable amount of falling to your doom, but that's to be expected.
A large part of the humor in the Space Quest games comes from the death sequences and the resulting messages that make fun of you, and this game has some of the most amusing messages in the series. Actually, that's where most of the humor in this game comes from. There are other aspects of the game that are funny, such as the descriptions you get when you look at things; for example, the description of one of the guards who died in the hovercraft crash in the jungle: "The guard appears to be less thick than you remember him. Many of his formerly contained body fluids seem to be at large." However, the funny messages from LOOKing at and interacting with your environment are surprisingly infrequent.
Much of the humor in the Space Quest series also comes from sight gags, parodies, and references. As mentioned before, most of the locations are uninteresting to look at, so sight gags are out. Furthermore, there are so few parodies and references that one might think there aren't any at all: Planet of the Apes, RoboCop, and Alien are among the very few you'll see, and most are only good for a quick chuckle.
So, to recap: most of the locations are dull, music and sounds are largely absent, some of the puzzles are frustrating and obtuse, and a lot of the humor that should be there is missing. Why, then, should you play this game? The plot, that's why, but not because it's anything totally groundbreaking. Rather, the plot of Space Quest II plays an important role in Space Quests III, IV, and V, and having played it makes Space Quest 6 funnier. It's certainly possible to play these games without having played Space Quest II, but everything makes a lot more sense if you have, especially in the case of Space Quest III.
The bottom line is that if you can get past all of the problems with Space Quest II, you'll find a decent adventure game with some good challenges, a reasonably intelligent text parser interface, some of the funniest death messages in the whole series, and plot that brings all of the other Space Quest games together. Is it any good? Not really, but it has its moments, and is still worth playing.
Product Release: Space Quest II: Chapter II - Vohaul's Revenge (US, 12/31/87)
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