Review by Flashman85

Reviewed: 05/14/08

This one's purely a matter of taste.

Since its release in 1989, Space Quest III has been the object of both popular and critical acclaim. The plot, music, technological advances, and humor of the game are frequently cited for their excellence. That the game is easy and too short are often cited as shortcomings. Perhaps more than for any other Space Quest game, how you feel about Space Quest III depends on how you feel about the execution of the elements of the game--plot, graphics, puzzles, etc.--that are most important to you.

Space Quest III picks up where Space Quest II left off: You, Roger Wilco, space janitor, are asleep in an escape pod, adrift in space. Appearing to be nothing more than space junk, your pod is picked up by a robot garbage freighter. You awaken from your slumber to find your pod inside the freighter among piles of wreckage and abandoned or damaged spaceships.

If you’re reading this review, you’re hopefully already familiar with a text parser interface such as the one in Space Quest II. If not, consider playing through Space Quest II (after reading my review for it, hint hint) before you start playing this one, as everything will make more sense. Regardless, the text parser here is an upgrade from previous versions: first, the game’s vocabulary is surprisingly large, allowing the parser to understand more commands and synonyms than ever before; second, typing in a command will pause the action, finally saving slow and inaccurate typers from untimely deaths in situations where every second counts. Depending on how quickly you type and how your game is configured, you might see an occasional lag in what you’re typing (specifically after you’ve deleted some text), but it’s hardly an issue.

With this improved text parser comes improved graphics. The text is flashier than before because of the fancy serif font it uses, which may or may not take a little bit of getting used to. It’s difficult to believe that the entire game only uses 16 colors; everything is so detailed and colorful, which helps to make the characters and locations some of the most memorable in the series. There are a few places where all the screens start to look the same, but that might be intentional, as it adds to the atmosphere and challenge of the places in question.

Also adding to the atmosphere is the music, composed by drummer Bob Seibenberg of the rock band Supertramp. The music is energetic, tense, creepy, pleasant, atmospheric, and ridiculous, all in the right places. It’s a huge step up from the sounds of the PC speaker heard in the previous two installments, and it’s very catchy.

The sound effects are equally good. I generally don’t have much to say about sound effects unless they’re truly obnoxious--years of listening to Mega Man’s charging blaster have trained me to ignore most of them--but Space Quest III does them right, and does them well. All the clanks and swooshes sound just like they're supposed to.

In fact, atmosphere-wise, nearly everything is perfect. Space Quest III looks and sounds exactly like a Space Quest game should. The character designs, the items, the backgrounds, and the computer displays all feel like they really belong, and the sounds match what you see.

One thing that might seem out of place is the ending. Granted, beating the game is a very gratifying experience, but the ending sequence breaks away from the established atmosphere in a big non sequitur, becoming a farce that might be construed as going too far, even by Space Quest standards. If you’re just looking at this game as merely a means to amuse you, then the ending shouldn't be any problem. If you’ve become engrossed in the Space Quest universe and want to stay there, then you might take issue with the ending.

Aside from that, only the death messages feel out of place. This is the first game in the series to feature a close-up picture of poor Roger after he’s met his terrible fate, and there’s a surprising amount of gore in most of the pictures. This might not bother some people, but the often-disgusting Space Quest deaths are made even more disgusting to the squeamish with the inclusion of blood and, occasionally, guts; this might discourage some players from intentionally lingering too long in the den of vicious rats, falling into lava, opening the glass case holding a dangerous Anterean Slime Devil, or doing anything else that would kill off Roger for a laugh.

Some of the death messages are particularly funny. For instance, you’ll receive this message after falling to your death from one particularly high height: “We haven't seen footwork like that since Gerald Ford! Unfortunately, your fall causes you to make contact with the non-moving deck below. The resulting impact forces the cancellation of your subscription to life.” Sarcasm, irreverence, and self-mocking permeate the game, shaping the humor of some of the responses to the commands you type as well as the numerous sight gags. There’s even humor in the menu bar if you poke around enough. The game also features a respectable number of spoofs and references ranging from Transformers to McDonald’s to The Terminator. These parodies are not limited to the realm of science fiction, nor are they so overdone that they overshadow the originality of the game. All in all, the humor is very satisfying.

Based on what has been described so far, the popular and critical acclaim Space Quest III garnered seems well-deserved. And, if you feel that the play control, graphics, sound, and humor are all the most important aspects of a Space Quest game, then yes, this game is every bit as good as they say it is. However, all that might not be enough for you to give this game such high marks.

If you’ve read any documentation about the game, you’ll probably know that the real plot of the game is to rescue some software programmers, the Two Guys From Andromeda, from the clutches of the evil software corporation, ScumSoft. If you just went ahead and started playing the game without knowing much about it, you’d think that the point of the game was to explore the garbage freighter until you figured out that you were supposed to find a way out of it, and then fly around the galaxy, desperately looking for something to do next. In order to discover that the two guys have been kidnapped, you need to play one of the worst arcade games in history until a secret message pops up that can only be decoded with an item that you may or may not have any idea exists. That is, assuming you didn’t give up on the game after the first or second failed attempt.

Of course, you can’t find this secret message until halfway through the game. Until that happens, you are merely traveling to different locations, trying to stay alive long enough to figure out what you’re supposed to do. Even when you do learn of the Two Guys’ plight, it becomes apparent that Roger Wilco simply has nothing better to do than to risk his life to save two guys he knows next to nothing about. The secret message doesn’t even say why the Two Guys are being held captive; maybe they were stealing paper clips? There’s too little at stake here; up until the very end of the game, you are only fighting for your own life, and half the time for no other reason than that you have nothing else to do.

Much of the game is set up that way: either you are fighting for your own life or you have nothing to do. The garbage freighter and parts of the volcanic planet Ortega are really the exceptions to this, for they play much more like the rest of the games in the series, allowing you to explore an area, collect items and perform actions that are necessary to achieve a clear goal, and fight for your life in a few designated spots. Half of the rest of Quest III is characterized by constantly moving and acting quickly in a struggle to survive (two parts of the game involve non-optional arcade sequences, I might add). For some players, the fast-paced action might be right up their alley. For players who have difficulty with arcade sequences and players who prefer using their minds over their reflexes, this might not be so appealing. The other half of the rest of the game is drastically opposite: you get all the time in the world to sit around, look at the scenery, buy things, and try to figure out what you should do next, and only the humor makes you feel like what you’re doing is not a waste of time.

There are only a few really solid non-action-oriented puzzles throughout the game, and most of them are found in the garbage freighter. Those that remain are a mostly a matter of having the right tool for the job or doing the same thing at least twice, if not many more times. Repetition is fine for some adventure game tests to make sure the player succeeds on skill instead of luck, but the repetition in some of these puzzles and in some of the arcade sequences precariously straddles the border between challenge and lazy extension of how long it takes to beat the game.

There are also several screens, most notably on Ortega, where there are no puzzles at all, no action sequences, nothing to interact with, and little or no humor. Maybe these screens were meant to add to the atmosphere, but they cry out for something--anything--to come along and fill them. Perhaps, like some of the repetitive puzzles, they are an attempt to superficially extend the length of the game, as it is unquestionably the shortest in the series; it is very possible for a first-time player to go through the entire game in a single afternoon. A short game is not necessarily a bad one, but with as relatively little adventuring as there is to do in Space Quest III, you might wind up feeling gypped.

Overall, Space Quest III is not a bad game. Its interface, graphics, music, sound effects, humor, characters, and atmosphere strongly argue that it is, at the very least, a decent game. However, your opinion on the plot, clarity of goals, puzzles, action sequences, length, deaths, and ending will determine whether it’s anything other than just a decent game. I, for one, find that I like about as much of it as I dislike, but it is still very much worth playing for its positive aspects and how it figures into future Space Quest games.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Product Release: Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon (US, 03/22/89)

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