Review by Flashman85

Reviewed: 11/30/10

Clearly less consistency; clearly more Space Quest.

If there’s one word to sum up Space Quest 6, it’s “inconsistent.” The game’s title is the first clue: what happened to Roman numerals? Ah, but that's only be beginning. As a standalone adventure game, SQ6 is decent entertainment. As a Space Quest game, it’s something of a letdown…but there are enough fantastic moments that you might end up liking it after all.

The story picks up just after the events of Space Quest V, where our space-janitor-turned-accidental-starship-captain Roger Wilco SHOULD be receiving a hero’s welcome. After all, he DID just rescue the galaxy from a horde of deranged mutants gallivanting around in the flagship of the StarCon fleet, right? Sure—the only problem is that StarCon doesn’t exactly approve of blowing up starships and vaporizing senior officers and calling it “creative puzzle solving.” Roger is stripped of his rank and demoted to being a janitor on a flying jockstrap (seriously) called the DeepShip 86.

Plotwise, this is where things begin to fall apart. Roger beams down to a dark, grungy industrial planet for shore leave, where the puzzles consist of wandering the streets aimlessly until you’ve collected enough Buckazoids to…spend the night in a hotel? At least in Space Quest III, the aimless wandering was balanced by the fun of traveling to different places in your very own spaceship and exploring colorful and varied new areas. SQ6 at least gives you a crowded arcade and a busy bar packed with strange aliens, but there isn’t that much to do, and there isn’t that much to look at (unless you love dark alleyways).

It takes a long time before the main plot kicks in (which entails sanitation, insubordination, and miniaturization), but even when it does, something doesn’t feel right. SQIV and V strongly establish the life-and-death importance of Roger’s love interest…and all of a sudden there’s another woman in his life, with hardly any reference to the person he SHOULD be with (for his own self-preservation, at least). It’s as though SQ6 is deliberately ignoring one of the biggest plot points of the series in order to pursue a fresh start that, ultimately, takes Roger on (arguably) the lowest-stakes adventure of his career, all the while raising more questions than it answers.

It might be easier to forgive the plot if the voice acting and storytelling made the story more engaging. For a Space Quest game, there’s an awful lot of dialogue between characters, and most of the time it lacks even a trace of the wonky humor that fans of the series have come to expect. The dialogue itself isn’t terrible, but it tends to drag on, and the voice acting does little to improve the situation.

There are a few characters who deliver their lines perfectly and whose voices really fit the characters, but too many of the characters sound more like a guy putting on a funny voice than an authentic character. It often seems like the actors were given no direction and only one or two takes to record their lines. Even Gary Owens, everyone’s favorite narrator from Space Quest IV, usually sounds like his heart isn’t in it. Usually. There are times, however, when he nails a line, and suddenly, Space Quest is funny again.

In fact, SQ6 has some of the most hysterical jokes in the entire series, if you’ve got a fondness for puns. The humor is based more on clever wordplay and the completely unexpected than on the snarky, sarcastic commentary that characterizes most of the series, but it still works well. There’s a wealth of fun cameos and references to previous games, and there’s enough parodies of other sci-fi such as Blade Runner and Forbidden Planet to keep fans happy for a while…when there’s anything to laugh about.

SQ6 continues the tradition of a point-and-click interface, except this time, clicking on every single object in a room will yield either a nonstop flood of laughter...or a bunch of straightforward and generally dull descriptions. Fortunately, there’s still enough morbid humor to be found in the staple of the Space Quest series, the death sequences. All six of them.

Well, there’s actually closer to twenty different ways to die, but that’s less than half of what’s offered in any other Space Quest game. That means there’s not as much to laugh about (if you enjoy the gross misfortunes of others). Furthermore, a lack of fatal consequences for stupidity and clumsiness greatly reduces the challenge of the game, especially considering that you really have to go out of your way to get dissolved in stomach acid or turned inside-out by a killer android.

Even when you do end up sending Roger to what should certainly be his doom, the game often holds your hand and tells you, “Better not; you’re likely to end up dead that way!” That’s fine for plenty of other adventure games, but, at the risk of sounding like a change-fearing curmudgeon, it’s not the way Space Quest works.

Another major departure from precedent is the way the graphics are presented. After two sequels and a remake featuring lush, hand-drawn art, we have CG mixed with the best-looking cartoons Microsoft Paint can buy. This isn’t the seamless, cartoony style of Curse of Monkey Island, mind you; this is Toon Roger stepping out of a CG shuttlecraft, and you’ll either like it or think it looks terribly unprofessional. Like most other things with the game, the graphics are inconsistent.

The inconsistencies and stark contrasts to the rest of the series aren’t so difficult to explain. SQ6 marks the longest period of time between sequels: SQI-V were released between 1986-1991, and it took nearly the same amount of time before SQ6 was released in 1995. That’s a lot of time for both technology and adventure gaming to change.

More importantly, designer Josh Mandel (of Freddy Pharkas fame) was replaced by Scott Murphy (who worked with Mark Crowe on SQI-IV) part of the way through the project. To make a long story short, the fact that there was a transition at all made the project a disaster, and nowhere is that more evident than in the puzzles.

There are some brilliant puzzle concepts in SQ6—escaping from a prison cell with the most elaborate-yet-simple solution possible; setting things up on multiple levels of a building to accomplish one task; etc. Some of these puzzles work spectacularly. More often, however, the solutions make perfect sense AFTER you’ve solved them, but are virtually impossible to discover without a walkthrough or excessive trial and error. When the guy who knows how to solve all the puzzles is removed from the project before he has a chance to include critical clues in the game, you get a bafflingly obtuse adventure.

Yet, when the game comes together as intended, it’s tremendous fun. There are some great laughs, some interesting challenges, and…well, I suppose that’s about the extent of it. I appreciate SQ6 for the humor and innovation it offers, but I’m not wild about the graphics, the voice acting, or the plot that tries too hard to take the series in a different direction.

I haven’t yet mentioned the audio, but the sound effects are sparse and somewhat grating. Typically, the music is typically either appropriately atmospheric or obtrusively lodged somewhere between atmospheric and barely melodic. Something similar can be said about nearly all the new characters SQ6 introduces: the ones in the background fit quite well, and the more noticeable ones aren’t completely forgettable, but aren’t overwhelmingly embraceable, either.

There are definite high points and low points. Laughter goes a long way in making up for SQ6’s disappointments, and anyone who’s not as picky about…everything I’ve been talking about for the past two or three paragraphs…is bound to like it more. It may not be the kind of conclusion the series deserves, but at least it’s one more chance for us to step into the boots of Roger Wilco and promptly suck ourselves out an airlock. Space Quest 6 is fun enough, but there’s a good chance it’ll leave you longing for the more consistent Space Quest games of yore.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Product Release: Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco in The Spinal Frontier (US, 12/31/95)

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