Thursday, 16 September 2021

Space Quest V - Final Rating

Written by Joe Pranevich

For some players, Space Quest IV was the “true” end of the Space Quest saga. With an amazing time-travel plot to hint at Roger’s future exploits, it could have served as a capstone on the series. Roger ended that game knowing that someday he would have a family and be regarded as a hero. Not long after, Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy (“The Two Guys From Andromeda”) had a falling out. With their partnership disbanded, the series could (and perhaps should) have ended there. Instead, the following years brought us two further adventures: Space Quest V (1993), by Mark Crowe and David Selle, and Space Quest 6 (1995), by Josh Mandel and Scott Murphy. With only half the creative team on each, would these sequels be able to live up to their predecessors? 

When I started playing this one, my first question was about what would be missing; what did Scott Murphy bring to the party and would I be able to detect the absence of his charm? Would a game with 50% less “Andromeda” even feel like Space Quest? I’m not sure that it does, but I’m also pleased by how successful this attempt has been in its own right. Crowe and Selle pulled together a game that had much of what made Space Quest great, while layering on a “Next Generation” of humor and parody. I had a lot of fun and I hope you did too.

Now comes the difficult part where I have to put scores to my thoughts. Is this better or worse than Space Quest IV? Will our tie for 10th place expand to five titles? Let’s get to work.

Trying to lure a fish to land on the communicator was not the best puzzle.

Puzzles and Solvability

The heart of an adventure game is its puzzles, and while Space Quest V had a good selection of those, few were particularly deep or clever. When I think about the types of puzzles that Space Quest was known for, I think about the “chase sequences” and arcade mini-games. This game had only one chase sequence, the battle with W-D40, and it was executed well. A small number of timing puzzles were trivial. The closest we come this time around to an arcade mini-game is that Battleship clone that Roger plays against Quirk, but that required none of the fast reflexes that previous games required. 

The best puzzle in the game, and perhaps one of my favorites for the series, is the laser-powered key slot in the Genetix lab. I love that it plays off Roger being transformed into a fly and that we can pass the beams without understanding what was going on. We might not even pay attention. It’s only later when we have to remember what happened with the lock when as traversed each individual beam, plus work out to use the business card and hole punch together, that the puzzle even comes into focus. Add to it that we actually needed to punch holes in the inverse of where the lasers implied and it’s a work of genius. I really like this puzzle. 

The worst puzzle is undoubtedly the maze, although defusing the bomb is an easy second. (The fact that my game bugged and that puzzle became unsolvable didn’t help.) The maze is just overlong, overly boring, and uses the same art assets over and over again for an hour or more. I don’t know if they just wanted to pad out the ending, but this was the low point of the game for me. 

My score: 7. Not quite perfect, but one stellar puzzle and only a few weak ones.

The LCARS-like interface is used throughout the game.

Interface and Inventory

Space Quest V uses the standard Sierra interface of the day, but makes several improvements from the iteration used in Space Quest IV. First, the unnecessary “funny” verbs have been removed. All we have are “walk”, “look”, “use”, “talk”, “order” (more on that in a second), and “inventory”. This is a relief as no matter how funny it might have seemed to have “taste” and “smell”, they ultimately didn’t add much and just served as a distraction from the gameplay. The new “order” verb (a talk icon with an exclamation point) nicely serves to divide up Roger just talking with his crew to Roger issuing a command. Most of the time, that would trigger a separate menu for all of the things you can ask that crew member to do.

Having played (and complained about) Star Trek: 25th Anniversary’s cumbersome and inscrutable interface, Space Quest V does a great job of keeping all of the shipboard activities nicely understandable. We know that Flo will handle all of the communication tasks, while Droole handles the combat and navigation. It’s easy to see that raising shields might be a Droole task and it doesn’t need to have its own icon. 

We also have a great set of LCARS-like user interfaces on all of the computer terminals that we use. While we don’t get to use them all that much (the largest set is on the Genetix facility), it’s neat that the game used a consistent interface for the UI-within-a-UI. 

Inventory utilization is fairly simple and we don’t get a ton of useful things to interact with, but what we have works well enough. 

My score: 6. I should have gone 7 just for the LCARS, but we’ll give credit for that later.

Each planet had an interesting design.

Story and Setting

The story isn’t original. In fact, the TVTropes page for “Ragtag Bunch of Misfits” sums it up perfectly:

“This mission is important. The fate of the battle, nay, the war, nay, the entire world rests on the outcome. Who has the capability to stick it out, to give the good guys the victory they desperately need? This calls for a special team. The group of experienced, highly-skilled, professional, team-oriented experts? Not them. The assorted group of ex-con lowlife inexperienced cloudcuckoolanders or jerkasses who are trying to off their commander when they aren't going at each other? Yeah, them.”

And yet, it’s all done very well. The setting clearly evokes Star Trek, but doesn’t forget that Space Quest casts a wide net for its science fiction parody. We cheer as Roger gets to shine and, for once in his life, have friends and teammates that he can count on. The plot is well-done and consistent. The game’s core mystery, although playing liberally with humor, doesn’t cheat on the meat of the story. It makes sense, more or less.

My score: 7. It’s not going to win a prize for literature, but it’s good fun. 

No dynamic shadows? Practically unplayable.

Sound and Graphics

I wish I had the analysis capability to talk about what leitmotifs are riffs on Star Trek or Star Wars, what came from the previous games, and what was developed new. I don’t have the background or the ear for real musical criticism. But what I can say is that I enjoyed the score and that it is never overbearing. The game knows when to have quiet moments and when to have fanfare. The musical direction is good. Sound effects borrow from Star Trek and other genre works, but that’s part of the fun.

Graphics are pretty reasonable for this period. While the spaceship interiors aren’t that interesting, we have a few unique planets to explore, all lovingly hand-painted. Very little of the action is rendered in-engine and major dialog scenes are presented more like a comic book than anything else, giving the game a “pulpy” feeling. The EV pod, for whatever reason, appears to have been partly rendered as 3D polygons, although this may have been pre-rendered rather than “live”.

Special mention should be made of the graphics in the maze: they suck. Identical corridors with a few elements swapping randomly between screens doesn’t make for a good design. There is also no way (or nearly no way) to tell what directions you can go. The game was careful-- much more than its predecessors-- to make it obvious when you can travel in certain directions. It’s a shame they didn’t carry through.

My score: 7. Good 1990s stuff.

A nice bit of David vs Goliath imagery.

Environment and Atmosphere

Space Quest has always been good for tense chase sequences and funny exploration sections. This is a series where it is normal to be laughing and scared at the same time. Space Quest V raised the stakes and built an atmosphere that worked on multiple levels.

First, Space Quest V is perhaps the best tonally perfect parody of a Star Trek game that I have ever played. Filled with all of the love that we’d later see in works like GalaxyQuest (1999) and The Orville (2017), Space Quest V works both as a loving parody of Star Trek games, but also as a Star Trek-style adventure. We have some great locations, a “StarFleet”-alike bureaucracy, and even (almost) a “badmiral”. The ships echo other series, while still filling a Trek-style mold. We even have Trek-style moralizing with sexism, environmentalism, and the triumph of the human spirit. This game did Trek better than Star Trek: 25th Anniversary in almost every way. I have yet to play a Star Trek game better than this so-called parody. Can you recommend any?

Second, Space Quest V has tense moments and a growing sense of dread. There is atmosphere and pacing that works as horror. This game took the usual chase sequences and made them work in what amounts to a game about space zombies with Super Soakers. I adore what they managed.

My score: 7. I am sorely tempted to go higher.

Heavy handed moralizing… just like Star Trek!

Dialog and Acting

I wish that they had completed a “talkie” version of this game, because it would have been amazing. I won’t claim that characterization was done perfectly well, but Space Quest V managed to build a consistent story (foreshadowing all the way from the start of the game) with memorable characters. Beatrice, Quirk, Flo, Droole, W-D40, and Cliffy are all written well and each have multiple scenes to establish their characters and show growth. 

For all that sexism is a major trope in games of this kind, I also want to highlight that the female characters here kick a surprising amount of ass. Beatrice is assertive and puts up with none of Quirk’s BS, eventually escaping the pukoid menace and sabotaging their ship. While she gets clingy at the end while she is “woozy”, she doesn’t fall for Roger and there is still further growth to be had in their relationship. W-D40 has the boob guns, but she’s also the smartest member of the crew by far and gets some great lines. Only Flo doesn’t come off well. Although she shows a great deal of character growth for someone who is named for a menstruation joke, her development is mostly around whether or not she wants to bang Roger and her jealousy when he likes Beatrice more. Ass-kicking is not limited to the female characters; both Droole and Cliffy have their moments to shine. 

Despite some good stuff, it might be said that this game doesn’t pass the Bechdel test: none of the female characters ever talk to each other. That’s a shame, but it’s not even a question that we’ve been able to ask of most games of the era which have looser ensembles.

My Score: 7. They built an ensemble! How many Sierra games do that?

Drumroll please.

Doing The Math

The suspense is killing me! Let’s look at the scores: (7+6+7+7+7+7)/.6 = 68 points! That’s really good! Before we lock that in, I want to think about this carefully. Is this as good as the #7 games? Is it tied with Quest for Glory I and III? I really want to say “yes”, but Space Quest V doesn’t have the replayability of those games, nor the depth of puzzles. Given that (and my lingering distaste for the maze puzzle at the end of the game), I will deduct one point. That would place it above Space Quest IV and Quest for Glory II. Does that feel right? Yes, it does.

Final Score: 67 points!

With an average guess of 61 points, most of you felt that this would come in well below Space Quest IV. I’m not surprised: while I played this game as a kid, I remembered very little of it. Perhaps it is less memorable than that game, but I cannot help but feel that it is a better constructed game with plot, puzzles, and characterization that exceeds the others in the series. This score makes the game into the 9th highest scoring game so far and that feels just about right. Contributor and community member Will Moczarski commented a few months back that I have a weakness for Sierra games. I don’t believe this score will dissuade him of that notion. Sorry, Will!

Our winner with a spot-on guess is Ziggi! Congratulations! You’ll be getting your CAP award. Speaking of awards, we have a ton of them to give out. Let’s do it!

CAP Distribution

200 CAPs to Joe Pranevich

  • Blogger Award - 100 CAPs - For playing and blogging about Space Quest 5 for our enjoyment
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For playing and blogging about Bureaucracy for our enjoyment
  • Another Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For playing and blogging about Adventure Alpha for our enjoyment

120 CAPs for Will Moczarski

  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For the closest score guess for Bureaucracy
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For playing and blogging about The Palace of Deceit: The Secret of Castle Lockemoer for our enjoyment
  • Another Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For the closest score guess for The Nine Lives of Secret Agent Katt
  • Another Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For playing and blogging about The Palace of Deceit: The Dragon’s Plight for our enjoyment

110 CAPs to Morpheus Kitami

  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For playing and blogging about The Nine Lives of Secret Agent Katt for our enjoyment
  • Companion Award - 10 CAPs - For trying to play The Palace of Deceit: The Dragon’s Plight with Will
  • Another Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For playing and blogging about Weird Island for our enjoyment

57 CAPs to Ilmari

  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For playing and blogging about Knight Orc for our enjoyment
  • Code Cracker Award - 2 CAPs - For solving 1 puzzle of Dr. Kraus
  • Assisting Request Award - 5 CAPs - For giving a hint to Joe’s request for assistance

29 CAPs for Vetinari

  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For the closest score guess for The Palace of Deceit: The Secret of Castle Lockemoer
  • Code Cracker Award - 19 CAPs - For solving 9 and ½ puzzles of Dr. Kraus

28 CAPs for Sabrina LaFey

  • What’s Your Story Award - 25 CAPs - For sending in answers for What’s Your Story questions
  • Battleship Master Award - 3 CAPs - For telling how to get full points for Battleship minigame in SQ5

16 CAPs for ShaddamIVth

  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For the closest score guess for Bureaucracy
  • Physics 101 Award - 3 CAPs - For explaining science behind use of electricity in Knight Orc
  • Black Monolith Award - 3 CAPs - For pointing out a 2001 reference in SQ5

13 CAPs for Leo Vellés

  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For the closest score guess for Knight Orc
  • La Mosca Premio - 3 CAPs - Por recordarnos la película original de Vincent Price

12 CAPs for Laukku

  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For the closest score guess for The Palace of Deceit: The Dragon’s Plight
  • Code Cracker Award - 2 CAPs - For solving 1 puzzle of Dr. Kraus

11 CAPs for Lisa H.

  • Random Award - 3 CAPs - For an explanation for Random Q. Hacker’s name
  • Assisting Request Award - 5 CAPs - For giving a hint to Joe’s request for assistance
  • Historians Are Cool Award - 3 CAPs - For remember that there was a “boob gun” in Leisure Suit Larry V as well. 

10 CAPs for Ken Brubaker

  • Code Cracker Award - 10 CAPs - For solving 5 puzzles of Dr. Kraus

10 CAPs for Ziggi

  • Sci-Fi Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the score to Space Quest V right on the nose.

7 CAPs for Rowan Lipkovits

  • Random Award - 3 CAPs - For an explanation for Random Q. Hacker’s name
  • Invoking Categorical Imperative - 4 CAPs - For sharing details of a game he made

5 CAPs for Radiant

  • True Hacker Award - 5 CAPs - For trying to help Will get through a game crash in The Palace of Deceit: The Secret of Castle Lockemoer

5 CAPs for Kirinn

  • Technical Assistance Award - 5 CAPs - For helping Will with the settings of The Palace of Deceit: The Secret of Castle Lockemoer

4 CAPs for Sam

  • Code Cracker Award - 4 CAPs - For solving 2 puzzles of Dr. Kraus

3 CAPs for Agrivar

  • Spaceship Engineer Award - 3 CAPs - For recognizing classic spaceship designs in SQ5

3 CAPs for The Angry Internet

  • Have It On Betamax Award - 3 CAPs - For discussing the home editions of Star Trek: The Animated Series.

24 comments:

  1. "I have yet to play a Star Trek game better than this so-called parody."

    Ah! I never realised that, but that must be why SQ5 was always my favorite of the bunch.

    A notable difference from the previous games is also the lack of dark, cynical humor that I assume Murphy was more responsible for. The cynicism could get a bit depressing ultimately, so leaving that behind provided a more uplifting tone, easier for me to enjoy at least.

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    1. On the other hand, the lack of cynicism makes IMHO this too straightforward a zero-to-hero story. While the character development is more substantial there is also a lack of real surprises. Gain the appreciation of your crew? Check. Quirk is a bad guy to the end and ultimately defeated? Check. Save the day? Check. No out-of-left-field twists, like your future girlfriend wanting you dead, or an unpaid mail-order item in a previous game coming back to haunt you (it being recycled in this game makes it no longer a twist). Even the outcome of defeating the android is more helpful this time, with it joining your crew rather than being destroyed and forgotten, contributing to the feeling of lower risk for the protagonist.

      That said, the counterargument to "a boring idea well-executed is still a boring idea" is "a boring idea well-executed is still well-executed", and I do prefer this over VI which I recall is a mess.

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    2. I enjoy optimistic games over pessimistic ones. Perhaps that is why I love QfG4 so much because, despite the darkness of the premise, we're still helping those that need it to have as happy of endings as they can. Then again, I'm not rating QfG4...

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  2. As I recall, the first Space Quest game has an arcade minigame but no chase sequences; the second game has neither a minigame nor a chase sequence. It's only in the third game that the series becomes known for these kinds of puzzles.

    I feel SQ4 holds a similar position as King's Quest V: as they're both early VGA games with voice acting AND at a time where the adventure genre was very popular, they really stood out at their release and are well-positioned for nostalgia.

    However, SQ5 and KQ6 came in the middle of the VGA era and at a time where genres like FPSes made the headlines more. These games stood out less and have less nostalgia factor to them; but I'd call them better designed.

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    1. The first Space Quest had a chase sequence in the Kerona desert with the spider droid, and the second game sort of had one in the caves, and another at the end on the asteroid.

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    2. I don't find the spider droid much of a chase, nor a sequence. The cave squid doesn't chase you, there's one set location where it kills you and that's it. The marrow-matic, ok that is a chase.

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    3. The spider droid sequence is only a few screens, but so is the Arnoid sequence in SQ3. So is the mall sequence in SQ4.

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  3. I do not feel that this game deserves a better rating than "Quest for Glory II", but mostly because I think that QfGII is criminally underrated on this blog.

    In any case I agree with Laukku, even if the game is not at all original, it is well-executed. So, all in all, a fair rating.

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    1. QfG2 was one of my favorite games as kid and I've played it several times, but it's also very on-rails and time-bound. For that reason, I think Trickster's review was fair.

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  4. Don't really have any thoughts on the rating, but loved the coverage.

    Mostly I just wanted to let you guys know that I really appreciate your writings and hard work.

    Thanks!

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    1. I will second that, it was great to read and it asked some nice questions about story-telling!

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    2. I appreciate the positive feedback!

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  5. Sounds about right. This is definitely the best Space Quest game in my opinion. 4 had Gary Owens and time travel, but terrible design. This game with Gary Owens would have rocked, and I agree it's a shame we never got a talkie version.

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  6. Why is the Interface and Inventory only a 6 when it's pretty much perfect? Nothing bad is mentioned about it.

    (I actually prefer to have the Taste and Smell actions, by the way.)

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    1. It's a good question and I guess it's just subjective. The average for this generation of Sierra adventure is a 6.2 on interface so at least my score isn't out of bounds. Perfect consistency with these scores is very difficult, especially across reviewers.

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    2. The biggest reason I'm disappointed about this is that the game was so close to earning all 7s but didn't. :-P

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  7. It's great to see SQ5 get some recognition on this blog. Yes, SQ4 is a lot of fun, but 5 is the better executed game. I agree it deserved a talkie version; shame that never happened.

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  8. Space Quest IV will always be slightly better for me: it has better music, MUCH better jokes and a general feeling of surprise that V lacks.

    I should go back to Space Quest II and III, but II was too frustrating for my tastes. The VGA remake of the original is the only version of it I've played and finished, but I wish they would have chosen a different graphical style.

    Finally, here's a suggestion for future blog entries from Joe Pranevich. I'm one of the readerds fascinated by the fact that he considers some classical films too scary to watch, so he hasn't watched Alien... nor Gremlims! So I suggest that Joe watches these movies (starting with Gremlims) in 30 minute fragments and collects his feelings in blog entries. What do you think, Joe?

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    1. Wow. I appreciate that you remembered that! I'm sure that as an adult, I would probably deal with it but I had a lot of trouble as a kid. (I saw 5 minutes of one of the "Troll" movies and had trouble going into our basement after. For years, the hairs on the back of my neck would stand up whenever I went into a basement. It sounds funny to say now, but I was a sensitive soul or something.)

      I have considered playing Gremlins (1985) if I ever run out of Christmas games to play and I would watch the film before playing, but I think we still have some more unambiguously "Christmas" games to play first. This is about the time of year when I start to worry about finding one, so we'll see.

      While I appreciate the idea of blogging about scary movies in 30-minute chunks, I'm not sure quite enough people care about my opinions to warrant it. :)

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    2. My wife requests that we not do this. :)

      At the risk of being TMI, I suffer from occasional walking nightmares where I wake up in the middle of the night screaming, thinking that I am somewhere else or that someone is trying to break into the house. This happens maybe once a year, maybe a bit less. She is not interested in doing anything that could potentially cause this to happen more frequently...

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    3. FWIW I would not find it interesting to read; it seems off topic unless actually in the context of playing a Gremlins game, and even probably only merits a few paragraphs. This isn't a movie review blog or your personal blog, after all.

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    4. Reading that makes me think that if things are desperate enough for Gremlins, instead you should either go for ambiguously Christmas games or maybe even going ahead of where we really are. I mean, its not like most Christmas games aren't going to fall under the Missed Classic label anyway...

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    5. We're not going to run out of Christmas games quite yet. I have at least two more that are less ambiguous than "Gremlins", but we'll see what I pick when I pick it. I usually aim for something I can have fun researching (not just playing) and so who knows. It may be that "Gremlins" has a great history or story attached and I might be tempted to play it.

      As it is, this year's game is the one that I got the idea to do Christmas specials just so I could write about... I just didn't realize how many years it would take for us to get there.

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  9. ¡Hey José Pranevich, gracias por los tres CAPs en español!

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