Space Quest 1: The Sarien Encounter

1987 Sierra On-Line
Designed by Mark Crow, Scott Murphy
Reviewed 2001 January 4

Rating -4 Linearity narrow
Reasonability sporadic Connectivity moderate
Difficulty pedestrian Relevance strong
Interface 3rd paned parser Real-time occasional

There are two versions of this game: the original EGA version and a later VGA remake. They are generally the same, but there are some minor differences. Comments apply to both versions unless specifically qualified.

The evil Sariens have stolen a powerful new thingamabob from the research spaceship Arcada, killing most everybody aboard. It's up to you, the ship's janitor, to first save yourself and then to track down the Sariens and take the whatsit back, thus saving the universe from Sarien tyranny.

There's only the barest bones of a plot, just enough to provide a framework for the pervasive parody and allusion. I found them too obvious to be funny, but the intent is infectious so it's a pleasant background to the gameplay. The characters, including Roger Wilco (that's you), are cardboard, and that's being charitable.

The gameplay is plagued with many of the problems common to the early Sierra game. Death can happen out of the blue, so save often. You can get trapped into long dead ends, some of which aren't even obvious once you find yourself stuck. If you see anything that appears doable, you should probably be doing it or you'll find yourself stuck later on. Also save before any choice, since you won't know right from wrong except from experience.

While the game is very linear, there are several alternate solutions to some challenges. These are seamlessly integrated into the gameplay. It might be worth replaying parts of the game to explore these alternate solutions.

The VGA version corrects some problems from the original EGA version, but also adds more real-time gameplay. There's a section in a desert where you have to run from a killer droid, while stopping every few seconds to take a drink of water -- very annoying.

I had some interface problems with the EGA version. It uses a parser for most of the character control, and I had several problems playing "guess the noun" (surprisingly, not "verb"). It wasn't clear what that blob on the screen was, so I had to make many guesses as to what it might be. At one point, a room description told me an object was there, but I couldn't discern it from the background! The basic engine is good, it is just poor artistic design and writing.

The VGA version was prettier, of course, and with no parser problems. There's also a nice MIDI score, as opposed to internal speaker chatter.

The game is very short, with few real challenges. All the difficulty comes from bad game design, which will probably lead you to needlessly replay large sections of the game, even if you save often. If the real-time play isn't an issue for you, the VGA version is better. With little story, a thin setting, and so many design pitfalls, it's not much of a distinction.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.
David Tanguay's Game Reviews
Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.