Platform: DOS, Amiga, Apple II, Apple IIgs, Atari ST, Macintosh
Review: When I was young, my selection of adventure games was, for the most part, limited to shareware (mostly junk) and Sierra games. But though my parents invested in King’s Quest, Police Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, and Manhunter, Space Quest was left off the shopping lists. And even though I knew about this series and was intrigued, I never put it on my Christmas list either. So approximately sixteen years after this adventure was first released, I got my hands on a copy. It was well worth the wait.
The premise behind the game is about as sophisticated as your typical plot on the original Battlestar Gallactica. Possibly, this could be the point. You play Roger Wilco, a space janitor with no skills, or work ethic for that matter. When your ship is raided by the Sariens, you must escape and foil their plans to use the Star Generator for their own universe domination. What follows is less of a story but a piecing together of slapstick humour, crafty puzzles, and enough untimely deaths to make Wile E. Coyote blush.
It baffles me that so many adventurers hate dying. This never bothered me when I was a kid, and still doesn’t phase me. In fact, one of the primary reasons I get frustrated with current adventures is that there is usually no way to screw up. When you never have to worry about making a mistake or (gasp!) death, you can go head first into every task without so much as lifting a neuron. For me, that removes the innate challenge that a real puzzle presents. Not every problem in reality is guess-and-check. Sometimes you just have to guess and hope.
With that said, Space Quest does such a marvelous job of finding creative, unexpected ways for Roger to die that I simply had to discover them all. Lucky for me, I found a document on the web that detailed every death, so instant gratification was ever-ready. And with the ‘save’ and ‘restore’ functions one keystroke away, I never became frustrated. However, I was lucky. There are two distinct ways to put the game in an unwinnable situation. One I experienced only made me have to restore back about ten minutes or so. The other, which I avoided, requires one to start the game over. It’s unlikely that you’ll encounter it if you’re thorough, but it’s still there.
Other than that the game was very well designed. Not only are most puzzles logical and clever, there are often multiple solutions. This offers a good deal of replay value and a way for different breeds of adventurers to hack away. The production values are adequate, though the parser is fairly poor when compared to its peers.
But what it all comes down to is comedy. The deluge of punchlines and silly antics never stops, so if your sense of humour is in line with the writers’, then you’ll like The Sarien Encounter. If after fifteen minutes you don’t find yourself amused, then you’ll be hard pressed to enjoy the rest of the game. Or the rest of the series, for that matter.
Like most Sierra games, this one received a VGA update in the early 90’s, though I haven’t played much of that version, which seemed to lose some of the original’s charm.
Contemporary Rating: Low. The parser doesn’t always understand some reasonable commands, which would frustrate new players.
Cruelty Rating: Cruel. Having to play the entire game over again by missing something near the beginning is the main reason this scale exists.