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Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon

Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon


Developer: Sierra On-Line The title screen.The title screen.
Released: 1989.03.24
Genre: SciFi / Comedy
Graphics: Pixel art / 2D
Perspective: Third person
Gameplay: Parser










Space Quest story continues from where it was left last time. Roger Wilco is collected from space by scrap collectors who are interested only of the ship he is in, and not anyone inside it. As a result, the questionable hero finds himself inside an enormous garbage freighter. Obviously he needs to find a way out of there, and when the story goes on he gets involved in some shady happenings on the moon Pestulon, where Two Guys from Andromeda (Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe, Space Quest creators) are being held captive.

While the story is a straight continuation from the preceeding game, much has changed since then. The game engine has changed from AGI to SCI, and the game looks absolutely great, much better than the previous Space Quest games did. It also sounds better, there's even a digitised speech sample in the intro part of the game. The gameplay feels similar to what the previous games where like, but there are clear improvements. To name one, it is possible to repeat the last parser input by hitting a shortcut key.

Even the subject matter has been slightly upgraded, as there are more science fiction references in the narrative and backgrounds than before. Everything that was previously there is still there, but there are now spoof references also to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Transformers, and The Terminator, to name a few. Gameplay-wise, there are some new elements as well, such as a space battle in the end of the game.

Roger Wilco back in action.Roger Wilco back in action.
The previous game, Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge, was technically good, but in many areas was a step in the wrong direction with the gameplay consisting mostly of avoiding deaths and unwinnable situations. In this third game of the series, developers have clearly identified the problem and rectified it successfully. There really aren't dead-end situations where not doing something in the beginning of the game would prevent advancing later on. And while there are several amusing death scenes, as can be expected, they are mostly well motivated and logical. Many of them even have a chance of escaping, like when encountering dangerous creatures, there is a small window when the player can do something, when in the previous games simply entering a wrong area resulted in unavoidable immediate death.

Puzzles are mostly very logical too, which is great. There's no need to randomly try doing crazy things, when the goal is clear, often the method of achieving that can be logically deduced, within the space parody context, of course. Even the small size maze is actually funny, entertaining, and after realising the method to advance in it, fair and logical. This means that the game difficulty is much easier than in previous games, which migh upset somebody somewhere, but for most players is a welcome thing.

There is even a minigame that is a video game within video game. In the hamburger bar the protagonist gets to play Astro Chicken, which is a variant of Lunar Lander concept. Playing this minigame is nicely incorporated into the storyline, and it doesn't involve random deaths like the slot machine game in the first Space Quest game did.

Astro Chicken.Astro Chicken.
The game has taken some advances in its humour too, but whether these advance things in the right direction or not, may be controversial. As already mentioned, the game developers themselves are an integral part of the story, but in the end of the game the player gets to visit Sierra On-Line headquarters in Oakhurst, California, with even CEO Ken Williams himself making an appearance. While such gags were present and available for players who explored every option already in the first game, this time around they have been lifted from obscure easter eggs to main narrative. It's amusing for sure, but some players may not appreciate breaking the fourth wall and mixing real life with game reality. There is also a boss key, which looks as if it's a key to be used when trying to hide that you are playing the game at work, but which in actuality is there for laughs.

Now, as far as story goes, it is unfortunately the weakest part of the game, which is otherwise a brilliant improvement in other areas. The beginning of the story is what it is because the story was locked into that situation in the end of the previous game. The developers had to find a way to connect those events to this game, which is understandable. But how the story progresses from there is strange, as nothing is clearly motivated. Even after playing the game through, it is not clear why Two Guys from Andromeda were really held captive, and why exactly the protagonist Roger Wilco went to help them, as none of that was part of the story arch in the previous two games. So while the exact steps to get to the pirates of Pestulon are logical and relatively easy in the game, the motivation to do so is not.

Monolith Burger.Monolith Burger.
With so much good work to advance everything, it would have been nice to see the game tell an actually engaging story too. But it was not delivered this time. It is only a minor complaint, given how everything else is wonderfully crafted. Among things that could be improved is creating alternative solutions to puzzles. Space Quest III does in fact have just that, but only for one particular puzzle. As the whole gameplay is much less random and more logically motivated, it would be a nice idea to create some other alternative solutions as well, to let players have some options to play with.

It is always difficult to outdo something that has been successful previously, but the third installment of Space Quest is a fine example of getting almost everything right. Perfection is not yet achieved, but with the game being better in almost every aspect compared to its predecessors, it is a great example of delivering a sequel in a correct manner. Being already the third game in the series, Space Quest doesn't feel as fresh as with the first game, but thanks to the many advances it is much more than just a repeat of formula. Out of the three games in the series up to this point, it is the best one.

The door is locked.The door is locked.



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