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Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers

Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers


Developer: Sierra On-Line The title screen.The title screen.
Released: 1991.03.04
Genre: SciFi / Comedy
Graphics: Pixel art / 2D
Perspective: Third person
Gameplay: Point-and-Click










Two years after the release of the previous installment in the Space Quest series, the fourth one comes back with the most radical change the series has had. Gone is the traditional parser input system, and the gameplay is completely point and click. In addition to that, the game is fully voice acted. Strictly speaking it isn't the first voice acted Space Quest game, as the third game had one audio speech sample, but the difference between one phrase and the entire dialogue (plus narrator voice) is enormous. The game feels completely different compared to its predecessors, while at the same time showing many of the trademark elements that fans of the series would expect.

So what's happening this time is that Sludge Vohaul, the antagonist who got killed in the second game, didn't get killed quite enough as he's back with a vengeance. To help him to get the job done there's the Sequel Police, who are simply put henchmen working for Vohaul and going from one game to another trying to kill Roger Wilco, the unfortunate protagonist. And "time rippers" really refers to going from one game to another, including the current installment, the first one Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter in its crude graphical style, as well as imaginary sequels, Space Quest X: Latex Babes of Estros and Space Quest XII: Vohaul's Revenge II.

Roger Wilco going through sequels.Roger Wilco going through sequels.
This quite obviously means that there will be lots of breaking the fourth wall, in fact so much so that the entire gameplay consists of it. In addition to the game parodying itself, there are lots of references to other adventure game titles too, most notably the imaginary sequel Latex Babes of Estros, which is a parody of Leather Goddesses of Phobos. Why out of all games made the developers chose that title to be so specific target of parody can only be guessed, as there are other games which are more popular and more noteworthy. Campiness was probably high on the list of criteria. Breaking the fourth wall was very notable in the ending of the third game, but this time it has been taken so far that you can use Space Quest IV hint book in the game, and even delete Space Quest IV from a computer in the game, with consequences in real life Space Quest IV as well.

Now that's the basic formula for this sequel, but how is the end result like? The new user interface is good, and has the basic functions for action verbs covered. There are also a couple of gag icons, smell and taste, but disappointingly these mostly provide only generic responses and don't really reflect the context in which they are being used. Voice acting gives a new element to the Space Quest universe, but this is a bit underused, as there are only few longer dialogue sequences in the game. One can't help feeling that the developers were a bit overwhelmed by these new possibilities and didn't fully explore any of them.

Graphics are most immersive the series has had up to this point, and with the exception of visiting the first game, there is nothing from the previous games brought over, everything is new, most notably the main character design and character animations. The new user interface together with new graphics has enabled the game to have some new kind of puzzles too, like "swimming" in a weightless environment. These ideas are certainly interesting, but don't work flawlessly.

Trying to escape from the Sequel Police in weightlessness.Trying to escape from the Sequel Police in weightlessness.
The biggest problem with the game is that while it is a huge step forward in technical aspects of game design, it is also a huge leap backwards in actual game design. Where the third game, Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon, was a big improvement in playability, getting rid of most dead-ends and making most game deaths well motivated, the fourth game goes absolutely 180 degrees opposite direction. There are several unwinnable states in the game, and the biggest issue is that the entire gameplay consists of avoiding unpredictable deaths. Some of these are provided by the Sequel Police, who shoot first and don't even ask questions later, some others are provided by things like two mazes with deadly things moving inside them. The usual ones, like falling off high places, are there too, of course. While there is the possibility of death in almost every scene in the game, there's disappointingly the least amount of variety in them compared to the other games in the series. As a result game deaths are simply annoying, amusing elements like funny animations are nowhere to be found.

The plot is so full of logical holes that it makes Swiss cheese look solid in comparison. And this is the case even if one tries to factor in the fourth wall thing. After all, if the game world can be manipulated from inside the game world as a computer program, wouldn't it be possible to simply re-install it and get rid of Vohaul and his helpers? Apparently it is not an option, so the story goes where ever it goes, still leaving the first game in the series to be the one that actually had a decent basic plot.

Back in Space Quest I.Back in Space Quest I.
Technical improvements carry this game, while there are a good number of Space Quest elements in the game ranging from Vohaul to Monolith Burger, the content itself wouldn't be much if the format would be the old parser-style interface with no voiceovers. Space Quest is by the fourth game a mature franchise in a sense, which means that it can rely on parodying itself instead of making fun of the usual science fiction conventions and having references to well-known science fiction universes. The end result could be better going after all those films, TV series, and books, but the choice to build parody on parody and make the game for all practical purposes Space Quest IV: The Breaking of the Fourth Wall is intriguing.

At least Space Quest IV is controversial and divides fanbase to those who like it and those who would prefer older style, both in technical execution as well as motivation for the storyline. That's a sign that there was much attempt and effort, and nobody was trying to play safe. What best adventure games have to offer is an engaging story supported by logical yet challenging puzzles. The fourth serving of Space Quest doesn't really offer either of those. Obviously it isn't a bad game, as it offers the best quality of its time technically. That is where the line between "quite nice" and "absolutely great" lies, and unfortunately for this game, it remains on the nice side. For anyone who has played and enjoyed the previous games though, there's really no reason to not have some good moments with this one as well.

The door is locked.The door is locked.



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