Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers l

Title           Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers
Company         Sierra
Category        Adventure
Players         1
Compatibility   1 MB required
HD Installable  Yes (recommended)
Submission	Joona Palaste ( Profiled Reviewer

First of all, a bit of background. The Space Quest series was an important
part in my gaming experience back in my childhood. We had three PCs with
CGA/EGA graphics in our school, and when we had free time (or when the
teacher wasn't looking!), we would play games with them. Our favourites
were the Space Quest games I through III, which we completed in a sequence
and played each of them very thoroughly.

So it was to be expected that we'd tackle Space Quest IV next.
Unfortunately, before the fourth game came out into the market, we had
completed the "lower" stage of the Finnish grade school, and our "gang"
was broken up as we went to different schools for the "upper" stage. For
me the adaptation to a new school was so difficult that I forgot all about
getting Space Quest IV.

It wasn't until this year, 2003, that I finally decided to get my hands on
this game, but this time of course for the Amiga, as I do not (thankfully)
have a PC with a Microsoft operating system. So I could finally continue
the "Space Quest epic" that had started about a decade and a half ago.

So, what is the game like, then? "Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time
Rippers", to give it its full title, comes on 6 disks and a separate
startup disk, so a hard drive is a definite recommendation. I installed
the game on to hard drive as the first thing I did. (For comparison, Space
Quest I and II both came on a single disk, and Space Quest III took three
disks.) Because of this rather great increase in disk space, you'd expect
the game to be better, more detailed, and above all, larger than any of
its predecessors. So is it? We'll find out...

The first thing you see when you boot Space Quest IV is the Sierra logo
screen. If you click the mouse button here you can go straight into the
game, otherwise you'll be treated to a lengthy animated intro sequence. I
watched the intro sequence once, and I'll probably never watch it again.

When we last left our hero Roger Wilco at the end of Space Quest III, he
had just rescued the Two Guys from Andromeda from the clutches of the evil
games corporation ScumSoft, and transported them to the relatively unknown
third planet of the Sol system. Then he went into a subspace jump with
unknown coordinates and...

And nothing. The plot of Space Quest IV does not directly continue from
that of Space Quest III. In fact, it seems to have hardly anything to do
with it. The plot begins with Roger Wilco boasting about his space heroism
in some kind of alien bar, when a group of black-clad soldiers try to kill
him. At the last moment, Roger is saved by some weird guy, who shoves him
into a time warp, and Roger appears on his homeworld Xenon, many decades
in the future. Something has definitely gone wrong, as everything seems to
be in ruins. It is your task to find out what has happened and how to get
everything back to normal again.

There are two major changes in the game after the first three episodes.
First, the graphics have been improved. They are no longer drawn in a
simple style in 16 colours, now they are in 32 colours with a more
realistic look. In my opinion, this only serves to make the graphics
uglier. For a truly realistic graphic style, 32 colours is a bit limiting,
particularly with the ugly PC-style palette Sierra chose. Even OCS Amigas
would have allowed a better choice of colours. If Sierra don't know how to
make proper use of the Amiga's graphic capabilities, they should have
stuck to the old plain and simple 16-colour look.

The second major change is to the actual player interface. In the previous
three episodes, you had a text parser that you entered commands through,
making the games a mixture of a text adventure and a point-and-click
adventure. In this episode, the text parser has vanished without a trace,
making the game a full point-and-click adventure.

In the place of the text parser you have a group of 9 icons. Six of them
are for actual control of your character and three are for more general
game options. The control icons are walk, look, use, talk, taste and
smell. The first four I can understand, as they are fundamental aspects of
interaction with the game world. But the last two? Taste? Smell? Is this
some kind of joke? In the entire game, I did not find a single situation
where either would have done anything useful.

The three remaining icons are inventory, controls and info. The info icon
is used to find out what any of the other 8 icons do. The inventory icon
brings up your inventory so you can use various objects. The controls icon
is for saving or restoring your game position, restarting the game, or
quitting back into the Amiga operating system.

At first the icon system can take some getting used to. It is quite
different from that used in the LucasFilm games such as Zak McKraken or
Monkey Island, both of which are very famous point-and-click adventures
both on the Amiga and on the PC. In the LucasFilm system, all commands are
visible at the bottom of the screen, and the commands are more detailed.
In the Sierra system, you have to select commands by either moving your
mouse to the top of the screen, where they appear on top of the graphics,
or by cycling through them with the right mouse button. I recommend using
the menu at the top, as cycling can get confusing, especially when you are
in a hurry to find the right icon.

The new icon-based system makes the game both easier and more difficult.
It makes it easier because you no longer have to find out or guess the
proper verbs or nouns to operate your surroundings. On the other hand, it
also makes it more difficult, because you lose all detail in the commands.
Before you could, for example, enter a specific object for the "look"
command so you could look at different things from various positions. Now
you just end up clicking the "look" icon at random points of the screen
hoping to find something useful. This would not have been such a problem
if Sierra had added a command similar to the "What is?" command in the
LucasFilm system, but they did not, so you end up doing more guesswork.

The plot has a new idea that it is supposed to take place at three
different games: "Space Quest XII: Vohaul's Revenge II", "Space Quest X:
Latex Babes of Estros" and "Space Quest I: The Sarien Encounter". This
makes the game seem like a parody of itself. It would have worked better
if going to a different game had actually made a fundamental difference in
the gameplay, but now they just seem like different places in the game
world, just like Space Quest III took place on three different planets.
Each of these three "games" is, by itself, too small to a successful
adventure on its own, which further detracts from the "feel" of being in
three different games. (Space Quest I: The Sarien Encounter WAS a complete
adventure on its own, but Space Quest IV includes a very small part of it,
namely Ulence Flats on Kerona and nothing else.)

The overall plot of Space Quest IV feels a bit incoherent. You never get a
feel of the big picture, instead you are just going along with the story
as it develops. In fact, you might even feel unsure of what your mission
in this game actually is. I, for one, did not completely find that out
until I completed the game. Perhaps this is on purpose - the game is
supposed to be a parody of the continuing development of the Space Quest
games rather than being a direct sequel to the previous game - but in my
opinion all it did was confuse the player.

One of the more interesting things about the plot of Space Quest IV is
that one point actually requires going back to a previous position and
playing the part in between once over again. The reason for this is that
you end up finding out some particular useful information only at a point
when you should have already known it in advance. But I found that all
this is needless - if you know how you should proceed, you can skip this
bit entirely.

As well as the incoherent plot, the game also suffers from a technical
problem: it is simply too slow. Because of the "upgraded" graphics,
on-screen actions can slow up almost unbearably, particularly when there
are many moving objects on screen at the same time. A bigger problem are
the numerous animated intermissions that you can only watch. It should
have been possible to click the mouse button to skip them, but it isn't,
and you end up twiddling your thumbs as you watch the same intermissions
over and over again.

Then there is the sound. The sound consists of the Space Quest theme music
and some in-game sound effects. Neither the music or the sound effects are
all that good. They show both their age (this is a game from the early
1990s, after all) and Sierra's inexperience with the special features of
the Amiga. Space Quest IV on the Amiga sounds only slightly better than
Space Quest III did on our school's PC - and all the sound THEY had was
the original awful "PC beeper".

Even when you complete the game, the same feeling continues. The outro
consists of a major character (I'm not telling you who!) informing Roger
of the events that led up to the story, and an utterly boring credits
display repeating endlessly. Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me, but
I seem to remember that Space Quest III had a more interesting outro.

Overall, Space Quest IV is a bit of a disappointment. I can only recommend
it if you have already completed all three of its predecessors and wish to
continue the story. Otherwise, there are many other, more interesting
point-and-click adventures to choose from. Back when the game first
appeared, pretty much every British Amiga magazine I read gave the game a
very bad review. "How dare they so insult a Space Quest game?" I thought
then. Now, when I have actually played the game, I have to reluctantly
agree with them.

There were two more Space Quest games in the series: "Space Quest V: Roger
Wilco - The Next Mutation" and "Space Quest VI: The Spinal Frontier".
Neither of these (perhaps thankfully!) ever appeared on the Amiga.

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