Space Quest 5: The Next Mutation

Developer/Publisher:  Sierra
Year Released:  1993

Review by Steve Metzler (January, 2003)
Space Quest 5 (SQ5) finds our lovable, hapless hero Roger Wilco in yet another bid to unwittingly save the universe. Roger begins this episode as a cadet at the StarCon Space Academy. A twist of fate lands him a perfect score on his final exam, and he winds up as captain of his very own ship - even if it is a lowly garbage scow! His mission: to boldly go where... er... actually, to collect large bags of trash jettisoned into orbit around various planets.

But as it turns out, the role of a garbage collector increases vastly in importance once the plot is revealed to involve toxic waste dumping on a galactic scale...

The main theme of SQ5 isn't a whole lot different from the earlier Space Quests in that it takes every chance it can to poke irreverent fun at all things that were part of TV and film pop culture at the time. Star Trek, Star Wars, they all have a reference or two in there somewhere. Even a Monty Python skit that made fun of tree spotters gets a look-in. For the most part, I did get a kick out of this constant lampooning, but as with all attempts to take the mickey, some hit the mark, and some fall a bit short.

Where SQ5 does differ from the earlier games in the series is in the game play. Basically, you really are the captain of your own starship this time, and you have to repeatedly choose the correct command of the moment from menus of about 30 different commands that are possible to issue between your navigation officer, communications officer, science officer, and engineer. To a significant extent you're left to your own devices here, and clues as to where to go or what to do next can be quite elusive. While this style of play will appeal to most adventure game veterans who like to get stuck into a real challenge, I can likewise picture all the novices out there scratching their collective heads. The plot may be linear, but connecting the dots between the beginning and the end of that line is not so easy.

There are a few real time arcade sequences in there that you must get through, as well as a recurrent theme in Sierra titles: the built-in game. In this instance, the game is called Battle Cruiser, and it's a space age take-off on the old Battleships theme where you have to hide your own ships, and guess where the enemy has placed theirs by firing salvos onto a grid. No problem here, as the action is turn-based. But I found the real time arcade sequences were nearly impossible for me to accomplish, no doubt due to the fact that the designers couldn't possibly envisage this game ever being played on a 2 GHZ processor! Utilities like Moslo didn't even put a dent in the speed (though I've since discovered you can run Moslo within Moslo to slow down a really fast processor). However, several hours worth of repeated attempts got me there in the end. I just had to save each time I made any significant bit of progress.

Speaking of saving, you should do this often because there are many, many occasions in the game where if you do the wrong thing, you die instantly. In typical Sierra fashion, there's no warning that Roger is about to do something silly, and you must often die just to get a hint of what you need to do to survive the next encounter. Fortunately, you can save up to 20 games in a single directory, and even create more directories after that, or replace older saves in your current directory.

As with most Sierra titles, you have a running points total to indicate that you are doing things right. The maximum score is 5000, and I wound up 75 points short of that because I couldn't be bothered to play Battle Cruiser the requisite number of times to be lucky enough to survive with all my ships intact. Anal retentive players take note: here is your chance to shine!

Hot spots? Where we're going we don't need hot spots!
Being a relatively old game, the designers at Sierra had not yet twigged the idea of changing the cursor shape when it is positioned over a hot spot. Consequently, you will find yourself clicking on many otherwise non-descript areas of the 320 x 200 screen in the hope that Roger will indicate that you can interact with what's there. Other than that, the interface is quite intuitive, with a choice of 5 different cursors that you can cycle through to invoke various actions on-screen.

On the audio side... once again I was able to resurrect this 9-year old title from my shelves and get it working on Windows XP with the aid of Vlad Romascanu's marvellous VDMSoundutility. It emulates a Soundblaster and MIDI devices in software, re-directing all interactions with the old DOS hardware to your modern Windows devices. Just beware that Sierra expect the card to use IRQ 5 rather than the default IRQ 7, and away you go. I also had to download an updated Soundblaster driver from Sierra tech support that fixes a serious bug in the one that originally shipped with the game.

Roger, Wilco, over and out
All in all, this is another solid offering from Sierra, and my personal favourite of the Space Quest series. It comes standard with tongue-in-cheek humour, and guarantees at least a few evenings of fun game play. So come on all you space cadets out there, get hold of your Space Monkeys (TM) and let's go kick some cosmic butt!

See the Space Quest 5 walkthrough. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Metzler 2003. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
MS-DOS, 580K RAM, 8.5MB free hard disk space, 16 colour VGA, Soundblaster or compatible, mouse