It's barely two weeks in 2012, and the new year has already been great for classic adventure game fans, which has brought us not one, but two (UPDATE: three!) fan-made Space Quest games released almost right next to each other. The previous SQ fangames I'd played with made with the AGI engine, like the first two games...and weren't very good. These, however, are both much better. Like all other fan games of this type, they are also free. (Also bone up on the series with the article on the official entries of the Space Quest series.
First of, the Space Quest II remake! This was developed by Infamous Adventures, the guys who released the first Kings Quest III remake, which ended up being not QUITE as good as AGD Interactive's, which was released a bit later, but was decent nonetheless.
The original Space Quest II is easily the worst game of the series. (Original on the left, remake on the right). There's barely any plot beyond "Roger escapes from terrible jungle planet", so pretty much the entire game came down to navigating through numerous dangers and dead-ends until you stumbled your way to the end. Many of the other Sierra remakes have cleaned up some of the more archaic elements of these older games, but the Space Quest II remake is not one of them. Pretty much every ridiculous death and dead end is preserved, which is one way is maddening. But in another way, fixing any of this would changed the entire fabric of the game to the point of pointlessness, so from a certain perspective, there's really no other way they could've done it.
A couple new things have been added, including a longer intro with Roger starring on an acceptably dated Letterman-type talk show. The vine maze, the excruciating one where you needed to weave through extremely narrow tentacles lest you be eaten by the beast they were connected to, has been changed. If you successfully complete it, you're actually killed - instead, there's a totally different solution. Subversively clever or extremely obnoxious? It's hard to say. The hunter has also been changed to look like the Predator. And there's a hidden staircase which triggers a password request, which is causing a ruckus on their forums. Apparently there's also a new game-within-a-game later on. I gave up at the underground maze, where Roger's movement kept glitching out on me.
The graphics are done in the style of the VGA games with full voiceovers. Since there are barely any characters, most of the acting is supplied by the typically snarky narrator, whose voice is so weird and deep it sounds like it may have been run through a modulator. It does technically make the game easier to navigate at least, and there's enough detail in the environment to make some new area descriptions and commentary worthwhile. At the end of it day, it's hard to say that this is actually a GOOD game, but it succeeds in making Space Quest II slightly less annoying, so mission accomplished on that.
Next Up: Space Quest: Vohaul's Strikes Back.
This is a brand new game that basically acts as a seventh Space Quest game. (There was a project called Space Quest 7 at one point, which was even worked on by Josh Mandel, who worked for Sierra on some of the earlier games, but stopped due to some disagreements on ownership with Vivendi/Activision or whoever held the rights to Sierra's catalogue.)
It's also really good. It's 2D and runs in high res 800x600. The style of the sprites looks similar to Space Quest 6, though the backgrounds are much more detailed. There's no voice acting (yet) but the writing is very solid and silly. The Smell and Taste icons are gone, but like SQ6 the Taste functionality has essentially been combined with the Talk command.
Like a lot of later generation Sierra titles, the back end of the Space Quest series was somewhat inconsistent, what with the wacky slapdash SQIV followed up by the Star Trek spoof SQV before ending with the strangely depressing SQ6. Tonally they were all very different from one another, but this remake does the excellent job of bringing the best of these together into a cohesive whole.
The story begins with Roger and his future wife Beatrice (who was almost entirely forgotten in the sixth game) taking a romantic vacation before they are interrupted by Vohaul's minions. Yes, the evil scientist from SQII and SQIV is back, now inhabiting an incredibly slapdash robotic body (its legs look like large coffee cans and it appears to be powered by a hamster). Of course, craziness ensues, with Beatrice being kidnapped and Roger bumbling through dangerous environments to save her. You can be killed, but you can also pick up slightly before your moment of death. The conversations are handled LucasArts-style, which works very well in characterizing both Roger and Beatrice. I haven't played enough to really gauge the overall quality of the game, but the first twenty minutes are definitely satisfying.
Also released like a few hours after I'd written this up is another totally new fan game, Space Quest: Incinerations. Haven't even downloaded it yet, but expect a write-up soon!