Larry Horsfiled's Starship Quest is the follow-up to his very popular Magnetic Moon, and, before I forget, if you want to buy both games together you can do it at the reduced price of £4.50. Magnetic Moon was a very enjoyable multi-part space game, inspired by Larry's love of science fiction, and this is an even better sequel, again influenced by several sci-fi novels but in particular a story called Galactic Derelict by Andre Norton.
Once again there are both 48K and 128K versions of this three-parter, and it's good to see someone making full use of the extra memory of the bigger machine rather than producing the bog-standard 48K game and leaving it at that. The 128K version has more features, much more gameplay and a greatly-extended ending (something I know loads of people wished every adventure had), and that's the one I looked at. Remember though that some of those features will be missing en the smaller memory machines.
The PAWS-produced game begins with an optional story and instructions program. This is well worth reading - in fact, it's half a novel in itself, but I wish the author would disable the key with the exclamation mark on it!!! I don't mind them now and then, but it gets a bit wearing when they're in every other sentence!! See what I mean?! He should also learn the difference between 'it's' and 'its', which he confuses constantly.
As for the story, well, basically it's that you're Mike Erlin, you're on a spaceship and you wish you weren't. You've got two minutes to gather some equipment together, make it to the lifeboat and jump ship before the mother ship does its hyperspace number. Then you can get back to the planet you just left and find out the secret of the two discs that were given to you in Magnetic Moon by a beautiful princess. These aren't any old discs, not your Dolly Parton 45 and Jason Donovan Live At The Adelaide Abattoir - these two discs could hold the key to the universe! Blimey. But don't tell me... In the next part you have to find the lock.
Back in this bit, and specifically the first part (The Abandoned Planet), you begin in the Stellar Queen's control room with Cap'n Morgan and Mr Pocks for company. I'm glad to see the author's included a few more response messages this time, so that you're not forever being told that "You can't do that" every time you try to examine the billion and one things in the location description. Okay, so often you get a "That's just scenery" message, but at least it makes a change.
I made a quick trip around the ship and found Commander Giles being treated in bed by my girlfriend! What? Oh well, it is the sick bay and she is the ship's doctor. I'm glad I found her though, because when I said I was leaving she gave me something I really wanted. You'll have to play the game to find out what it is.
The use of other characters in the game works well, and adds a lot to the atmosphere. While there is any atmosphere, that is, as pretty soon you should be down on the surface of an alien planet, although it looks remarkably like old England to me - gently rolling countryside, long grass, dotted with trees. There's a sign on a derelict fence, but unfortunately it's written in alien and I must have left my Teach Yourself Alien book back on the ship. That's a shame, as you pretty soon find quite a few other signs too. And what do those markings on the two discs say as well?
There are some abandoned buildings about, and you get quite a good picture of this seemingly deserted planet. There are some creatures around, apart from the droids you find later on. There are a few worms to be dug up, and a pair of eyes down a hole in the ground. I'm going to give away the answer to one of the problems here, as it shows why, to me, FSF Adventures are still in the second division of adventure producers and not the first - although they're admittedly near the top of the league! To get the creature whose eyes you can see, you have to THROW WORM IN HOLE (and do it twice). If you try the more obvious PUT WORM IN HOLE you're told you can't do it, and this could make many people, especially new players, think they were on the wrong track and so not persist. If you try to DROP WORM DOWN HOLE you merely DROP WORM, which burrows away into the ground and disappears - and there is only a limited supply of the wormy things. Other little errors like "a area" and "a animal's burrow" just slightly spoil what's otherwise a jolly good romp.
You certainly can't fault the features the game has. It accepts full sentences, and you can LOOK NORTH as well as GO NORTH. You can also LOOK UNDER, ACROSS, AROUND, OVER and IN things (and will need to). INFO gives a list of which commands have been abbreviated to one letter, and VOCAB gives a lengthy list of acceptable commands. There are RAMSAVE and ALL commands, and with the EXAMINE ALL command you can specify whether it's the objects WORN, CARRIED or HERE. Phew!
At the end of the day adventures, like books, films, music or anything else, are all down to personal taste. Some people rave over Larry Horsfield's games, saying they're the best things since Heinz Steamed Puddings, but, while I quite like them, they don't have that extra bit of sparkle for me that you get from John Wilson or Linda Wright. Don't let that stop you trying one of them though, as they may well sparkle for you.
Wa-hey! Snogging in the surgery! Oo-er, snort, dribble, slurp (etc).