Space Quest 3 is the first actually good game in the series. Well okay, maybe that's an overstatement, as I do like Space Quest 1, but as a game, it is better than either of the games that came before it. Though at the same time, it also is a game that is a bit broken, as far the narrative goes, as after the first half, it does kind of lose its direction.
SQ3 starts undetermined time after the end of the previous story. In SQ2 Roger Wilco used an escape vessel to get away from the base of Sludge Vohaul. Instead of free sailing, he discovered that the vessel had only a limited supply of oxygen, so he was forced to climb in a hibernation chamber to get some shut eye, while the vessel was voyaging among the stars.
In an opening cinematic, I think is one of the finest among the 80's games, we'll find Roger's vessel drifting in the void when a ship notices it. Unluckily for Roger, the ship is only a robotic garbage freighter, so while he's rescued in a sense, he's still in hot water, as the robotic intelligence aboard the ship doesn't care in one way or an another of the accidental living tissue pickup.
The garbage freighter is the strongest area of the game. After Roger has woken up, the first thing to do is to get the lay of the land. While doing this, Roger stumbles upon a space ship, that might be his ticket out, but before anything else, it needs to be repaired. Luckily, as he is on a junk ship, there's equipment for that right there. During this salvage missions, the game has a pinpoint focus. The area is self-contained, so all you need is right there, you just need to find them and figure out how to get them to the ship. Of course, there are a couple of items, that are scratches, as they are placed in the screens so, that you don't actually see them.
After Roger has gotten the ship in shape and blowing his way out of the garbage freighter, the game does something the previous didn't dabble in: it opens up. Now, there are not that many places to actually visit, but in a proper sci-fi fashion, you can navigate the known space by using a star map. And you can do visit them at your own leisure. The only place you won't be getting back is the garbage ship, but good riddance to that and its robotic overlords.
The places of interest are Phleebhut, a desert planet, Ortega, a volcanic planet, Monolith Burger, the burger joint of space jockeys and then, of course, the titular Pestulon. The main problem with this part of the game is, that it doesn't really tell you what to do. In fact, it is very easy to miss the whole point of the story, while you still can complete the puzzles and get to the ending. You just don't know how you know what's your objective.
See, you need to get to Pestulon, which is a hidden moon of Ortega. If you've done all in the game, you actually know why you're doing it, but if you haven't, you're just doing it without real motivation. The way you find the motivation is actually hidden inside a mini-game, but in a way that requires an extra effort.
Don't read this bit, you don't want to be spoiled. At the Monolith Burger, there is an arcade game, which you can complete and after which you get a coded message. You can decode that message if you have a special ring, but getting it actually requires you to buy a specific meal.
So after you have the ring and you've played through the Astro Chicken, you can decode it, which means you get the alphabets, that match the code. Then you just need to use good old pen and paper technique to get the message, that tells you, that the software pirates of Pestulon have kidnapped the Two Guys From Andromeda, the designers of Space Quest, and you need to rescue them. That's your motivation for the rest of the game, but even with that, it's not practically a strong motive, as saving them is fully an altruistic thing to do from Rogers part and he's never really been a proper hero type, while he has been on his fair share of adventures.
But as that is the plot, then that's what needs to be done in order to complete the game. Also, the end game itself feels a bit empty. Phleebhut exists only for getting some important objects and Ortega is just a simple puzzle for revealing the path to Pestulon, which is after the garbage freighter the best-designed puzzle of the game.
In Pestulon Wilco needs to find a way to get past a keycard and face identification protected lock to the kidnapped game developers. Here Roger needs to blend in the regular staff, by dressing up as a janitor, which is his proper vocation anyways. Of course, the rescue goes awry and leads into two mini games.
Firstly Roger needs to kick some robotic butt at an arena, where he and the leader of the software pirates fight mano-a-mano with huge sock 'em robots. After that's done, there's a not so exciting space battle, in which Roger needs to repel a squadron of pirate ships, before the ship is whisked away in a black hole, that takes the trio to an oddly familiar planet, where an oddly familiar chairman of an oddly familiar company hires the guys as game developers, while Roger continues his travels through space.
As I said, I think Space Quest 3 is the first actually good game in the series, despite it has its flaws. Out of the games in the series, it was the first one that really wowed me. It's left me such an impression, that I've even made my own version of the opening cinematics in 3D:
SQ3 was Murphy's and Crowe's first stab towards an adventure game with an open world structure. The previous two chapters in the series were both very linear in structure and each area is self-contained the same way the garbage freighter is SQ3. The idea to make the second half of the game more free is a nice gimmick, but after you've played for a while, it does become a bit too obvious, that there's nothing much actually going on there.
Sure, there's good thing in there, like the encounter with Arnoid the Annihilator (guess what series is parodied there), but overall the big star map also feels very empty, especially when the locations like Phleebhut are mostly just empty room space with nothing to do in them. Also the whole problem with delivering plot essential information is an issue, as it is a bit too easy to miss.
All that said, I do love the game. It has a strong art direction and for the first time in the series, it has a proper soundtrack. Back in the day most people heard only the Adlib or Sound Blaster tunes, but it also supported far superior MT-32 sound cards, which brought in real synthetized instruments and sound effects. Today, thanks to applications like ScummVM or DosBox it's very simple to play SQ3 sounding like it was meant to be, and what it sounds like is pretty awesome.
As a title, despite being the 3rd in the series, SQ3 also is pretty safe to pick up even if you're a new player to the series, as it is pretty self contained story: you don't have to know anything about what has happened previously, despite it does begin from the escape vessel Roger ended up at the end of SQ2. Besides that, the plot of SQ3 is pretty free of the baggage of the history of the series, so that also makes it a good entry point for new comers.
Space Quest series is available through Steam and GOG.