Travelling in space is a hazardous occupation. With only the fragile walls of your ship protecting you from the harsh vacuum of space, everything needs to work perfectly. But structural malfunctions are not the only danger. For the crew of the spaceship Quasar, a long period of confinement together in close quarters has pushed tensions to the breaking point. A final argument in the lounge tips everyone over the edge, each person going off to their own corner of the ship. The ship’s doctor, Julie, knows that the only solution to the problem is to make planet-fall for some rest and recuperation. But doing so will require co-operation amongst the crew, and with them not talking to one another, that agreement could prove tricky to secure.
This plot scenario may sound more than a little familiar to those who downloaded the short but sweet 2011 freeware game Quasar. But several years after its initial release, indie developer Crystal Shard has taken the original game and enhanced it with improved graphics and full voice acting in a “Deluxe Edition” re-release. (Note: since time of writing, the remake has been renamed Starship Quasar.) If you’ve played the earlier iteration, you won’t find much new in terms of gameplay here. In making this commercial version, the focus has been on improving the look and sound of the game, whilst the overall solution remains unchanged. For existing fans, purchasing this remake would be more about showing financial appreciation for this and other free titles Crystal Shard has made over the years (including the highly regarded adventure-RPG Heroine’s Quest) than investing in a new game experience.
For new players, Quasar neatly proves that an enjoyable adventure does not have to be about saving the world. The interiors of the ship are rendered in nicely designed retro pixel art, from the giant sparking coil that forms the heart of the engine to the stark white of the cargo bay. The characters are equally well-conceived, each with a distinctive look and smoothly animated. The crew members also have idle animations as they engage in their own activities separately from the others. In conversations you get even more detailed head-and-shoulder shots of the characters, though the speech animation has not been synced to the spoken dialogue.
The game’s five characters are now fully voiced and the performances are excellent, really bringing out the personality of the individuals. Reporter Callisto clearly has a very high opinion of herself, speaking in an exaggeratedly posh accent and using long words for everything wherever possible. Meanwhile, Florent the engineer is more laid-back, happy to let others do whatever they want and leave him to his engines. The voices are supplemented by appropriate sound effects, including the meowing of the ship’s electronic cat. There is also a musical soundtrack, with each character having their own theme tune that plays when they are under your control – or rather, a variant on the same theme, performed in slightly different styles to suit them individually. For relaxed doctor Julie, the melody is slow and mellow with piano tones, while for the strict Karst it switches to synthesiser and an almost militaristic beat.
At the start of the game you only have control of Julie, who is determined to convince the others of the need for a break. Control is point-and-click, with left-click used to interact and right-click to examine. Clicking on the player character calls up the inventory, allowing you to combine objects or select them for use elsewhere. Early on, none of the other characters will assist at all, either ignoring you completely or having only brusque conversations designed to get rid of you. The key to progress is finding a way to lighten the mood of each character so they can be persuaded to co-operate with you.
Having successfully enlisted a character to your cause, you can then discuss with them how best to convert the others. More importantly, you can ask them to take over the task, switching control to that new character. This is vital, as each character has their own individual skills and their own starting inventory as well. What’s more, both interaction and hotspot examination will elicit a different response depending on who is doing it. Julie only has the vaguest ideas of what the devices in engineering do, for example, but Florent can virtually quote the technical specifications.
The puzzles are, for the most part, not overly taxing. The key to many of them is working out which person is suited to the job. This is eased somewhat by the fact that the crew can only be enlisted in a certain order. Usually, though not always, your newest co-operative colleague has just the knowledge and inventory required for the next step. Some puzzles can be solved by anyone, and you can transfer certain items from one person to another when necessary.
The real beauty of the game is in the characters themselves. The dialogue and the performances blend perfectly to create a set of believable personalities. There are even hints of their life beforehand, with one conversation mentioning a previous crew member and an undisclosed incident involving that person. The result is that you feel these are all real people, with their own foibles and quirks, and I would be happy to find out more about them all in a much larger adventure.
Probably the only real downside to Quasar is its size (and therefore length). There are only a handful of screens to explore, and even exhausting all the various character interactions available, the game can easily be completed in under an hour. It’s a shame that some optional puzzle solutions haven’t been added to give the re-release a little replay incentive, allowing for more experimentation. The Deluxe Edition is budget-priced accordingly, but you’ll still need to weigh the cost against the actual game time offered. Despite its brevity, however, the short stay is time well spent aboard the spaceship Quasar. It may not be the longest or most difficult game out there, but as a finely crafted character piece, it is well worth checking out.