Space Quest III is a remarkable game for a lot of reasons. The PC version was one of the first games to support a mouse and Sound Blaster card, for example. But what I find most remarkable about it is how unremarkable its story is. The other Space Quest games pit you, an everyman shlub, against impossible odds, and the fates of entire galaxies are decided by the actions you take; typical ho-hum adventure game plots. But in Space Quest III, the stakes are far lower and the adversities you face are far more mundane. In many ways, it's a game about nothing in particular, and SQ3 never lets plot get in the way of a good joke. It's Seinfeld in space.
Like the first two Space Quest games, SQ3 is an early graphical adventure game, and as such, it still sports a text parser. You guide the hero, Roger Wilco, using a mouse, joystick, or arrow keys, and you issue commands such as USE OBJECT, PRESS BUTTON or LOOK AROUND by typing them. SQ3's parser has a larger vocabulary than its predecessors, making issuing the right commands to Roger much less an exercise in frustration. As the last in the series to use a text parser and the first to use a mouse, SQ3 marks the beginning of a sea change to the simpler point-and-click style gameplay that now dominates the adventure genre.
Of course, like all classic Sierra games, Space Quest III will kill you as frequently and creatively as it can. Wrong steps, careless commands, close encounters with nasties, or even loitering will violently launch Roger into an early grave. While a certain perverse pleasure can be derived from viewing all of the many unique ways Roger can die, the fact that it happens so easily and so frequently makes exploring the locations in SQ3 an exercise in frustration. Again, frequent saves are a must to avoid too much backtracking, especially for players unfamiliar with the various hazards in the game. This was common practice for most old adventure games, but the constant threat of death is antithetical to the spirit of exploration that good adventure games should engender. I'm glad the practice fell out of favor with the release of the decidedly non-fatal LucasArts adventure games.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the game's incredibly catchy MIDI soundtrack. Featuring original music composed by ex-Supertramp drummer Bob Siebenberg, SQ3's soundtrack is a cohesive collection of related pieces; closer to a movie score than a typical video game's disjointed of collection background music. The classic Space Quest theme permeates the soundtrack, interpreted as a triumphant opening theme one moment, and as tinkly supermarket muzac the next. Like most games that utilize MIDI tracks, the quality of the music's reproduction varies wildly with the type of computer playing it, or in the PC's case, the sound hardware installed. Played through a lowly Sound Blaster card, SQ3 is certainly enjoyable, but gamers lucky enough to have owned a Roland MT-32 synthesizer or LAPC-I card in 1989 were treated to the most spectacular-sounding video game music available.
As a testament to its lasting appeal, the Space Quest series has remained available in one format or another for over 25 years. Today, GOG.com has a bundle of the first three games available for purchase online. Even better, a collection of all six original games, as well as the VGA remakes of SQ1 & 2 was released on CD-ROM by Sierra in 2006. Though it's now out of print, copies are readily available on eBay, and all games in the collection play superbly inside DOSbox.