PC gamers in the late 1980s and 1990s were treated to some of the trippiest titles in video gaming history. While consoles, at least in the US, didn’t get a ton of out-of-the-box titles until recently, PC and Mac had a ton of games that tapped into the surreal for some far out gameplay. One of the first of these to be released on CD-ROM was Spaceship Warlock.
In 1991, Spaceship Warlock released on PC and Mac and broke new ground on what an adventure game could do. With the added storage space and capabilities of CD-ROM, quality music and full-motion video could be used to enhance a story considerably. Spaceship Warlock pairs pulp sci-fi with the kind of absurd humor you’d expect from titles like Commander Blood or Osamu Sato’s games.
You’re introduced to a somewhat nonsensical galaxy in which Earth (Terra in-game) has been conquered ages ago by the Kroll Imperium and then moved to a secret hideaway. As a nameless protagonist, you’re given the offer to join the pirate dreadnought Warlock and Captain Hammer in the fight to take back Earth.
Unlike Myst and later PC and Mac adventure games, Spaceship Warlock is a very linear adventure. It excels in giving the illusion of choice though, much like Telltale’s games do now. Events come at your rapid fire, and in the span of ten minutes you might have to check on a reactor in Engineering, make your way through a maze of fire, find a fire extinguisher, have a fight to the death, be praised by Captain Hammer, and earn a new set of crew quarters.
The rapid pace of Spaceship Warlock is balanced by the chances you get to partake in optional events. These aren’t necessary to complete the game, but add some enrichment to the plot. For example: when you get the above crew quarters, you can either choose to continue to barrel through to the next main plot point or take a nap and partake in a psychedelic dream.
There’s also many routes to each objective, each filled with neat little things to interact with. The game lets you set your own pace when it comes to these sections, and you get rewarded with exploring by meeting new strange characters and seeing cool stuff.
Unfortunately, the game trips when it comes to combat. Point-and-click adventure game combat has always been iffy, and it’s no different in Spaceship Warlock. Firing the ship’s lasers or having to punch enemies just feels weird, and the animations and controls feel stuttery and laggy.
Despite the inadequate combat controls, Spaceship Warlock is a beautiful trip through a type of game that just isn’t made anymore. The graphics are servicable, even today, and the soundtrack and effects are excellent. Unfortunately, the game is a bit short, clocking in at one-and-a-half to two hours, but you’ll have a blast the whole time.
Due to a legal dispute between the game’s artist and designer Joe Sparks and the publisher Reactor Inc. over the copyright to Spaceship Warlock, you won’t find it on GOG or Steam. However, you can typically find a copy on eBay for under $30.
If you liked Spaceship Warlock, make sure to check out Joe Sparks other surreal adventure, Total Distortion (which might be the subject of a future Remember? article). You can also check out the Obscuritory for an interview with Joe Sparks.
UPDATE: Spaceship Warlock designer Joe Sparks commented and stated he does owns the rights to the game, and the reason it hasn’t been republished is due to compatibility issues with newer OSes.