Space 1889 Review
by Todd Threadgill
Computer Gaming World #80 (March 1991)

The Curious Case of the Vicarious Victorian
Paragon's Space 1889
by Todd Threadgill

It is 1889. Mankind, with the help of brilliant inventors like Thomas Edison, has discovered how to navigate the "luminiferous ether" between the planets. Interplanetary travel on ether flyers has become commonplace. Contact with several races of intelligent beings has been established. It is an age of adventure and enlightenment in a world that never was.

Space 1889 presents the player with just such a world. Drawing from the science-fiction fantasies of such classic authors as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, the creators of Space 1889 have come up with an irresistible premise for role-playing adventure.

Prologue (Pre-Game Considerations)

The software comes on unprotected disks, but when starting the game, the player must enter a word from the excellent manual in order to verify ownership. Unfortunately, unlike most games with password protection, Space 1889 gives the player only one chance to enter the correct word before being returned to DOS. The ability to make at least one more attempt would be welcome.

The authors' emphasis on female characters is noteworthy. Players are encouraged to include women in their parties, as some of the careers that are available to characters are for women only. This is a refreshing change from the usual male-only orientation of role-playing games, and the designers are to be commended.

Typical to CRPGs, the game requires a party of characters to be formed prior to beginning the game. Also, true to the genre, the players may either use the pre-generated characters that come with the package or make their own. More distinctive, however, is the ability to custom design character classes via a series of easy-to-navigate menus. However, players who decide to create their characters and/or character classes from scratch should be forewarned: each character features a sizeable array of skills - such as Marksmanship, Bargaining, and Medical - that are determined by the computer. It is easy to overlook the absence of vital skills during the creation phase. For example, a party without medically- skilled characters will not be able to revive unconscious characters, and completing the game will be extremely difficult.

The Curtain Rises (The Game Worlds)

Once the party has been created, game play begins. The story begins in London. At a gala reception for an archaeological exhibit of Egyptian artifacts, the characters overhear a conversation regarding the as-yet-undiscovered tomb of King Tutankhamen. The lure of such a discovery proves impossible for them to resist and they join forces in hopes of finding King Tut's tomb themselves. This is only the beginning of an adventure that will eventually reward the party with what is truly the ultimate treasure: immortality.

In the course of the game, the party will travel to the far corners of the earth, as well as to other planets. The technology of the ether flyers (large wooden ships that travel from planet to planet) is limited in range, and travel beyond the asteroid belt is considered impractical. Thus, the party is unable to journey to Jupiter or beyond (until late in the game, when the player will acquire the necessary equipment). The inner planets, however, are packed with settlements. The cities feature the standard complement of shops: Gun Shops, Markets, Banks, and Taverns. Many of the towns also have mysterious caves within their boundaries, ready for exploration. Each planet has one ether port (where ether flyers arrive and depart). Here, the party may purchase a new flyer or update an existing one with better armor, more powerful engines, and more deadly weapons. Ether flyers may be constructed of regular wood or of a gravity-defying variant known as "liftwood." Liftwood is expensive and hard to find, since it comes from a rare species of tree that only grows in certain mountainous regions of Mars.

As might be expected, the recent confluence of Terran and Martian society upon the surface of Mars has not been without conflict. Different factions (most notably the Germans) are struggling to take control of the planet's supply of liftwood. This and other shady human plots for economic exploitation are sprinkled throughout the game and add a dimension of realism that is missing from many other role-playing games.

To The British Go The Spoils (Combat)

As the adventure unfolds, the characters will encounter hostile parties, either on the surface of a planet or in space. The player issues commands to the characters ("Attack the German Soldier"), and all but one of them - who is controlled by the player in real time - carry out the commands automatically. Planetary combat is rather confusing, and players will probably lose their characters to the computer-controlled enemies several times before getting the knack of the combat system.

One reason for this is that when combat mode is engaged, the party stands in a tight group of at least two rows: front and back. In most games of this type, this isn't a problem, but in Space 1889, players will not attack unless they have a clear shot at the enemy. Half of the player's characters stand around doing nothing until the front ranks are moved out of the way, often a difficult or impossible maneuver, depending on the layout of the battle area. This can prove to be a major disadvantage against some of the more capable opponents or when there is more than one enemy on the screen. However, none of the opponents possess superhuman strength or speed, and most can be readily defeated once the player is familiar with the controls.

Space combat is another matter. Battles between ether flyers take place in the atmosphere of a planet or moon. The combating ships fly along a horiZontal landscape (a la Defender) and fire shots at each other. From this reviewer's experience, shots never miss their targets. Space combat is entertaining when the battles are short, but can quickly become tedious during an extended struggle. Players can also "join" an enemy flyer, and attack from within. This mode is similar to ground combat, and must be performed by the player at least once in the course of the game.

Her Majesty Will Be Pleased (Pros)

The EGA graphics are excellent. They capture the "look" of exotic planets and alien cultures in a fashion easily imagined from the writings of Victorian Era science fiction authors. Issuing commands is a quick and intuitive matter - everything is available from easy-to-access menus, and the keyboard, mouse, and joystick are fully supported. Unlike many CRPGs, combat is not the primary emphasis of Space 1889. Since this aspect of the game is the most difficult and frustrating, the authors wisely opted to emphasize exploration and puzzle-solving.

We Are Not Amused (Cons)

The game does have some weaknesses. The plot lacks an identifiable objective and characters tend to stumble upon one discovery after another without having any idea as to how all the pieces fit together until very late in the game. Also, most of the non-player characters in the game speak in a mixture of English and gibberish that appears to be an attempt at representing strange accents. For some of the NPCs, it is an interesting touch, while with others (notably the Martians) it is just plain hard to read. Some of the information gleaned from the NPCs is important, but it can be lost in the torrent of nonsense characters that appears on the screen.


Space 1889 is an intriguing product, and ideal for those who like adventures with a unique flavor. Players who revel in bloodshed should look elsewhere, but gamers who yearn for something different (and don't mind having a dash of history thrown in) will find what they're looking for in Space 1889.


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