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Game Over Online ~ Planescape: Torment

GameOver Game Reviews - Planescape: Torment (c) Interplay, Reviewed by - Pseudo Nim

Game & Publisher Planescape: Torment (c) Interplay
System Requirements Pentium 166, 32MB Ram, 300MB HD
Overall Rating 94%
Date Published Wednesday, January 5th, 2000 at 07:33 PM


Divider Left By: Pseudo Nim Divider Right

Few companies make consistently good games. They always falter somewhere along the path. Some pick up the pace after and keep doing it; some go down the drain. Bigger companies often have successful franchises; but they go down the drain, as well. Good examples are Test Drive (I always marvel at just how bad every successful incarnation gets), Need For Speed (ditto) and Tomb Raider: while the first one was at least new and neat, all the follow-ups were just cash-ins. Examples of companies that I feel consistently produce quality games without fault are Bullfrog, Blizzard, Origin (by quality I mean overall, bugs don’t count as much), and Black Isle – at least so far. In this review, our dissection subject is Black Isle’s Planescape: Torment, and, faithful reader, we will examine if the proverbial ball was dropped or not (I rather wish the rating didn’t appear on top of the review, since it’d at least attempt to keep the suspense for a few paragraphs.)

Planescape: Torment is set (perhaps, unexpectedly) in the Planescape realm of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons universe. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Planescape is the realm of AD&D which is centered more around the mind aspect rather than the hack-and-slash aspect. To clarify, Planescape’s reality are the Outer and the Inner Planes of Existence; each plane has its own laws, ethos, laws, rules and ideologies. Since this is less of an existential realm and more of a spiritual one, for the lack of a better expression, most of the characters you see are built through the collective consciousness of the mortals of the more physical planes – so you’ll encounter lots of the good, the evil, the in-betweens and the undefinables. What differs the Planescape realm from the more traditional ones are the themes dealt with – the realm is based around the "Belief is power" concept – and that which you believe in shapes that which you do. Philosophical approaches to problems at hand, nature and interaction of good and evil and a good amount of other material, that is colloquially referred to as "deep stuff."

But let that not scare you off. Technically, you don’t really have to read it. You can just blast your way through the game, reach a high experience level (thanks to no more experience cap) and just go around leveling the city. (You can’t really level the buildings, but you can go on a rampage killing people. Don’t know how far it’ll get you, though.) But if you want to do that, I suggest you go out and pick up Unreal Tournament and play that instead. (Please, no Quake 3 comments. I choose UT).

The game is based around the city of Sigil (often called the City of Doors – see below), which is the center of Planescape and is the single point connecting all planes. It is ruled by the Lady of Pain, a being most quiet and deadly, one that is feared and behooved at the same time, for her deadly swiftness of dealing death and maintaining order in the city of Sigil.

So where do you, the game player come in? First off, you come into the character creation screen. I wasn’t quite happy with this, as I’m sure a few other people won’t be, but it might actually be good in the long run – you don’t roll your character, you’re given a pre-determined race, history, class, alignment and set of points which you can distribute around your stats. While bad at the first glance, if you think about it, it may not be such a drag after all – recall that you aren’t playing your game of D&D, but rather Black Isle’s – and they structured and balanced it around a certain type of character, and deviating from that would’ve shifted the balance somewhere where it shouldn’t be shifted. However, as you progress in the game, you can change your alignment, change classes (if you find the right tutor to teach you the right skills) and so forth; however, I don’t know whether you can dual-class or not: I haven’t tried it yet, but someone mentioned that it can’t be done. I can’t say for sure, though.

Then, the story begins. You wake up in the Mortuary, unable to remember who you are, how you got there and what you have done. You are The Nameless One, mainly because you can’t remember your name, but also because it’s cooler than calling yourself Bob or Bill or even Qas’axxalar for the lack of a real name. As soon as you wake up, you encounter a mimir – a talking skull who happens to be a walking (or rather, flying) encyclopedia – named Morte. He has a rather… strange obsession with women, given he has no body, and that will be a subject of endless jokes on TNO’s part. After you come to terms with the fact that you are dead, or at least are supposed to be dead, you proceed along the Mortuary, talking (albeit futilely) to zombies, skeletons, walls, doors and other pseudo-animate objects, until you come upon an elderly man who keeps track of all corpses that arrive to the Mortuary. Surprisingly, he seems to know you – and drops a few clues that should guide you on your way. As you move along a few more rooms, you come across a ghost of a woman that once loved you and was once loved by you… and she divulges the horrifying truth about your existence: you are immortal. You can never die; you may make friends, but they will die, and you will not. You may love, and be loved, but she who you love will die, and you will not. Even if you are slain, you will reawaken, and there is never any peace for your troubled soul. It is a curse; one few should ever desire to be cursed with, despite the obvious benefits – the said benefits turn into agonizing nightmares after you die a few thousand times over and find you have to drag your miserable existence along the Planes searching for a way to lift the curse. You also forget; every time you die, you remember nothing about your previous existence.

Thus starts your foray into the Planescape multiverse. You are in search of your true identity, and you will eventually uncover the secret of your death and rebirth… but will you really want to know?

Mais retournons ΰ nos moutons, like the saying goes. The story may be fascinating and involving, but how do you uncover it if the gameplay, colloquially put, sucks? Find you not will any of that here, as Yoda would say. The gameplay is strongly reminiscent of Baldur’s Gate, if only because the same Infinity engine is used, so the look and feel is virtually identical. However, the world looks drastically different: while Baldur’s Gate was set in a fantasy settings, with vast green fields, friendly dragons that wanted to help you cook your steak, sirens that sung lullabies for you and other friendly creatures, Planescape is more reminiscent of run-down universes like Blade Runner and Fallout. While there are no plasma rifles (and did I wish for one a few times), the houses look worn, cities run-down, landscapes barren. As well, you are more likely to run into a zombie, a ghoul or some other otherwise-dead creature than a honest-to-goodness dragon. Should you happen to run into one, though, it’s very likely it will be intelligent, and often, you may want to talk to it before slaying it – which applies to other creatures in the game, too. As I mentioned before, this isn’t a hack-and-slash Diablo adventure: quite often, you will get more experience and more information out of talking to people, rather than blasting them with swords and sorcery.

Moving on to a few defects. For some reason, the AI was removed from the party, in the sense that you can no longer tell your party members to be aggressive, defensive or passive. I found them standing around getting beaten up by many, many adversaries – so you’re best recommended to use some sort of an Auto Pause trigger (suggested: target gone) and manually reassign targets every time they die. Of course, it is also possible I wasn’t patient enough and didn’t wait for end of round – but I don’t think so. As well, the game has a few bugs – one notable one is a character you talk to in the game, convince him to do something, get a good number of experience points – but before moving on, talk to him again, and that, ad infinitum. Makes a good high-powered character rather early in the game, wouldn’t you agree? Of course, some people will call that cheating – but then, some people call AD&D Satanism, Paganism and otherwise refer to it as a religion.

There has been a marked improvement over the inventory system: no longer does the game unpause when you go into the inventory. While rendering the combat somewhat more simplistic, I do find it works well for applying med aid – after all, one of my hobbies is fighting at below 10% of hit points and saving on medpacks as much as possible. Of course, one of my other hobbies is saving: true story, by the time I finished Baldur’s Gate, I had anywhere between 650 and 700 saves. That’s a grudge, actually: since the game parses each directory for a small screenshot of the location you’re in, it takes quite a long time even on a fast computer if you have a lot of savegames. Granted, one has to me close to mad (or mad?) to have saved 700 times, but even at 100 savegames it becomes an issue.

The environment is quite astounding, as well. Everything is tightly integrated: the art, the music, the dialogues (which are carefully crafted in the official Planescape slang), and even the spoken dialogue is great: though there isn’t much of it. Often, characters (usually important ones) will start a dialogue by actually speaking to you, but somewhere halfway through the dialogue, the speech runs out. Did Black Isle run out of time to record more speech? That’ll remain unknown, I suppose.

One thing that differs Torment from the likes of BG is the status of the player in the world. You aren't just another wussy whooping other wussies' asses - you are known and are a "force to be reckoned with." The downside, though, is that everyone else isn't a wussy either, so the end result is the same; but at least the equality is drawn at a higher level. And another aspect (aside from the thinking one, that is) that might scare some people away is the difficulty level: while not as hard as some RPG's, Torment isn't excessively easy, either. Of course, there is a difficulty setting slider – but even then, especially for those unaccustomed to the AD&D world, life might just get a little bit too hard. On the other hand, Torment does everything to help you learn fast, so bonus points for it there. As a side grudge, I’m rather disappointed that the combat rolls were taken out of the main dialogue window – I rather like to look at them after a round and examine who got hit and what my bonus to hit rolls were – but not anymore, as every roll appears above the character that rolled it and floats up towards the upper edge of the screen, only to permanently disappear. You can technically run and chase it and keep it there for a certain amount of time, but it would be interesting to find out just how many people find that useful.

A word of caution for the wary: there is no more multiplayer in Torment. Perhaps for purposes of a balanced gameplay, or other reasons unbeknownst to the end user, multiplayer was left out; so you’re completely on your own in this dark and scary world with nobody to hold your hand, or nobody to let hold your hand. Either way, the game is completely single-player.

And so, where does that leave us in terms of an overall suggestion for the game? When Black Isle released Baldur’s Gate, it enveloped the souls and minds of many gamers that played it, willingly or unwillingly, for months unend. The experience cap was detrimentary; but a few clever people (I pay homage to them now just like I did in the Baldur’s Gate review) removed the limit; that got many people dubbed cheaters, but as I said, there are also people that think AD&D is a form of Satanism. There is no more experience cap in Torment, so those seeking to make an extremely powerful character can, easily. If anything, we should only hope that the expansion packs (should there be any) would be just a bit better than Tales of the Sword Coast… in any case, Planescape: Torment is a yet another astounding title out the doors of the Black Isle factory, and is well worth your jink, as Planescapers would say.

 

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Rating
94%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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