The cold awakens you. It is a strain to open your eyes. You feel terrible, like you’ve been through a meat grinder, yet at the same time you feel strangely refreshed. Squinting a bit, you move your head to look around you. Your body lies on a metal table, scarred and mutilated, surrounded by other corpses. In various states of decay and dissection, those other bodies lack your audacity to try and get up again. They lie still, in uncaring death.
As your head clears you try to remember how you came to be here, lying in this gruesome morgue. Your memories elude you, scurrying for the corners of your mind like roaches exposed to the light. Your most basic knowledge is as insubstantial as smoke, and you cannot grab even the smallest wisps.
With grim determination you sit up to brave… the unknown. Literally. The very first thing you see is a skull flying at your head. You lift your arm to ward it off, but it stops in time and… floats there. The skull introduces himself (itself?) to you; his name is Morte. He seems friendly enough, but you find yourself unable to tell him your name in return. You cannot remember it.
The worst part is that all of this seems so very, very familiar.
Welcome to the world of The Nameless One, your character in the game Planescape: Torment.
This is the latest role playing game is from Black Isle, the creators of two of the best RPGs ever made for the PC – Fallout 2 and Baldur’s Gate. These guys prove over and over again that they really know what they’re doing. Planescape: Torment is deep, immersive, engrossing, addictive, complex, and occasionally has flashes of true brilliance. You can read the rest of this review or not, but I already recommend this game to you.
Planescape is actually very similar to Baldur’s Gate. The combat system is the same, as well as the strict adherence to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules. The characters in Planescape are noticeably larger and more detailed. Also, where Baldur’s Gate take place in the Forgotten Realms (a traditional D&D world of magic, swords and dragons), Planescape takes place in the confusing town of Sigil, a city of portals that cross to the different planes of the universe.
Hardcore D&D pen-and-paper players can tell you all about the upper and lower planes, the planes of chaos and order, the stuff that all us lesser geeks didn’t really care about. We just wanted to have a fun, mythical adventure. Give me the Monster Manual any day – I’ll leave the Fiend Folio on the shelf, thank you (Uh, lesser geeks? – Ed).
Planescape, on the other hand, takes care of all those pesky planes to let you concentrate on having fun. And what gooood fun it is. The story is fantastic and more central to the game than any of Black Isle’s previous releases.
In order to accommodate the heavy story emphasis, you can only play as The Nameless One. While you have some control over your starting statistics, you have none over your name, race, body, or anything else. While this limits your freedom a bit, the slowly unfolding story of The Nameless One (I won’t spoil it for you) makes it worth it. And while you may not be able to chose your character, the moral freedom of Planescape is simply incredible.
Did I say moral freedom? What it really comes down to is a matter of choice. Would you want to work for the good guys or the bad guys? You can do either, or both, or neither. It will change the progression of the game, but not end it. When you meet any one of the hundreds of non-player characters, you can be nice and try to persuade them to help you, or you can threaten to kill them if they don’t do what you want, or you can just hack their arms off and take their stuff. This is a game for adults, and one that might help you learn a little about yourself.
The graphics consist of sprites on pre-rendered backgrounds, and they look really good. From the brilliance of major spells to just walking around exploring, Planescape looks sharp and maintains a consistent artistic vision. However, it’s the sound that really shines.
First of all, the voice acting is all top-notch. Although most of the dialogue in the game takes the form of text, the moments of real speech are excellent. It’s refreshing to actually believe the voices in a game, rather than sneering as the guy who works in Interplay’s mail room tries to sound like an undead warrior.
But the most amazing part is the environmental audio. The intermittent background music is great and the background noise is fantastic. When you’re in a crowded city, it sounds like a crowded city. Walk past a bar, and you’ll hear the noise of the drunken patrons inside. Wander near a slave auction, and you’ll hear the auctioneer calling. Go to a party in the festival hall, and it sounds just like a party. Plus, all the sound in encoded for positional audio (like EAX), so if you have a surround sound system, you’ll hear some of that party behind you. Planescape has just about the best sound I’ve ever heard in a game.
Sure, I’ve got a couple complaints about little things in Planescape: Torment (like the excessive loading times), but they’re minor and I’ve already written enough to make my editor angry. This is really a very easy recommendation. So click on that ‘Buy’ button, get the game, and lose yourself in another world. While you’re there, give the succubus ‘Falls-from-Grace’ a kiss from me…we have a little thing going on.