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Resurrection: Planescape: Torment

By Lewis Denby

Interplay have re-released a bunch of classic games today were supposed to re-release a bunch of classic games today, but have pushed them back to next week.  Greg wrote about one of them, the highly influential Baldur’s Gate, earlier today.  One that never excelled as much at the time, but has become something of a cult classic and is arguably the better game, is Black Isle’s Planescape: Torment. Here’s why you should buy it, even though it’s a little hard to stomach these days…

planescape1Planescape: Torment is a game in which your avatar can never die, despite the best efforts of an abundance of enemies, and one in which your best friend is a wise-cracking, talking skull.  This is not your average RPG.

It’s a funny one for Interplay to re-release, actually.  They have done today [EDIT: Release date pushed back to next week], alongside other classics such as the Baldur’s Gate series and Icewind Dale.  Planescape received astonishing critical reception and lodged itself into the hearts of a core group of passionate fans.  But it never sold at all well, and I have my doubts over whether many people except fans who’ve lost their copies sometime in the past decade will purchase it this time around.

I’ve gone back to Planescape countless times since its release in 1999, and something’s always come up to distract me.  Hand on heart: I struggle with the game these days.  Its opening is sluggish, and that it demands several tens of hours’ investment means I’ve never got properly stuck into it since my initial playthrough.  I wonder if it will forever be an unfortunate product of its times – a forward-thinking, exceptionally clever role-playing game that was lost upon mainstream audiences at the time, and will still be lost upon mainstream audiences now.  It certainly feels strange to go back to, in this era of up-tempo pacing and the glorious third dimension.

But you would be hard pressed to find anyone who’s played Planescape and not found it to be an irrefutably brilliant game.  Its creativity knows no bounds, its story deeply clever, entrenched in philosophical and moral quandaries.  There’s a lot of action unless you work hard to avoid it, but its focus is on characters, on dialogue, and on the world itself.

//An open door
planescape2Sigil is the city of doors; a hub of portals leading to alternate planes of existence.  It rests atop a skyscraping tower, split into different regions and brimming with an uneasy sort of life.  Its architecture is beautiful, but warped and alien.  Its inhabitants are stand-offish and cold, but imbued with the most complex of personalities.  Though Planescape is a (now forgotten) realm of the Dungeons & Dragons universe, its presentation here is about as far away from those typical fantasy connotations as it’s possible to get.  It is a strange and uncomfortable place to exist.

The Nameless One has no choice.  He’s bound to live for all eternity, across multiple lives, resurrected after each death and returned to Sigil once more.  This isn’t a measly plot device, either, for Planescape is a game in which you can never die.  You are only ever snapped back to life in an arbitrary location of the world, your memories of lives gone by becoming ever more hazy.

So the game begins.  On a table in a mortuary, to be precise.  You’re locked in, it would seem, and your exit is guarded by mysterious Dustmen.  Zombies roam the building’s many floors.  Your only hope is to befriend that talking skull, Morte, who emerged by your side as you awoke from fatality.  He’s a bastard, but a lovable one.  His sarcastic jibes become endearing, his pained desire for a sexual partner turning from worrying to entertaining.


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    Planescape proves that (certain) video games can be considered art.

  • This is a sure buy for me.
    I can’t forget the wonderful time I spent on this game. I played it when it came out almost non-stop and I was so sad when I finished it.

  • This is my favorite game of all time.
    I had it back in the days, but I lost it. I’ve thought about buying it again but now it’s kind of a collectors thing (much like Planescape’s books) and goes for high prices everywhere I look.

    I’ll definitely buy a hard copy of this. Now I only need a shop that ships to Brasil…

  • Incredible game, very depressing and sad but a complete and utter masterpiece. I do agree about the initial hour or so inside the mortuary, I put off playing the game for years because the start just didnt grip me. I then came back and played again and loved the whole thing. The story, characters and dialogue are unmatched in any game and in this day and age we wont be seeing any game come close.

  • just played my old copy again a month or two ago. still one of the best rpgs of all time.

  • Bit late to the fray but here you go.

    If you have the original retail version of Planescape and want to run it on modern hardware at high resolution (I’m currently running it at 1280×1024 using the method below) follow the instruction at the below link.


  • I am fed up with the fake excuse of ‘having to spend 10’s of hours’ playing a game. This is an invite every time for $60 12 hour games that you finish in a weekend and a total gaming rip-off.

    What isn’t said, a such obvious thing not to say, is that most games that take ’10’s of hours’ to complete have an option called ’save anywhere anytime’!

    Having that statement about ’10’s of hours needed’ right at the start turned me off from reading the rest; as despite PS:T being the opposite, it shows this reviewer to be a cop out to the mainstream.

  • UK_John: Um, I fear you may have misunderstood what I was saying. My complaint wasn’t that the game is too long. I was saying – and it’s something I’ve yet to meet anyone who disagrees with, even the most passionate Planescape fans – that its opening is considerably less interesting than the game ends up being, and to get to the really fantastic stuff you’ve got get through a very substantial section beforehand. It’s not a /bad/ section, by any means – my point was that I’ve played that opening so many times that I’m not so compelled any more to chug through that to get to the rest.

    With regards to the “Save anywhere” thing, I have no idea what relevance that has to anything.

  • Well, there has to be a reason that 10+ years ago a sub 30 hour game was seen as short and not good value and was usually marked down for it in reviews, and now 12 hour games like Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge quite often will get a quote in the review somewhere about ‘length of gameplay being par for the course’! Who decided that 12 hour games for my $60 was ‘par for the course’? Who asked me if I wanted to go from big boxes to DVD cases? Who is asking gamers if we prefer PDF manuals to printed manuals, which seems to becoming the norm?

    The industry just foists upon us and the gaming media refuse to confront them.

    Due to all the above, you’re ’10’s of hours’ struck a chord.

    Mainstream PC gaming is coming to an end. There are hardly any stores (in the UK) that carry PC titles, and those that still do have displays 1/4 of what they had 2-3 years ago. 99% of PC games are console conversions, and if it wasn’t for Eastern Europe, we would have PC only games any more. Because consoles don’t have a keyboard and no developer is going to release a 4 DVD PC only game (to have a Planescape with all speech), there is zero chance of another Planescape or anything like it.

    So with a dumbed down multiformat, produce for the lowest denominator gaming, and the demand from reviewers all the time for hand-holding, smaller, shorter games, I don’t hold out hope for gaming in general and PC gaming in particular.

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