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…
Planescape: 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
Sigil 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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