Developer: Black Isle Studios | Publisher: Interplay Entertainment |Release Date: 1999 | Genre: Role Playing Game | Website: N/A | Purchase: GOG
Video– or Computer Game characters that wake up with amnesia is probably one of the most over used plot cliché’s, but every once in a while a game comes along that turns the formula on it’s head. Planescape: Torment is one such a game and storywise is unlike anything before (and even after!) it. It’s greatest feature is it’s gripping and twisting plot, so to spoil any of the story elements would be a sin, but a bit of background info is necessary to fully convey how excellent this title is.
After a disturbing intro filled with lots of bizarre flashbacks that make very little sense (yet) your character is wheeled into a morgue and left on a mortuary slab, seemingly lifeless. He soon wakes up however, but with no previous memories or even any knowledge of what his name is. Now in other games this would be your chance to name your character and set off on your own adventure, but not in this game. You start off as “The Nameless One” and that’s what you’ll stay throughout the game. This is his story and his adventure, so you better brace yourself for one heck of a ride. The game takes place in the “Planescape” setting so if you are a Dungeons & Dragons fan you’ll know that it’s one of the strangest places you’ll ever see. The city of Sigil is one of the most unique AD&D settings to date and exploring it’s secrets is a lot of fun.
Ruled over by the enigmatic “Lady of Pain”, Sigil is also known as the “City Of Doors”. The whole city is covered with “Portals”, gateways to other places and worlds, but the catch is that any space can be a door and anything can be the key. This is quite a freaky concept as an alley or fallen branch or anything that’s enclosed on four sides can be a portal and the key can be anything from a word to a thought or just some random thing in your pocket! What this means in the game is that there are lots of strange people and creatures from all over the planes that inhabit Sigil and quite a few of them are unwilling residents that just happened to walk through the wrong doorway and ended up there. Anyway, back to the main character; after waking up, you realize he’s covered in scars and tattoos and the only clue to what’s going on is a cryptic message tattooed on his back! Your first companion is Morte, a talking, floating skull and one of the most amusing characters I’ve ever encountered in a game. Morte joins your adventures and soon you’ll have up to five other people (or creatures!) in your party, all drawn to your company for various reasons. Then there’s one more aspect of the game I haven’t mentioned yet; your character realizes that he cannot die.
Or more accurately he can die (and it can happen quite frequently) it’s just the staying dead part that proves to be problematic. So instead of saving the world/princess and slaying the dragon/evil empire, all your character wants is to find out what’s going on and why he is in that specific situation. Planescape: Torment runs on the Infinity Engine created by Bioware and as such is viewed from a top-down isometric perspective. The good news is that the interface is very streamlined and leaves most of the screen open, but I’m afraid the bad news is the resolution is fixed at a paltry 640×480, which by today’s standards is very poor. Character models are nicely rendered and have some very nice animations. It’s a pity though that the effect is somewhat spoiled by the fact that your characters sometimes walk or attack in the opposite direction that they are facing. If you are playing the game on modern hardware you’ll also encounter a few graphic glitches I’m afraid.
Torment might not have the vast amount of locations that you might be used to in similar games, but each area you explore is filled with interesting stuff and optional quests. Each area is covered by a dark fog that obscures the map until you explore, which means you won’t see an ambush coming. Overall the game has a very dark, Gothic look and feel to it with it’s rundown locations and grimy characters. There are some rendered cut-scenes during key moments, but these really show their age. What’s nice is that your journal has renders of every major non-player character and all enemies you encounter. However, while these renderings are cool, I would have preferred paintings or sketches instead of the renders. Planscape: Torment is heavily focused on storyline and character development, which means action fans might want to look elsewhere. Torment has its’ fair share of hostile encounters, but these are more a nuisance than anything else. Combat feels clunky and often the reward for avoiding a fight is far greater than slaying everything in sight. If your character dies during combat, he simply wakes up in the nearest morgue anyway. Story and puzzle fans are in for a treat though and not only is the plot brilliant, but most of the puzzles have multiple solutions.
The volume of text that you’ll have to read through is enormous and it’s quite possible to just spend a whole gaming session doing nothing but reading. Not that you’ll mind if you love a good story and interesting conversations. The story is quite dark at times and can maybe be a bit esoteric for some people, but deals with a lot of mature subjects and will really draw you in once you are hooked. It’s not rated as one of the best role playing games in the world (by players) for no reason. The game has a very nice musical score and some of the best ambient noises I’ve ever heard in a game. Each area really comes to life thanks to the cool audio elements. The voice-acting is also very well done and most of the characters fit their in-game personas perfectly. It’s a pity that there isn’t more of it. Some of the exchanges between characters are simply hilarious. Usually only the first few lines of dialogue are spoken out loud leaving you having to read the rest. This isn’t too bad since it goes much faster than listening, but a bit more speech overall would have been nice. The people of Sigil all have their own unique way of speaking and lingo which help to create a believable gameworld.
Sadly Torment has enough bugs and flaws to scare away a lot of gamers. The game was released with a myriad of bugs but one official- and one fan-made patch later, things are running a lot smoother. There are still some glitches, but thankfully nothing game stopping. Sometimes you’ll have to save and reload a game before your character will initiate dialogue with a non-player character, but that’s about the worse I’ve encountered. Not a bug – but still annoying is the fact that the game comes On four CD’s and there is a lot of disk swapping if you travel back and forth. So for example you need disk 2 in the drive to start the game, then disk 3 if you load a save and then disc 2 again if you travel back to a previous area. I know I’m nitpicking but it’s annoying. (Note: This is obviously not an issue anymore with the digital version of the game that is sold online). The main character has a tendency of dying quite quickly especially early in the game and while death isn’t such a harsh penalty it can become tedious. The game also has very little armour (instead opting for magical jewelry and tattoos to provide protection) which is an interesting idea, but some decent armour would have been more appreciated. Lastly your characters path finding abilities are slightly lacking so you need to carefully guide them through areas.
Enough with the complaining. Planescape: Torment is an outstanding game that’s just as engrossing and thought provoking today as it was back when it was first released. If you enjoy a deep role playing game filled with characters you really care about then you owe it to yourself to check out this game. There really has been nothing like it before or even since.
*Review originally published 2001.
- OS: Windows XP / Vista / 7 / 8 / 10
- Processor: 1 GHz Processor
- Memory: 256MB RAM
- Graphics: 3D graphics card compatible with DirectX 7
- Hard Drive: 1.1 GB available space
- OS: Windows XP / Vista / 7 / 8 / 10
- Processor: 1.4 GHz Processor
- Memory: 512 MB RAM
- Graphics: 3D graphics card compatible with DirectX 9
- Hard Drive: 1.1 GB available space