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Staff Article: Cheap Game Hunter, Vol.1

Mark E

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Cheap Game Hunter, Volume 1


Hey, let?s face facts: being a PC gamer these days pretty much bites the big one. You get your latest whiz-bang computer home from the store, set it up, earn the envy of your gaming buddies, and in two weeks the whiz is pretty much gone and six months later that bang isn?t looking so hot either. Then, as your gaming choices are slowly whittled by the relentless march of technology, you go to the gaming racks to find tons of cheap, crappy software that mostly center around managing trailer parks or driving transport trucks that can pass through solid objects.


Did PC gaming actually die and we all just managed to miss the memo?


Hell no! Those of us who fell off the upgrade train a long time ago and were forced to take a good look at the software carousels know that a lot of first-rate titles simply got overlooked on their initial release and fell to the wayside of the majority of gamers. Graphics may improve, but good gameplay is timeless, and nowadays you can get a lot of good gameplay for a very low price. Heck, in some cases you can get some amazing games for absolutely nothing.


That?s where the Cheap Game Hunter comes in! Every month I?ll be highlighting an overlooked (and in some cases, not so overlooked) gem of a game. I?ll be describing why the hell you should care, why you might want to give this title a miss, and where to find it if you decide you want to see what I?m praising up. We?ll be spanning all genres, all the time, all in the quest to provide you with entertainment on a budget.


So, where to start? Well, the inaugural title was going to be something near and dear to my heart, and it just happens to be one of the best, and my personal favorite, computer role-playing games of all time, not to mention one that was never the best-seller it deserved to be. With that thought in mind, let me refresh your memory on a little game known as?


Planescape: Torment


Sigil is a very unique city. It?s a city at a bit of a crossroads, quite literally. See, there are an infinite number of worlds out there, known as planes, and they all intersect at one point, which would be Sigil itself. This means that the city has a lot of traffic from those seeking to pass between one plane to get to another, and it makes for a varied and interesting population, to say the least.


You come into this scenario as the Nameless One, a ghoulish looking cadaver who has just woken up on a slab in the Mortuary, the resting place for all the deceased in Sigil. Waking up with no memory, a set of instructions tattooed across your back, and a floating skull that won?t shut up for company, you are sent on a quest to find out who you are and just what happened to you. And it hasn?t even started to get weird yet?


There?s a difference between a good premise and an amazing one, and the premise in Planescape, based on an old Dungeons & Dragons universe, is something amazing. Far beyond what I?ve detailed in the synopsis above, Sigil and its environs are fleshed out and believable, with tons of history and backstory available for the player who feels like diving into it. Add in the novel story of the Nameless One, a tale of discovery that probably isn?t heading where you think it is, and you have all the makings of a classic game, one that will take you along city streets that think and let you join up with men who are on fire for eternity. One thing you can say about Planescape, it?s never anything ordinary.


Enough talk, gimme the lowdown on the Gameplay!


Alrighty, Planescape is based around the classic RPG archetype of ?create character, recruit party, improve party, solve problem, and finally beat the game?. But where Planescape distinguishes itself is in how it takes this traditional template and runs with it in new and novel directions, directions that nobody has really done all that well either before or after the game came out.


For starters, your statistics play a huge role in this game. How often do people see their character boiled down to strength for attack, wisdom or intelligence for magic, constitution for hit points, etc? It?s basic D&D, right? Well, Planescape takes this and expands it so that your statistics impact on the game in very real ways. You start off with a handful of characteristic points and get an extra one every level or so. But pumping up certain areas gives you special bonuses that have real impact on how you play the game.


Do you want to be able to talk your way out of a conversation? You?ll need some high intelligence to outsmart somebody, or you could go for higher charisma to just charm your way out of it. High levels of constitution; in addition to giving you hit point bonuses, also cause the Nameless One to slowly regenerate. Despite not being able to be a priest, wisdom is arguably the most useful stat, as it grants you a substantial experience point bonus on all earned experience when you have it set high enough.


The Nameless One starts as a fighter, but you can easily switch over to a magic user or thief depending on your playing style. And playing style is very important in Planescape because you have options in how you do things. The Nameless One can be the great humanitarian, a self-indulgent prick, or somewhere in between. Being bad won?t keep you from finishing the game, so you can do as you like. Your alignment isn?t fixed, so your actions will cause it to alter constantly, which lets you know just how you?re faring in terms of morality.


Ok, we all know sound and graphics count for something, so what about them?


Graphics: For a game that?s almost five years old, Planescape still looks pretty darn good. It uses a more zoomed-in version of Bioware?s Infinity engine, the driving force behind the popular Baldur?s Gate series. The strange landscape of Sigil and the worlds you visit are always a treat to see, and there?s a lot to be said for how well the game manages to look alien without being overly hostile. There?s a very heavy tribal, for lack of a better word, motif in this game that carries through everything and it looks great.


Sound: The majority of the tunes in this game were composed by Mark Morgan and they?re fantastic. I?m listening to the soundtrack as I write this, as a matter of fact. The main theme is very well done and is a nice, sweeping piece that?s a really nice change from the trumpets and fanfare or pop music that most games favor these days. It fits in perfectly with the game?s chosen graphical style as well.


There?s not a lot of voice work in the game, save a scattered sentence here and there, but what is here is very well done. A lot of good voice-over artists were used in this production and it makes a difference in getting you to care about these characters. Rob Paulsen, a veteran of both games and mainstream cartoons, does an excellent job as Morte, the talking skull. Mitch Pileggi, best known as AD Skinner on The X-Files, is fantastic as Dak?kon, another potential companion of yours, and I doubt anybody would recognize him without being told who the actor was.


So why wouldn?t I like this game?


Let me be up front with you. Planescape: Torment tells a story, and a well-written one at that, but your penalty for this great story is a huge amount of dialogue and options. The amount of text you have to read can get a little overwhelming at times. I don?t remember the exact figures, but the quantity of text in this game is monstrous. If reading puts you off at all or you don?t like this kind of plot-heavy RPG gameplay, this probably isn?t the right title for you.


Following up on that, when I say plot-heavy, I also mean combat-light. There is quite a bit of fighting in Planescape, make no mistake, but it?s not as important as in other RPGs. Most of your experience in the game will come from talking, achieving goals, solving side-quests, and chatting with your companions. There are a number of side quests involving fights and some climactic tussles that could fall in the realm of ?boss battles?, but you can often avoid these if your character is smart enough. The game really does tailor itself to how you want to play it, but even then you might not be fighting as much as you like if you?re a die-hard combat maven.


Ok, you convinced me, where can I get it?


Good question. Quick search of the Interplay store and EB?s website shows nothing by the way of stock. There are a few copies floating around eBay and I?m sure more crop up there from time to time. Going price looks to be around $15-20, more than fair for this title. A couple months ago, Interplay repackaged Planescape in cardboard packaging the size of a jewel case. You should check the software carousels at your local PC shops to see if you can spot it. And thanks to Big Daddy Bling Bling, you can check out this thread for an alternative source!


Break it down with a final blurb, cheap boy!


Planescape is my favorite CRPG of all time. Period. I didn?t get into the companion characters at all because their stories are best learned through the course of the game. Let me just say that some of them are quite moving. And when?s the last time a game actually let you have a choice of love interests (or the option to remain celibate if you just don?t care). I didn?t go into the twists and turns the story takes because it?s not fair for me to ruin a truly engaging story of self-discovery just to move a few copies.


Just run down to the store, toss off a couple of bucks, and give this one a spin. If you like a game that has some meat to its story and great, original gameplay, I don?t think you?ll be disappointed.

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This is a great idea for a regular column - I'm looking forward to next month's already.


I've got one little request, though - if we're dealing with old PC games, could you do a paragraph or so on how easy they are to get working on Windows XP (or OSX if you're talking about Mac games)? I've got a number of older games at home that are a nightmare or flat-out impossible to get running on my current machine.

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In the deals forum, I posted a place where you can get this game for like......a dollar. The only problem is shipping, which is 8 bucks(but doesn't go up when you buy more), so it would be better to find like 5 or so games that you like.


I actually think PC gaming might be cheaper than console games if you are really hardcore about it. PC games seem to get marked down a lot more aggressively, so the fewer console games you buy at $49.99, the more you're saving. At some point, you'd break even on hardware upgrades by buying cheaper games.

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I've got a number of older games at home that are a nightmare or flat-out impossible to get running on my current machine.


And that will be addressed, have no fear. I'm going to cover off several classics that are nigh impossible to run on XP without some techno-wizardry. In some cases, I'll even be posting up links for specific games.


Do I sense a request for System Shock 2 in March?


It's coming, guaranteed. Maybe not in March, but soon. :tu


Oh, and thanks for the praise, gents, glad you all liked it!

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In the deals forum, I posted a place where you can get this game for like......a dollar. The only problem is shipping, which is 8 bucks(but doesn't go up when you buy more), so it would be better to find like 5 or so games that you like.


There's a slightly older link in the deals area too for the planescape/soulbringer combo packs from gogamer.com. Although the original deal is done, the combo pack price is a couple dollars more than the game alone from Big Daddy's thread, but shipping for 1 or 2 games is only $2 (get the Fallout bundle while your at it!). Just got mine and am looking forward to finally playing this.


BTW, great idea for a monthly column. :rock

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It's (System Shock 2) coming' date=' guaranteed. Maybe not in March, but soon. :tu



When you do, I'll look up my bookmarks of updated textures for this and share with you guys. I haven't played the game myself, but have been meaning to pick that up. I'm also interested in getting Planescape since I somehow missed out on this one.

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