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Planetfall: an unWinnable State review, May 9, 2020
There is a reason Planetfall is considered a classic. The puzzles are intuitive, the slowly unfolding narrative is mesmerizing, and Floyd. The only thing that marred my enjoyment of the game is what I believe to be a bug with the version I played, but more on that later.
Now admittedly, this is my first foray into Infocom’s catalogue, and, quite frankly, the first work of interactive fiction I have played to the end, aside from some rather small works here and there over the years, so my frame of reference for the sake of reviewing is a rather small and crooked frame. That aside, I know I had plenty of fun while playing, which is perhaps all the reference I need.
The world design, both in structure and aesthetics, is clear. As a player my goals were almost always clear, if at certain points perhaps too many at once. And while I am personally obsessive about mapping, navigating the world could largely be done without a map.
The puzzles of Planetfall are straight forward and intuitive. That’s not to say they are all easy, but they all make sense and can be reasoned out. (I did need one hint… I mean solution, you can read about that in the Spoiler-y Review.) There are no, “Why did that work?” moments in the game or, “How was I supposed to think of that?” solutions. This is perhaps the most winning aspect of Planetfall, the ease of interacting with its puzzles. I was lead to believe that Infocom games all had wildly difficult puzzles, often to the point of absurdity. Not so here. Everything feels doable and is a joy to play.
Planetfall tells you a story, and it tells it well. The story is presented in pieces through the environment and player discovery, though there is one info-dump in the form of a library computer. It can be a grim story with certain dark implications for those letting their minds wander, but a compelling story.
And Floyd. Floyd is great. But I do not want to ruin anything for those who have not given Planetfall a play yet so that’s all Floyd gets in the Spoiler Free Review.
Let me just get my biggest negative out of the way. Due to what I believe to be a bug, there were two objects in the game that are not listed in their starting locations. It got to the point where I had only one problem left to solve before finishing the game and I could not do it because I was missing two objects. I knew what needed to be done I just did not have the means. After becoming exceedingly frustrated, I went to the Invisiclues, which told me what I already new. So I went to a walkthrough, which told be the bobbit was in the dry-cleaners and the swend-o-fenn was in the linen closet (names and locations have been changed for the protection of the innocent). Sure enough, when in the linen closet, issuing the command >take swend-o-fenn resulted in taken. I almost rage quit then and there, never to return. For the record I was playing the file planetfall-r39-s880501. A test of two other versions resulted with the bobbit being listed in the dry-cleaners room description.
The rest of what I have say here is really just quibbles. Having to eat is an artificial obstacle, but common of games from the era. Inventory management is a pain, especially since if you drop an item in a room you better remember where you left it, because the game does not tell you about objects moved from their starting position. You cannot use the command >x to examine, you have to type out examine or look at over and over again. There are also a few long commands that you have to type a number of time throughout the game that get annoying.
Planetfall is a delight. From its depths of story telling to the approachable puzzles to Floyd, there are many things to enjoy. Gaining accessing a new area of the game world or discovering new information is rewarding and fun. If you have not, do yourself the favor of getting this to your interpreter, you won’t regret it.
You can find the SPOILER-Y portion of unWinnable States review of Planetfall here.