Planetfall

by Steve Meretzky

Episode 1 of Planetfall series
Science Fiction
1983

Return to the game's main page

Member Reviews

5 star:
(69)
4 star:
(30)
3 star:
(10)
2 star:
(3)
1 star:
(0)
Average Rating:
Number of Reviews: 11
Write a review


1-10 of 11 | Next | Show All


0 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A classic game, April 15, 2022

I probably shouldn't review this game because I don't really have many nice things to say about it. I perhaps optimistically hope that this is not the pinnacle of what interactive fiction can be.


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
What a Difference a Robot Makes, December 19, 2021
by kamineko (Acadiana, USA)

If Zork I is Infocom's most iconic title and Trinity its most critically admired, then perhaps Planetfall is the most likely to engender sentimental attachment. Reviews breathlessly enthuse about its supporting character, Floyd, and rightfully so. I am fairly confident that Planetfall is the first bit of electronic entertainment to make people cry (excepting tears of frustration). Nothing can take such an accomplishment from Meretzsky or Planetfall.

It would seem, though, that attitudes toward Planetfall have shifted over the years. It is the second highest-rated Infocom title ranked by IFDB. If I am not mistaken it was, for a time, rated more highly than Trinity. Be that as it may, it has not appeared on a "Top 50 of All Time" list since 2011, while Trinity, Zork, and Wishbringer have endured. Stranger still, the once frequently-dismissed Suspended made the 2019 list. Were I still in graduate school, I would beg a site administrator to expose the raw rating data. When were these ratings for Planetfall entered? What is the historical trend? Since I am no longer in graduate school, we will have to settle for an obvious truth: tastes change, people change.

Then and now, Planetfall has had a lot going for it. You, the protagonist, are living on borrowed time and must (Spoiler - click to show)find a cure for the disease that is killing you. The setup instills Planetfall with something frequently absent from Infocom games: a sense of narrative urgency. As you explore a strangely abandoned alien science outpost, you solve an assortment of well-clued, satisfying puzzles. The gonzo hijinks of your robot companion, somehow, do not negate the empty outpost's ambiance of ominous desolation. The game's final set piece ending is truly exhilarating, Infocom's best so far.

Everything works so well that a player may not even notice how hard Planetfall works to--for lack of a better phrase--jerk them around. The inventory management implementation is rather extreme, even for Infocom. The game world is liberally populated with red herrings to clog up your limited carrying capacity. When you pick up one too many items, you drop not only the item you were attempting to carry but also drop another random item from your inventory. A long train ride separates two large areas--if you don't bring the correct items to the train you may as well restore your game. And you won't bring the right items. Really. You find a key and lock combination (Spoiler - click to show)that work far away from your current location. After you lug yourself, saddled as you are with food, sleep, and disease timers, across the entire game world (truly! end-to-end), you will discover that the combination is completely worthless. Elsewhere, It is likely that you will find yourself hungry and tired while carrying a large ladder--having dropped your food to free up carrying capacity--down a very long hallway. Planetfall is also the first Infocom game to incorporate sleep and hunger timers.

That this mix still succeeds says a lot about the creative powers of Steve Meretzsky. What other game could require the management and planning of Suspended without the satisfactions of a management and planning game, and yet enjoy the love of so many people? What is Planetfall's secret? It can't be the ending, (Spoiler - click to show)which stretches credibility so far that one of the "Eaten by a Grue" podcasters thought that it was a dying hallucination of the kind found in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." The secret is Floyd; what a difference a robot makes! His implementation is incredibly shallow--you can't ask him about anything and you can only get him to do a few things, and yet it really does feel as though he is your friend. He is the Eliza of computer game sidekicks. People who have written about IF academically tend to be interested in Floyd, and why wouldn't they be?

For its ability to rouse actual tears, Planetfall qualifies as too big to judge. Thus, I assign no rating to it. Even if, decades ago, you--tired, hungry, and sick--left the laser at the far end of the train tracks, you must still admit that (Spoiler - click to show)the scene outside the Bio Lab got to you.

Worth a look, if only to know what everybody else is talking about. Or was talking about. For many, it will be worth more than a look.

Edit: I should mention that I encountered a nasty problem with release 39. Dropped items did not appear in room descriptions. I'm not sure what triggered it, but I recommend playing another version.


0 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A classic , November 29, 2021

A classic old school vibe to it, really enjoyed it and would love to see more from the author!


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Planetfall: an unWinnable State review, May 9, 2020
by unWinnable State (unWinnableState.com)
Related reviews: Parser, Infocom, unWinnable State, The List!

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.

Positives

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.

Negatives

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.

Conclusion

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.


8 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Great early Infocom game, February 1, 2019
by Michael Roberts (Seattle, Washington)

This is one of my favorite Infocom games. I think it stands out as an important transitional game in Infocom's early years that was hugely influential on their later games, and we all know Infocom was hugely influential on IF in general. One of Planetfall's best-known innovations is of course Floyd, probably the first attempt at an NPC sidekick. The bag of tricks the game used to make Floyd seem continuously present and interactive formed the basis of NPCs in countless subsequent works. The innovation that was more important to me, though, was less about technology and more about the game design philosophy. Planetfall was deliberately designed to be fair to the player. It probably doesn't qualify as "merciful" by modern standards, as it did let you back yourself into an unwinnable corner, but its puzzles were logical, consistent, and well clued; at no point did you have to read the author's mind or exhaustively try every VERB+OBJECT combination. That was a huge break from the fashion of the time, which conceived of the adventure game as a contest between designer and player without any constraints on the designer's sadistic omnipotence. There was a certain pleasure in beating a game that had such blatantly unfair rules, but even the most obsessive players got tired of that after seeing one or two such games. IF wouldn't have endured (even to the limited extent it has) if the design philosophy behind Planetfall hadn't come about.


4 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
A fading star lost in time, May 4, 2017
by Form 27b-6 (Southern California)

Oh boy here's a tricky one. Now it's never a good feeling to trample people's memories, or to snatch their pink glasses, but it's necessary to give an honest assessment of the game, in its original context, but also in light of all the achievements made in IF since then.

At its core, Planetfall is a straightforward castaway story, in a science-fiction setting reminiscent of old classics from the sixties. Planetfall has an air of Forbidden Planet, sidekick A.I included, and it's not without charm. You'll be accompanied in your journey by Floyd, a valiant, talkative little robot, who was probably one of the early forays in NPC A.I. Planetfall fans never fail to mention him, along with Steve Meretzky's humour and clever exposure of the planet's backstory. Like I alluded to earlier, all these things are true, if you place them in the context of 1983. Back then, it was impressive to have a NPC deliver a few scripted contextual lines. Back then, it was innovative to force the player to manage fatigue and food. Back then puzzles came down to using the right item at the right place. But the cold reality is that today none of this is new, and frankly, none of it is very much fun anymore. Mechanics aside, I also have a few more personal grudges. I think the author misses the mark at a few crucial moments. The exposure, tone, and pacing are a bit off at times, and the ending seems rushed. (Spoiler - click to show)Reviving Floyd goes against the tonal duality present during the entire story; I have nothing against a Hollywood happy end but it does the game a disservice in that case.

Now the game is not without qualities; whether it is how it conveys a sense of isolation, or how it manages to incorporate humour in an otherwise dramatic setting. And yes Floyd can be cute, without a doubt. The author makes good use of baits and misdirections, yet I found the game very easy, and managed to get the highest score in a few days without hints, so it probably makes a good candidate for newcomers, as long as they're willing to forgive the dated game design;
Among the major problems are a very crude parser, borderline bugged, some frustrating backtracking, and an annoying inventory management. As for Floyd, anything more than basic interaction breaks its code, and you may feel like you're peeking behind the curtain. Score calculation is also questionable. (Spoiler - click to show)For instance you can beat the game without ever having to go to the kitchen, relying only on the survival kit. However, this will only give you a 76 out of 80, in spite of the fact that you completed all the game's objectives, in less time that it would take to go to the kitchen. So the game grants you four points for accessing the useless kitchen, instead of rewarding optimized play.

At this point you've probably understood my point; Planetfall is a decent game, better than most in its time, but it's not the legend some may describe. It's not to say you shouldn't give it a chance, but you'll have to do so with the kind indulgence its venerable age deserves.


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Fun sci-fi Infocom game, but too many red herrings and empty rooms for me, February 3, 2016

Planetfall is many people's favorite IF of all time, so I knew it would be hard for it to live up to the hype. However, I think I just don't like Meretzky's style (e.g. Sorceror, the puzzles in Hitchhiker's Guide, etc.). He tends to favor big, mostly-empty complexes with many useless items thrown in to make it hard to find the real puzzles.

This worked for me in A Mind Forever Voyaging, but in Planetfall, I felt like I was just walking through an abandoned warehouse. I much prefer Moriarity's tightly-interlocking puzzle style, or Lebling and Blank's rich puzzle variety.

In planetfall, you play a lowly ensign in space who crash lands on a deserted planet, meeting a friendly robot named Floyd and trying to discover what happened. The resolution of the puzzles and storyline is satisfying, and the writing has several high points.

I recommend this game, but not as high as the Enchanter trilogy, Moriarity's games, or even Ballyhoo, which I loved.


6 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Doesn't hold up, January 4, 2016

As I write this, Planetfall is #7 on the IFDB top 100, narrowly beating out Trinity and Blue Lacuna. No doubt it was one of Infocom's best, but now it has to be judged against the best games of the 21st century; it just doesn't hold up.

The sprawling map full of empty rooms with nothing interesting in them, the simplistic NPC conversation mechanism (wouldn't it be cool if you could "ask floyd about achilles"?), but above all the gotcha-game cruelty, where you're never sure if you just permanently locked yourself out of solving a puzzle.

We used to think this was just part of what IF had to be like. This game was an important historical milestone, but now, we've moved beyond it.


1 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
First one I finished, August 23, 2013

Loved this game. Played it obsessively when it came out. Became Galactic Overlord. Would love to get it again.


8 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Not just a classic - A Legend, June 2, 2012
by starfire (Just beyond Pluto)

This game was everything that an interactive fiction game could be. It was an adventure, and this meant the player would have fun exploring an amazing fictional world, and would plan strategies for the next game session instead of listening to the teacher during class. It was fun, laughable fun, like most of the Infocom classics, so even the thirty or fortieth play through weren't old. And, most important, it touched your emotions. The antics of Floyd, your robot friend and adventuring companion, brought this character to life in the same way that characters in a well written book come alive. You, the real you, not just the you in the story, cared about Floyd. And Floyd cared about you. That is what made this game not just a classic, but a legend. That is what turned game players into fans. That is why we have the IFDB and the competitions and the thousands of games today, because games like this touch our hearts and live in our minds forever. Planetfall was everything an interactive fiction game could be, which means it's more than a playing experience, it's an emotional treasure.



1-10 of 11 | Next | Show All | Return to game's main page