Penumbra: Overture - PC - Review
Penumbra is an adventure game on the lines of the old Shivers, which was a creepy adventure game from about 10-15 years ago. In Shivers, players were constantly on the seat of their pants, waiting for the next startling moment. Another similar game in terms of edgy atmosphere was a Tex Murphy game, from about the same time frame. 7th Guest and others also come to mind. Penumbra compares well to these types of games in the “scare” department, but the weak and largely unexplained back story takes away from some of the effect.
The story begins with the main protagonist acting as narrator, relating the story of how his father sent him documents after his father’s death 30 years before. The information contained in these documents ultimately sends the narrator on a trip to the frozen north. Thus the stage is set for the game. Unfortunately, we’re not told much of anything about just what he found in the deposit box described in the letter, nor are we told much about his father or what his father had been involved in. This story isn’t developed much more during the course of the game, either.
This lack of story takes away from much of the drama and intensity of the overall game, which is a shame as the game has some quite intense and exciting moments. Maybe I analyze things too much (I’m probably the only person I know that doesn’t enjoy the LOTR movies because they are SO WRONG), but I need some type of logical tie-in in order to feel involved in the game.
When it comes to being scary, Penumbra delivers. There are many moments when things happen very suddenly and players are instantly forced to some type of action, usually fighting an attacker. This action is another interesting component of Penumbra, in that players can interact with all sorts of objects in the game. For instance, when attacked, players will often look around and pick up the closest object and use it like a weapon by grabbing the item and swinging it around like a club. This is very realistic and adds to the excitement. However, the combat is also made a tad difficult in that players have to work hard at manipulating the item just right, and holding on to it with the mouse button. Avoiding most of these attackers is the player’s best option, as stealth can be used to sneak past many of the, aka Thief. I would suggest running away from the dogs and especially the giant worms.
At first, this type of interaction was fun. I enjoyed playing around with all sorts of objects, dropping cans on the ground, sliding chairs around and throwing rocks and other things. But, sometimes having to interact with things in this way lead to problems, as in when necessary actions were hard to accomplish. Opening drawers and doors is problematic at times. Using items on other things could be hard, too, as when early in the game I used a rock to open a door inset in the ground. The wheel to open the door was frozen, and I had to use the rock to hit the wheel to turn it. This is very hard, as I struggled to first pick up the rock and carry it way over to the door, holding down the mouse button the entire time. Walking using the keyboard while simultaneously holding down the mouse button to carry the rock isn’t fun. Then, holding the rock and getting it to the right position and bashing the wheel is hard, too. Then, it took me forever to get that wheel turned.
Much of the action takes place underground in maze-like tunnels, so players may have to map their way around.
There are text comments on most of the objects that can be examined or manipulated. These comments are actually pretty humorous at times, in a dry sense. The comments in the beginning of the game are too funny as they direct players on which mouse button to use. The voice narration of the character is quite good, as well, and pleasurable to hear.
The enjoyment of playing games like Shivers, Tex Murphy and Gabriel Knight was derived from the sense of involvement and excitement that was driven by the story. In Tex Murphy, the theme was the UFO mystery at Roswell and the game did a superb job of developing an interesting and intense story. Shivers wasn’t quite as strong in developing the plot, but still managed to involve the players. Penumbra, on the other hand, feels more “distant” and less involved. I never knew why I was being attacked, or why I was even there at all.
To be fair, this is an episodic game and this is the first chapter, so the story may be explained in more depth in later installments. This game carries a Mature rating, but not all ratings are equal. The M rating is basically for the bloody gore from whacking enemies, and not from any other questionable content. I’m not a big fan of graphic violence, but I found this game much less offensive than many other violent games.
Review Scoring Details for Penumbra: Overture
This is a creepy, scary game. Adventure fans will enjoy it, even though there is some fighting involved. Most enemies can be avoided, and it’s not too difficult to kill the necessary ones once the twitchy combat technique is mastered. Being episodic makes for a short game, though.
The graphic design does an excellent job of portraying the scary atmosphere. The objects that can be manipulated all look great, too.
The sound effects and music do a good job of adding to the game experience.
The difficulty level is of a medium difficulty. The puzzles don’t have difficult solutions, but the interaction can make things tough sometimes.
The manipulation of the in-game objects is very unusual and mostly works well. It can sometimes be awkward, though. This is an idea that seems way cool at first, but soon becomes a little tiring in execution.
Penumbra is overall a fairly enjoyable adventure game. There are many good qualities incorporated that add to the fun, but they can be annoying at the same time, if that makes any sense. It’s like a movie that you can recognize as being a well-made effort, but doesn’t actually engage you all that much.