Penumbra: Black Plague - PC - Review
Penumbra: Black Plague is the second and final installment in the Penumbra tale from Frictional Games. It is a point-and-click adventure with some notable exceptions to the standard fare, but one that muddles from what we have seen and done before to a game that truly can be immersive.
There are monsters/mutations running about and you will have a cursor that changes from an eye to a hand when there are things to do in a given location – that is the part that has been tread before. But what this game does, and does remarkably well, is make the world seem more alive by asking you to do what you really would in a living, breathing space. The physics are solid and make sense. You get that aforementioned hand icon, but (for example) to open a desk drawer, you don’t just click on it, you click, hold and pull with the mouse. That will open the drawer. If something round is inside, it will roll around and you may have to position yourself better to reach in and grab it.
A letter from father to son (Phillip) leads the son into a deep and darkly dangerous mystery in an underground complex crawling with an ambience that would make H.P. Lovecraft proud. But even though this is the essence of the game, all that seems to be missing when the game opens with a typed message from Phillip to the game player. It seems he is appealing to the gamer for help, but what that translates to is help in working through the puzzles and mysteries from a first-person perspective.
Ok, the opening narrative is handled rather poorly, with the writing not all that strong. And then you find yourself in a room, with a locked door, but the admonition that you need to get out and soon. What has any of this to do with the appeal for help? For the answer to that, you have to move into the game a little further and uncover some of the mysteries therein; what seems confusing does clarify, but only after you get about a third of the way in. Not that you will totally mind – the game does start off with a series of puzzles that will have you involved in the game mechanics long before you start to piece together the nuances of the story.
Penumbra: Black Plague treads more into the areas of logical puzzles rather than obscure. There is some action here and the controls, while not super smooth, still manage to do the job and keep you moving forward.
Part of the success of any title like this must be the way the game mechanics play out and in that regard, Black Plague succeeds. But while the gameplay elements are solid, the graphics are less than stellar. Yes, they are serviceable, and the game itself is better played in a dark gaming environment, but it is obvious that the game’s strengths lay in the puzzles and physics system. The latter has a few stumbles, but nothing that would turn players away. What also sells the game are the sound effects that lurk in the background. Turn the volume up to experience the creepiness of the situation. The graphics won’t truly get on your nerves, but – voice acting aside – the background noises will.
Penumbra: Black Plague is an entertaining bit of a point-and-click puzzler. The way that the puzzles work is logical and entertaining. The game takes only about 6-7 hours to play, and that is a shortcoming to be sure. Once you have played through it once, aside from the increase in the game’s difficulty, there is little reason to go through it again, so the replay value is a little short.
Still, if a fan of the adventure genre, this is one to check out.
Review Scoring Details for Penumbra: Black Plague
The physics have a few miscues now and again, but generally this is the strength of the game and makes for a worthwhile adventure. The puzzles are entertaining as well.
There is a sameness and rather ugly quality to the graphics. Even with the resolution turned up, there was still some jagged outlines to the cursor indicator.
Solid ambient sounds abound here. The voice work is not that strong.
The game is a bit convoluted at the start, but generally is a well-designed adventure game.
Short but entertaining, Penumbra: Black Plague is enjoyable, a bit challenging at times, but worth the journey.