This review covers both “Penumbra: Overture” and “Penumbra: Black Plague” as essentially these games are similar enough to be reviewed together, and both games should be played in order, to get the full effect of the story.
Penumbra is the story of Philip and his journey as he follows instructions sent by his estranged father. Philip’s journey leads him to a frozen wasteland, an abandoned mine, and an underground research facility. The story of this abandoned place is revealed through a series of notes and radio broadcasts, thought Philip never meets another living human.
The graphics of Penumbra are dark and dank, beginning with the tundra. Penumbra uses a real time shadow engine to add to the atmosphere of the facilities. Though certainly not the greatest graphics ever produced, they are certainly very fitting for the game, and certainly not to be complained about.
The game itself, however, is where this game really shines. Despite the fact that the player never meets another sane NPC, and that the setting for both games are limited to a mine, a research facility, and a few tundra sets, the games are surprisingly fun.
Penumbra is an adventure game, and with that comes puzzles for the player to solve. Many adventure games have ridiculously difficult puzzles, most of the time the player is not even sure what they are supposed to be doing, much less any clue as to what to do next. This is not the case with Penumbra. Indeed, the game presents the story in such a way that the player will almost always know what they are supposed to do next, including where to go, what items to combine together, and where to put those items. Penumbra stands out as one of the few adventure games, that most gamers will be able to complete without resorting to frustration, and internet walkthroughs. In the few cases that the player isn’t sure what to do next, there is a notebook which provides adequate clues, a feature that should have been in adventure games years ago.
Ultimately Penumbra 1 & 2 are great games. The adventure-horror genre may not be up everybody’s alley, but fans of either genre should give these games a try, and they might find themselves having a surprisingly good time.