One more week till my last two exams, Physics and Biology, and I really can't wait to finish them and see that sweet freedom after the exams. Due to a lot of revision done this week I had some free time left so, without any hesitation, I turned on my computer and looked through my collection of games. I played most them - from fully completed ones to ones which I abandoned just after the first two levels - but this time I really wanted to play something which was oldie and enjoyable. After spending ten minutes looking I noticed a game which I played it before but never completed it. Actually, I never even passed the first level (not that the game was poor or anything like that, but then I had other games much more interesting to play). Somehow, now I really wanted to play it, so I inserted the CD in my computer and a window popped-up with the option Play. Next to it was a big long title saying Penumbra: Overture.
I don't how popular Penumbra is for you but I personally heard about it long ago, so I can say that for me it's popular. So, Penumbra (the series) is divided in three episodes (just like the Half-Life 2 series): Overture - being the first episode, Black Plague - being the second and finally, but not least, Requiem - the final episode which is actually in a form of an expansion pack for the second episode. Good. I have the first episode which is Overture. As genre, Penumbra is a basic first-person adventure game in its right mind but it also blends the genres of survival horror, first-person shooter, puzzle and adventure - which at first sounds quite cool and not many games manage to combine all of these genres in one game.
The cover of the game.
The storyline is quite interesting, for me anyway. The game is set in the year 2000 and follows the story of Philip (that is you as the main character), a thirty-year-old physicist whose mother has recently died. After receiving a mysterious letter from his supposedly dead father, Philip follows a series of clues that lead him to a mysterious location in the uninhabited northern Greenland. Basically, it's you trying to find your dad, if I am right, in Greenland. When you travel to Greenland, the clues seem to lead you to an abandoned mine - which is basically the only possible place you can go in because the rest of the place outside is covered in snow, plus, you don't have a choice. Either way you will end up in the mine or freeze to death outside in the cold snow. While you are in the mine, weird things happen. In some places you can hear someone dying, even though you'll never meet that person. Sometimes you can see traces of blood on the floor which indicate that someone was murdered recently and dragged down through holes on the ground (indication of spider creatures). Also, as you advance in the game you will find clues, and these clues are in forms of notes, books, letters and diaries from people who once lived in this mine. All of these clues make up the storyline in Penumbra, or change it completely from what you knew at the beginning. You will discover many things with these clues, like the history of the mine and the weird events that occurred here long ago. While I was playing the game I also found some weird objects lying on tables. Every time when I was touching them a white screen appeared and I was then able to hear an unclear voice (which later I noticed that it was Philip's dad). So far, I found two of them in two different rooms. The first one was definitely unclear. I couldn't understand what he was saying. The second was a bit clearer than the first one, but I still couldn't understand what he was saying again. From what I know so far, as long as I find many objects like these in the game, the more clearer the voice will become which ultimately will leave me with a message from my father, or just another clue. Now I don't want to spoil the rest of story for you, plus, I just started playing the game so I don't really know that much about what will happen next or what happens in the end (that's why this article it's a hands-on/preview) but I can say that it will become as complex as a spider web. Yes, as further you go in the mine or let's say deeper underground, the more clues you will find which in the end will make up a few twists to the storyline. So far, I found two of them. I won't say what they are, but to keep you curious, they are really interesting.
Another note. Damn.
I Love Physics
The physics of the game are impressive. You can pick up pretty much anything and move (or throw) it anywhere. In most games I have played, when you threw something light and soft it didn't break when was smashed on a wall for example. In Penumbra, you can pick a bottle and throw it on the floor and see it smashing in tidy pieces of glass. Of course you can do that only with something soft and destructible, preferably made out of glass, so don't think that you can pick up a rock and smash it in pieces. Plus, another thing which contributes to the realism of the game is the weight lifting. If it's too big, you might manage to lift it up, but you'll end up walking very slow if you are caring it. How things react between each other is quite cool to watch because the physics of the game are pretty much top-notch. If you threw a chair somewhere you'll always see the perfect reaction between the chair and the ground for example, not like in some games where producers boast about how great their physics engine is when every time when you try to do something the reaction between two objects is horrible (ie. you throw a rock towards a bottle on a table but when the rock hits it, bottle stays still and the rock bounces off – or not). In the game you can open doors, drawers, pull levers, pick up objects and more. Nothing unusual so far, but the way you have to open or use them is quite realistic and "unusual". You don't just click on it hoping for the computer to the rest of the work. No. You must hold click and move it in the required direction with your mouse. This creates the sensation of actually touching and moving it like if it was with your own hands. I personally like this feature when solving the puzzles in the game, but unfortunately, it falls short when it comes to combat. If something attacks, you have to use your weapon (a hammer) by moving the mouse like if you are holding the weapon in real time and this sometimes is quite annoying for many reasons. Firstly, you must swing the mouse to attack in one direction and the problem with that is that sometimes it doesn't do it properly. It can swing it too fast or too slow, which ultimately misses the target. Secondly, when you attack you can't move from where you are standing, neither turning while attacking. So if something attacks you from behind you need to stop anything you are currently doing; turn around or move and then attack. In the end, you'll be most likely frustrated by that because in Penumbra anything that attacks you will result in immediate death which is quite annoying. I went a bit off-topic there, in a paragraph where I wanted to talk about the physics of the game, but something in me really wanted to point that out earlier. Now back to physics. Actually the physics in this game are pretty much the same as the ones in Half-Life 2, maybe with a few improvements here and there, but nevertheless the same. Even though the engine it's not Source, the HPL engine from Frictional Games is really remarkable. The only possible downside of the engine is that it might look like a rip-off of Source, but personally I don't care as long as it does the job right.
This was my room actually.
The Dark And Light Are Your Biggest Allies And Enemies
As I said before, most of the actions you execute in the game are done with the mouse. It's realistic, but useless when it comes to face your enemy in the dark tunnels of the mine. And that's why the dark and light are your biggest allies and enemies in the game. The combat in Penumbra is probably used as a last resort when it comes to dealing with what crawls in the mine. In the game you'll have a torch, and remember these words; the torch is probably one of the most important items you'll ever get. You need to use it very carefully because the batteries of the torch can get wasted anytime and then you're pretty much in big trouble. In the mine it's always dark; hence you can't see what is in front of you or behind. Sometimes, when solving puzzles you need the torch to see what you are doing or where you are going. It would be pointless solving a puzzle in the game without seeing what you are doing. The good thing is that while you are advancing in the game you'll always find some spare batteries lying somewhere in a room. So my advice is to take them because every battery is important. Never leave something behind. Now don't think that your torch will be your life saver for the whole journey in the mine. Oh no! Most of times it can be the exact opposite. It can be your worst enemy and that is when it comes to the creatures you'll find in the mine, especially the dogs. In Penumbra you will find weird creatures, but the dogs are probably the most dangerous creatures. That's why when you see a dog you must switch off the lights and try to hide because once the dog sees you or hears your steps - you are dead as a meat for him. Now things are getting even more interesting. The game now approaches a stealthy gameplay where you must try to avoid any direct conflict with the dog(s) or any other creature. Sometimes, in one particular stage in the game (that's where I am right now), the dog is just walking around a place with lamps attached on walls which creates a spot of light. Of course, now I can't go that way (and the problem is that the place where I have to go is in the direction of where the dog is) because if the dog sees me in the lighted spot I'm pretty much dead. At this stage, you must use your mind trying to create some kind of a strategy on how to avoid the dog. You must always calculate the precise the time when to move or else the dog sees you. And the AI in this game is pretty intelligent and realistic, not like in other games (ie. Fallout 3 - when you throw a grenade which explodes near a guy, the guy never notices it). Another interesting feature I noticed in Penumbra was that you can close doors after you to stop creatures from previous tunnels or rooms to come after you. This thing is really helpful in case you are scared of these dogs, or other creatures. So remember, when you go in a room close the door behind you because you don't want a dog on your back reaping your head off.
At the moment, I can't say more about the gameplay because I only played the game for like half an hour and I still have a lot to discover and understand. Plus, I know that there are other features in the game in later stages and I can't wait to see them.
These are your best friends...or not.
The atmosphere in Penumbra is phenomenal. It always keeps you with your heart beating really fast. The graphics aren't Crysis-like, but the design of the mine and rooms in the game are amazing. Every new room and tunnel is different and wonderful in its own way. Everything is unique and different, so don't think that most of the places you'll find in this game are just a "copy+paste". Another element which makes the atmosphere great is the sounds. The sounds, or lets the mood, changes in each new place you go into. Sometimes you can hear creatures crawling or moving even though there is no one with you there. I remember walking through some tunnels and then hearing spiders moving. I was turning around looking for them with my hammer ready for any surprised attack, but there was no one there. Then the noise of the spiders stopped. I walked a bit further and then BAM, I heard them moving again. I stopped and then turned. Nothing. Like if there was nothing there all along. The game is quite scary with all of these creatures and their sounds. No wonder the game is a survival horror type. I actually never been so scared in my life for a long time and I played most of the horror games like Doom 3, Dead Space and many more. But the way Penumbra is using the scary elements is quite unique. I mean in Doom 3 you were scared because creatures were appearing from nowhere and all the time you were seeing traces of blood and dead bodies. Well, in Penumbra, it's totally different. There is less action and fights, but the atmosphere is really creepy. I mean you don't have to be scared only when something attacks you. In Penumbra you are scared of the things that happen less frequent or of what you think will happen, which in the end won't happen – or when you think won't happens, it happens. In Penumbra you don't know what you will face or with who, so that sure creates some tension. I hope I didn't confuse you guys, but it's really hard to describe how scary Penumbra is because it's totally different from any other horror games I've played.
This doesn't smell well.
In conclusion I love the game so far. Great storyline, great gameplay (with all the scary moments, stealth, clues and many more), great sound effects that make you jump from your chair and the great graphical design. After all these years, how did I not play this gem? So far, Penumbra: Overture impressed me a lot and I really can't wait to find out more about the story behind the mine and why my father is alive and living in that spooky mine. I'll try to keep you updated with all the stuff about this game while I'm playing it and hopefully there will be a review for it soon enough. That's when I finish this wonderful game of course. Maybe then I'll try Episode 2, Black Plague.
"Did anyone see my father?"
Here is the link for the trailer of this game: http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=uPwQxF99eMk