You delve into the remnants of your mother’s last possessions; only to find a folder of lost archives from your long lost father telling you to burn the notes and never to seek his disappearance. What do you do? You travel to Greenland where hell has apparently frozen over, and all that remains is an abandoned base where evil lurks. Sounds reasonable to me.
The Penumbra Collection is a set of three games beginning with Overture. Overture is the introduction to the saga where Philip (protagonist) has recently received a mysterious letter from his supposedly deceased father. A combination of curiosity and adventure force him into an abandoned mine where all that remains are abominations, insanity and tidbits of information. The game blends the first-person perspective with the survival horror genre in a way that is dark, creepy and frightening.
What stands out about this title is the physics system. The ability to pick up, drag, throw, push, etc. closely resembles Valve’s Half-Life engine. Much of the game play centers on a puzzle system that forces users to interact with the environment rather than depend on sheer strength and force. In fact, the game has virtually no combat system.
You’re better off hiding and sneaking around. Many will find the lack of combat and the object interaction dependence a bit slow, but it delivers a much more horrifying and realistic experience. Just knowing that you have to use stealth and soundless movements to move past the wolves requires patience, but it is exciting none the less.
After Penumbra: Overture the game immediately picks up with Black Plague. The game begins as an email sent from Philip to a friend telling the details of his search for his father. The game moves to the end of Overture as a flashback where the player relives Phillip’s next set of horrors.
Many of the same elements remain in Black Plague as in Overture, but the most noticeable difference is less combat and more involvement with story and puzzles. Similar to Overture, Black Plague utilizes a melee combat system where the swinging of hammers and crowbars resembles the Nintendo Wii’s motion control. When you want to swing a hammer, you have to swivel the mouse in a quick side to side motion.
If you want to open a drawer, you have to pull the mouse toward you. On behalf of Frictional Games (developers), it provides a fairly innovating experience, and it is a unique and commendable concept, but it is a bit clunky. For example, when opening a hatch or swinging a crow bar, if the motion is not executed in the correct direction or swung at a fast enough speed, the door will not open correctly or the weapon will fail to follow through. It’s a well thought out idea, but needs to be refined.
In the last installment, Requiem picks up where Black Plague ends. Requiem isn’t the true ending to an interesting trilogy. The game is an expansion to Black Plague, which moves away from the story all together and focuses on the puzzle elements. As a stand alone game, the puzzles are fun and exciting, but how it fits into the series just extends the second game with little to zero story elements. There is less emphasis on terrifying incidents and story progression, but more focus on the physics system and environment interaction, which is kind of a shame.
It’s important to note that Frictional Games is an independent development team. The games’ graphics lack detail and are bland, but what it lacks in appearance is made up in mood, setting and sound. The game definitely delivers an assortment of spooky sounds to deliver spine tingling thrills.
As a result, each of the games will last you about five hours, which will provide a fifteen hour experience. Overture and Black Plague deliver a strong storyline, but it is closed out with a puzzle driven expansion, which is a huge let down to the story based thriller. For $20, the collection is a good buy for two interesting games and a fun puzzle based expansion.
Three games for the price of one. There is a plethora of video options, which is essential to mood and tone. The graphics are a bit bland and could use a bit more detail.
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The puzzles and wanting to know more about the storyline will keep players interested, but the combat system needs improvement.
Sound is where the game really shines. The game delivers spooky hair raising audio.
The three games will keep you occupied for about fifteen hours, but after that there really isn’t any other incentive to play once it’s complete.
The game places a strong emphasis on sound, which delivers, but then ends with an expansion that fails to deliver the last Hoorah.