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Halloween Countdown Day III – Penumbra Overture

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Day Three – Penumbra Pt. I

Claustrophobia strikes a trepid nerve, whittling your thought bank to a singular voice: “Out, out, OUT!”. Managing Penumbra‘s labyrinthian arteries gives cause to anxiety and the looming dread of being trapped in a submarine that will never see the light of day again. You can say what you will about Amnesia or SOMA, the incremental installments thereafter, but Frictional struck gold with the pivotal release of Penumbra: Overture.maxresdefault (2)

Buried deep within the confines of Greenland’s icy slopes are the cavernous excavations of an ill-fated few. Your character must unearth the secrets of the past and his father’s disappearance whilst dodging wildlife and whatever perversions of nature crept up during the last three decades of isolation.

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Now that’s an interesting word, isolation. The empty disconnect and the quivering cry for familiarity. Penumbra‘s chief resonance lies within its bait and switch, the promise of sympathetic intelligence. It comes time, however, in any case, that the trust you’ve invested quickly devolves into disingenuity, vacuity, and the soulless retreat to reluctant independence. I found, more often than not, that the incessant clambering of a wild creature in Amnesia is graciously accepted in comparison to the various implied horrors of Penumbra‘s graveyard, if it can even be called that. Graveyards usually denote some level of respect and at least guarantee your bones won’t travel outside the area code.

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What is horror without cave spiders?

Standing above a three-act structure, the execution and story are much more prominent and put forward as the train engine to hell instead of a decorative car. I really do admire how solid the storytelling is for this premier, but even more so in how the mechanics can be gamed in some ultimately hilarious ways.

Frictional should take pride in the functionality of their puzzles and the interplay between the player and his world, but hilarity ensues when creative manipulation takes precedence over conventional problem solving. For example, the first act is completely transversable through creative use of sprinting past wolves, ice-skating on crates, and beating the wolves to unconscious pulps with a pick axe. The trend continues as enemies are unable to vault objects and make little attempt to dissuade your apparently aggravating gaze, but the effect of their presence still affords a sincere level of personal austerity.

Try beating it with a pickaxe

Try beating it with a pickaxe

The controls are a bit clunky and even after several hours of getting used to them I still had difficulty mastering their design, but at least this installment puts an emphasis on “survival” instead of horror. Thankfully, the game challenges your expectations and set a precedent for future survival horror games. Most of the puzzles utilize your interaction with objects but you’ll often find yourself a victim to repetition and trying odd ends until it works. It’s a weird dichotomy and I’m not sure whether to praise it or shake my finger. Let’s do both.

“Good job, Penumbra, you AWFUL PIECE OF SH-“

A few things that had lost their charm, even by 2011(four years after release), were the model rigs and animations. I would give Frictional a pass on this, but what we really need is a rerelease of the Penumbra series with updated graphics, rigging, sound, and lighting. It would be a fantastic birthday gift before their next epitomal release and definitely worth putting in a Steam bundle.

The first entry in the Penumbra collection is packaged succinctly and with intent. It ends on a fantastic note and perfectly sets up the sequel with an endearing and motivating cliffhanger. I admire its design as a relic and it’s certainly collected its share of dust, but hopefully you can pick up a copy before the novelty has worn off and we’re left with a hilarious mummy instead. Tomorrow I’ll be covering Penumbra: Black Plague and its expansion Requiem. Feel free to drop by!

About Samuel Collet

Sam is a writer for the internet, an awful graphic designer, and will work for coffee. If you wish to hire this destroyer of languages, send him an e-mail at samuelsharpe001@yahoo.com

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