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Halloween Countdown Day IV – Penumbra: Black Plague and Requiem

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Day Four – Penumbra Pt. II

Penumbra: Black Plague is probably one of the most deserving sequels in survival horror history. Managing to not overstay its welcome or burn us out on banal concepts, Black Plague continues down the path of a dark and sinister plot. Horrifying things lie around every corner(quite literally), so bring an extra diaper just in case.

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Having played the Penumbra series after Amnesia, I couldn’t help but draw some harmless comparisons such as the overall atmosphere, the scare density, and how much my britches could hold. Going back through Penumbra after several years just reminds me of the level of camp this game retained and how absolutely terrifying that campiness can be.

I would like to preface this by saying that the game is plagued by loading screens. It’s even more terrifying not knowing whether you have just enough time to blink or time to write an article in the interim, but it manages to keep me on my feet regardless, and I’d like to do that experience justice.

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First off, I’d like to talk about the puzzles. Frictional hasn’t really come a long way in terms of creating competent but difficult puzzles, and I think the reason for that is a general lack of nonverbal communication between the player and the environment. You can be given hints in several ways through the direct use of dialogue and script, but Penumbra takes the subtler route of inference which is quite common in many point-and-clicks and less so in survival horror.

It’s not necessarily bad, but perhaps poorly executed.

In Black Plague, there’s what feels like needless inflation, but the intentions may be misguided. At times the effort:reward ratio is skewed to the former and ends up building a roadblock where there should be a speedbump. That’s not to say the events compounding the puzzles aren’t worth it, which brings me to my next topic.

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Story. Black Plague isn’t afraid to step inside your head and mess with you. The existentialism shines through in some heavily elevated cases, but even more so the torturous tendrils of a nightmarish cosmos play hockey with your emotions. There was also a hefty element of dark humor imbedded in the smallest of things including the interactable environment and the grandiose narrative. This is something Amnesia and SOMA lacked and I feel very disheartened at their missed opportunity. I enjoyed the explicit jabs at the player that evoke responses through a textbook exploitation as the player can’t do anything to fight back. A great example of this calibre of humor is The Stanley Parable, but I digress.

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Walking around the compound gave me some flashbacks to my first playthrough, and with good reason. The event triggers are impeccable and most, if not all, are guaranteed to catch any fresh players off their guard. The punishments can be a little severe, which is inexcusable, especially in some rigged scenarios, but developing respect for your pursuers is a small part of the larger Penumbra experience. You being to track patterns, learn small but effective exploitations, and ultimately train yourself for future encounters.

At times if felt as if someone was looking over my shoulder and when the whispering began, well, it basically became a battle of “how long can I play this before uninstalling”. If you’re looking for a black pit of no return, play Amnesia, and if you want a black pit with something brushing against you every five minutes, come play Black Plague.

It will play tricks on your mind like a xylophone, and just when you think you understand your destination and how you’re going to get there, you have to brace for a wrench to come mess up those perfectly placed cogs. It’s the “nothing can fail me now” scene from any horror movie. Whatever you invest in this game, be it an empty corridor, a friendly voice, or a place to hide, all of it will feign assistance like the car that pretends to start before puttering into a soft and lonely rest. Nothing but the cold night from here on out kids!

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It’s not the Hilton but it’ll do in a pinch

For consideration, Requiem is the third installment in the series, but it’s essentially a tumor in Black Plague’s side. Black Plague savored its conclusion like a rack of ribs and then handed the bones over to Requiem to build a Frankenstein’s monster from the orgy of an Erector Set. Requiem is absolutely insane and eschewing Poe’s law I can’t help but enjoy this cyclical joke of an expansion.

It feels, to some degree, like a technical exhibition because for the most part it’s a disjointed skeleton of puzzles and plot. There were puzzles present in Requiem that would have no place in Black Plague simply because their structure was completely different than the theme. Both highly mechanical and very one-offish, Requiem goes above and beyond to prove this point, even going so far as to include a puzzle solved by ketchup (yes, the condiment). Either way, I’m not bashing it for being a puzzle game because that’s pretty much what it had devolved into and in the end it’s quite impressive.

My recommendation is to absolutely play it with a grain of salt in one hand and your face in the other because I seriously couldn’t see you getting the same experience as Black Plague or Overture, but it’s an experience that needs to be had at one point or another with some context, so don’t play it before Black Plague.

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After all has been said and done, I really enjoyed the series as a whole. It rollercoasters like Tycoon on drugs, but in the end not much more could be said for a series that set the scene for the modern horror greats, and for that I’m extremely proud.

 

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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