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SummaryA Creative, Tense Game From A Small Developer
The GoodAnyone who started gaming in the early 90's knows where the roots of PC gaming are planted. True, we should never discount the contributions of the early Big Boys such as LucasArts or Sierra. However, those exciting days when PC gaming was a shiny new adventure for us were seasoned with many great classics from small time development teams. This was a time when a game made by two people could actually go somewhere. It was a time when developers often times gave their own voices and images to games because hiring an actor would be too expensive. And it was a time when so many games could be seen for what they were - labors of love.
These days, with ever increasing and expensive technical needs for game development, it is a lot harder for the little guys to go anywhere in the market. That is why, when I see something creative from a lesser known studio, I find myself getting interested.
The Penumbra series is one such production.
Penumbra plants itself firmly in the survival horror genre. Indeed, not only does the player have very poor combat abilities, but it is generally best to avoid combat altogether throughout the game. Fleeing, hiding, and using tricks of the environment are all good options for a hero who is as close to a regular guy as you get in gaming.
The storyline of Penumbra sends the player in search of his father in frigid Greenland. Very quickly, you find yourself trapped within the walls of a vast, derelict underground facility. There you are hunted by a variety of monsters and find your only human company to be the voice of a clearly mad resident who you are unable to speak with in return.
Swedish developer Frictional Games decided to try something fairly original by instituting a control system in which mouse movements simulate arm or hand movements. For example, to open a locker, you must "grab" the handle using the mouse button, pull the handle down, and pull the door open. This certainly creates an interesting new experience.
The engine is respectable in terms of its graphics and physics capabilities. However, it is much more impressive when you consider that Frictional made the engine themselves. It certainly serves all of the needs of the game.
As for the story, it can be a little difficult to follow well, but it is enjoyable and contains some surprises. I definitely cared about these characters by the end.
Sound is one of the best aspects of the game. Hearing monsters in the darkness can be an extremely tense experience.
The BadThe game did suffer from some difficulties with the interface. While creative, the way that the mouse is used can also be frustrating and unintuitive. This became a real issue when time was a factor. For instance, combat was almost impossible for me. I tried to swing or throw heavy objects at monsters on many occasions. This generally ended in being forced to reload.
Eventually, I found that I could stand on top of high objects and safely pound enemies down from there. I do not know if this was intended, but I could not help feeling cheap about this tactic.
The game felt very short and I wanted more. Granted, it was inexpensive and is being released in an episodic format. But some more length would still have been appreciated.