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Rifling through the bargain bins at PC World usually turns up untold piles of junk - overpriced Puzzle-bobble clones or half-baked graphic adventures that nobody has ever heard of. Occasionally though, something of interest will rise to the surface. Penumbra: Black Plague is one such nugget, and it's a bit of an oddity.
The game starts with a few snippets of information and flashbacks to our protagonist, Philip, and his adventures in the previous Penumbra game, Overture. While I normally like to play serialised games from the beginning, I couldn't resist jumping in half way through for the price of £5. The story is set in Greenland, where it would appear a trail of information has led Philip to some sort of abandoned research outpost in the frozen wastes. Taking refuge from a blizzard in an old mineshaft, someone, or something, has knocked him unconscious and imprisoned him in a rotting facility. It's time to pick up the threads again, escape from the facility and see if you can track down Philip's father. It soon becomes apparent that something has gone very wrong, with corpses littering the facility, bizarre hallucinations battering your psyche and twisted creatures roaming the halls and corridors...
This is a first-person 3D survival horror game. Fans of Resident Evil, The Suffering or System Shock will be familiar with the feel of this, but only to a point. While running, jumping and avoiding hazards will be second nature, the game takes an unusual step in stripping away all combat options.
Interaction with the environment is vital for overcoming obstacles and solving puzzles. It also features a neat interactive mode, where you must move the mouse to crank handles and so on, rather than just clicking on things.
The game progresses through a series of puzzles and advancement to previously unreachable sections of the facility. Light sources are scarce, your torch unreliable and the place riddled with traps and hazards. The story comes together through flashbacks, recorded logs of scientists, notes and journals, and hallucinations, the latter of which can be pretty grisly. Life is frail in Penumbra; caution the better part of valour...
There are no weapons to be found, and enemies must be avoided or overcome by other means. This defenselessness racks the tension up to a level I've never really encountered in a video game, as games of this sort usually have some means of self-protection, albeit limited ones. Hiding and stealth are essential, and the game features a cool 'psychological terror' meter. The character you play is rather traumatised, and this is reflected well. Hiding from the twisted monsters is all well and good, but look at them for too long and the screen starts to flash purple. Leave it too long and Philip will freak out, alerting the monsters to his presence and generally being torn to bits shortly after. Not pleasant.
The game designers recommend playing it on your own in the dark, with headphones on for full effect. I can only stomach about half an hour of this nerve-wracking experience, especially when I nearly died of fright during a particular tense moment when my cat crept in and pounced on my lap! My response was very unmacho indeed, and I had to go and have a lie down. Testament to the game's success in producing the right emotions, then.
This game is not too old, but feels like one twice its age. The physics are a bit lumpy, and the textures look aged, but it doesn't matter too much. It's not harsh criticism, as it doesn't detract from the experience overall. Any half-decent PC will be able to run this at pretty much full spec and not suffer greatly.
Developed and published by Frictional and Paradox, this is a low-budget game that has more imagination than style. It is, however, infuriatingly short, and I feel that they should have put all three parts (Overture, Black Plague and Requiem) together to form one longer, more involving game. It is intriguing, atmospheric and at times disturbing and scary. Fans of John Carpenter's 'The Thing' will love this, and its tense, Arctic setting is nicely executed.
Check this series out if you liked 'Resident Evil', 'Silent Hill', 'System Shock' or even David Cage's classics 'Fahrenheit' and 'Heavy Rain'
Penumbra Black plague is not a new game, but is one that I had not heard of until I saw it on special offer for £6.
The game sells itself as a horror mystery, and this is pretty much what it is.
The game has the feel of both resident evil and silent hill, and like both these games, you are solving puzzles in a horror enviroment with creatures chasing after you and trying to kill you.
The big difference is that you cannot fight back. There are no guns or weapons and the only thing that you can do when faced with an enemy is to run away and hide in the shadows until thwy give up.
This is disapointing as it would have been nice to have some more enemies and a choice to destroy them.
The game is not very big and only takes a couple of days playing to complete. The layout is pretty linear and you cannot proceed to further parts until tasks have been done in the correct order. There is no real sense of exploration as you are compelled to go to each area to find the items that will let you access the next area.
The graphics are good but obviously done on a budget. There is not much detail and most of the levels are dark and boring. The enemies have limited animation and there is not a great deal of interesting things to discover.
The voice acting is sometimes corny and a bit annoyig, but the background mucis and noises are atmospheric and do give you a good horror feel.
Although this game has been made on the cheap, it is still worth a play as it does have some good horror points and a good sense of physics. One of the best features is that instead of just clicking on things to action them, you actually have to move your mouse to mimmick what your hand movements would be doing, such as opening a door, you either have to pull the mouse towards you or push it away. This gives the game originality and sets it aoart from some others in the genre.
I would recommend the game, especially if you can pick up a cheap copy. Good for a couple of days, but no online content and no replay value.
Danger lurks around every corner and enemies stalk you from the shadows as you seek to discover the truth about Philip¦s family mystery. Taut and atmospheric, Penumbra will test your nerve and wits to limits you never knew existed.