Penumbra: Black Plague
Gameplay 8
Graphics 8
Sound 8

Black Plague focusses on the best parts of the original game (the creepy atmosphere and physics based puzzles) while trimming the worst parts (the combat) making it a better experience overall. Playing the original is still required to make the most out of it and it is a little on the short side but it made me jump quite a few times which is commendable.

Gameplay: Removing combat ramps up the atmosphere considerably.

Graphics: Better looking and featuring more detail than the original.

Sound: Solid voice acting and lots of creepy ambience

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Penumbra: Black Plague

Developer: Frictional Games | Publisher: Frictional Games | Release Date: 2009 | Genre: Action / Adventure / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

Penumbra: Black Plague opens with our protagonist, Philip, waking up in a dark room with some decidedly unfriendly footsteps approaching. Players of the original title, Penumbra: Overture will recall that Philip ends up in this predicament after trekking to Greenland in order to investigate a mysterious letter sent by his father. Newcomers need not worry as the events of the first game are revealed while playing.

Black Plague continues where the previous game left off and leaves behind the confines of the secret mining base for a nice cozy secret underground research facility. That is if you can look past the darkness, flickering lights, blood stains everywhere and monsters prowling in the shadows. Oh and the rather nasty infection that is causing poor Philip to see hallucinations and hear voices in his head.

If you spent your time in the original game killing every monster in sight instead of fleeing you are in for a shock this time round as Philip can no longer fight back. I don’t know if it was the bump on the head or the monsters wising up and hiding every single gun or axe in the facility, but your only defense is now darkness. The fact that you cannot look at any enemies while hiding in the shadows or else Philip might panic and draw their attention adds another layer of tension to an already atmospheric game. Where previously you could simply whip out a gun or axe and kill your assailant, this time you had better run and hide when spotted. Since combat was easily the worst part of the original game I had no issue with Frictional Games axing it for this instalment.

The bulk of the game consists of creeping around the dark environments and solving puzzles to progress. Most of the puzzles are physics based such as getting around or over obstacles by making use of the environment. Puzzles are realistic and logical for the most part, although there are a few “dream” sequences where things become a bit more obtuse. Scattered throughout the facility are files that chronicle the events that took place and the mishaps that befell the staff. You are also spurred on by a survivor that claims to be able to help you with your “condition.”

Black Plague is a title best played late at night with a good set of headphones for the best experience. The enemies and environments are creepy, but a lot of the suspense and atmosphere is obviously lost when playing during daylight hours. At one point I found myself so engrossed in the game that I nearly had a heart attack when my cat decided to randomly jump on my lap during one particularly tense game segment of the game. Since this is an Indie title the visuals are obviously not up to the standards of AAA titles, but there is a definite improvement over the original game. The voice acting is very good and there are plenty of atmospheric sound effects to keep you on your toes.

The controls are good and make use of the same visceral interaction with the game world that the original was known for. Grasping and pulling open drawers or doors with the mouse is a lot more immersive than simply clicking a button to perform the action. It can be a bit fiddly to operate some of the items at times due to the physics but overall I had a good experience. What I did not like as much was the checkpoint based save system. You can manually save your game at certain spots but for the rest saves are triggered automatically. I guess this is to prevent players from simply auto saving their way through the tricky bits, but I like the ability to save a game when I am ready to quit instead of having to backtrack or forge ahead to the next save spot.

The story is very engrossing but felt rather short and the ending is a bit abrupt considering that this was supposed to be the last title in the series. True survival horror games are a rarity these games as established franchises such as Silent Hill, Resident Evil and Dead Space opt for more action packed gameplay. As such I can heartily recommend Penumbra: Black Plague to players who want to experience what it feels like to be completely vulnerable and in danger when facing foes in a game.

*Review originally published 2008.

System Requirements

  • OS: Windows 2000/XP
  • Processor: 1Ghz
  • Memory: 256MB
  • Graphics: Radeon 8500/GeForce 3 (GeForce4MX not supported)
  • OS: Mac OS X 10.5.8 or newer
  • Processor: 2.0Ghz
  • Memory: 1024MB
  • Graphics: Radeon 9600/GeForce 4 (GeForce4MX not supported, Integrated graphics might not work.)
  • Hard Drive: 2.0GB
  • OS: Linux Ubuntu 12.04 or newer, 32-bit libraries must be installed
  • Processor: 2.0Ghz
  • Memory: 1024MB
  • Graphics: Radeon 9600/GeForce 4 (GeForce4MX not supported, Integrated graphics might not work.)
  • Hard Drive: 2.0GB

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