Penumbra Overture
Gameplay 8
Graphics 8
Sound 8

Penumbra: Overture is an admirable attempt at something new and makes for a nice break from all the running and gunning in first-person perspective games. There are plenty of logical puzzles to work your way through and a hair-raising story that will have you hooked right to the end. The graphics are not exactly cutting-edge, and it’s not as scary as it tries to be, but overall, it’s a good game.

Gameplay: Penumbra: Overture is best experienced late at night with the sound up and the lights off.

Graphics: The visuals consist of lots and lots of brown.

Sound: The audio is pretty standard as far as creepiness is concerned

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Penumbra Overture

Developer: Frictional Games | Publisher: Frictional Games | Release Date: 2007 | Genre: Action / Adventure / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

Ever wonder what S.T.A.L.K.E.R would be like if it was an adventure game instead of shooter? Neither did we, but if anyone did, then Penumbra: Overture would be the closest thing to an answer. The game stars a character named Phillip, who doesn’t seem to be all that well. After receiving a letter from his presumably dead father, Phillip makes the sensible choice of disregarding the contents and instead making a trip to an uninhabited part of Greenland. Upon arrival, he wastes no time getting to the first part of his holiday plan, which is getting lost inside an eerie abandoned mine. With all his newfound free time down in the mine, Phillip sets out to find some answers, but what he uncovers is way more sinister than he ever expected.

Penumbra: Overture is an indie game that clearly didn’t have many resources, but it can definitely put a few big-budget titles to shame. The game is an interesting mix of adventure and survival horror, with some parts working better than others. The highlight is the real-world puzzles that are all reasonably clever and feature none of the bizarre obscurities the genre has evolved into lately. This is enhanced by the realistic (for the time) physics that turns your mouse into a crude Nintendo Wiimote. Want to open a door? Click on the handle and slowly pull it open to peek inside, or yank your mouse to open it with a jerk (in case you have to make a quick exit.) This added sense of interaction extends to all objects in the game world and makes some puzzles even more satisfying. Unfortunately, it does have its limitations.

The combat in the game is a slow and clunky affair where you swing your mouse wildly at whatever is trying to eat your face, hoping to kill it before it succeeds. It’s not a lot of fun, and we are sure The Elder Scrolls: Arena, which came out in 1994, did a better job than Penumbra manages. The game’s solution to this dilemma is discouraging you from attempting any form of melee against foes. Cowering in a dark corner is a valid survival strategy, and even looking at any beasties can make Phillip panic and give away his position. This is quite clever since you don’t want to see any of the game’s foes up close. The angular polygons and low-resolution textures are enough to scare anyone. What they lack in looks, they make up for in intelligence, and while you are busy doing the clunky melee dance, they’ll bring in reinforcements and tear you a new one.

Even barricading yourself in a room is no guarantee of safety, as they’ll simply smash it open. Unless you are playing the game in “Easy” mode, where you can simply walk up to an enemy and whack it over the head with little fear of retribution. So, do yourself a favor and stick to the normal and hard modes.

Since Penumbra is set mainly in an abandoned mining facility, there’s little variation in the surroundings. The decor is all a lovely shade of rust brown, and the darkness really brings out the lonely ambiance of the place. The various tunnels are all quite foreboding, and ambling about while the batteries in your flashlight slowly drain is atmospheric, to say the least. It never reaches the levels of tension and menace that the Silent Hill series achieves, but it’s an impressive effort nonetheless. Some more diversity in both creatures and surroundings will stand the next chapter in this game in good stead. The constant first-person perspective is moody but would have been even better if your character’s limbs were visible.

Indie games aren’t known for stellar voice acting, but Penumbra actually does a good job. The lead character mumbles a few lines now and then, but the show’s star is definitely the enigmatic “Red.” We won’t spoil anything but suffice to say he puts up a memorable performance. The music didn’t particularly grab us, but the sound effects and ambient noises were spot on. As mentioned earlier, there’s a real sense of isolation the deeper you go.

Penumbra: Overture is a shining example of the potential of indie titles. It’s got some rough edges, but overall, it impresses. The Lovecraft influences lend it an eerie atmosphere, and we look forward to seeing what the next chapter will offer. If you want guns, lots of targets to take your aggression out on, and different characters to interact with, then you can safely move on and give Penumbra a miss. This game is for players who want to experience something different for a change.

*Review originally published in 2007.

System Requirements

  • OS: XP/Vista
  • Processor: 1.0 Ghz
  • Memory: 256MB(XP)
  • Graphics: Radeon 8500 / Geforce 3(MX4 Not supported)
  • Hard Drive: 800MB Free Space
  • Sound: Soundblaster compatible
  • 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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