Creepy does not even begin to cover this!
If you look up the word ‘Creepy’ in the dictionary it will say one word. Penumbra. Ok so it won’t, but it should!
Penumbra started off life as a short free horror survival game that was really technical demo. It was being used to demonstrate a new in game physics engine. Obviously people liked it as it has been reborn as a 3 chapter episodic commercial release!
There is a plot that revolves around you chasing off to Greenland because of your dead father’s diary that you found – But to be honest you would be best to ignore the plot and get on with the game.
What makes this game stand out from the crowd is the controls. The idea is that everything in the world reacts the way it would in the real world. You see a hand in front of you if you can interact with something, for instance a stone. Pick it up and then let go and it will fall to the ground. Throw it and it will move the way you would expect. This adds an interesting angle to the game as it means a lot of the time there are several realistic ways of solving a puzzle. For instance, you need to get over an electrified fence. You remember seeing a plank of wood in the room next door. You go an pick it up, lay it at an angle on the fence and then walk over it.
Tools work the same way. Pick up a hammer and you can swing it to smash a lock on a door.
Pick up a bottle and it will not effect your movement. Pick up a barrel full of TNT ad you will move like a snail for as long as you hold it!
Another interesting twist is the lack of real weapons. There are no guns here. You collect a few things, like a hammer and a pick axe, but on the whole there is nothing to fight with! This means you are better off hiding than fighting. Frustrating at first, this becomes a key element later on. However hiding is not always enough. You also have to not look at the beastie you are hiding from. If you do you will start to shake with fear and attract them to you any way! When all else fails (like distracting things with beef jerky) you will have to stand and fight. but again this is no quite so easy. It takes a lot of swipes of the hammer to polish off even the dogs!!
But this is a horror game, so does it tick the right boxes. Well yes! This game is scary. Not in a blood and guts way, but in an exorcist way. The horror is mostly just in your imagination, or just off screen. The atmosphere creates things that are not really there, as you creep through the dark. This is helped along by a few really jumpy moments! This game will mess with your head then mess with your pants when you fill them as a spider runs out in front of you!
Under the horror there is a strong puzzle element. Along the same lines of a classic point and click, you have to collect items and combine or use them in the right place to progress. As mentioned the physics engine is well utilised in this.
The graphics are a little disappointing, but they do the trick. At the best of times it is dark especially as at the start you are asked to turn the lights off and reduce your screens brightness. If you scare easily (like me) don’t do it!!
Penumbra Overture is a strange and really quite original game. The horror and atmosphere are very real most of the time. The controls can take a while to get used to, but don’t get put off by them. Stick to it and there is a good solid dose of gaming here. Not bad for a small indy games company.
The Bad: Control take some time to handle