Penumbra: Review

Sure enough, the only other copy of Mount&Blade: Warband I could find…the seller issued a refund stating that he had suffered losses due to damage by the latest hurricane and Warband happened to be one of the damage losses.  So I started playing Penumbra: Black Plague, after all.

It’s not…bad.  I’d rather be playing Warband, mind you, but it is interesting.  The physics-based puzzles are sometimes a little weird and narrative is a little sketchy at times.  There are definitely a lot of things you need to play the first game to have any idea of what they mean or what’s going on (I read a summary of the first game, kind of like Cliff’s Notes for video games).

Some puzzles are just trial and error with no real explanation of how you should solve them.  Although some of the puzzles do have multiple solutions…like one of the first few puzzles is the use of a soda machine.  You can either put the coin you used in a prior puzzle to buy a soda, or you can hit the machine with a chunk of concrete.  Either way you need that soda to move on in the game, so it depends on whether or not you want to use brains or brawn in that one.

The graphics are atrocious, though; even on the highest settings posters on the wall end up splicing behind the wall textures.  I’ve read a bit that it might be a texturing issue that requires a patch, but I haven’t had the misguided energy to go looking for a patch for it, yet.

I know Yahtzee Croshaw would probably throw his hat at me for speaking ill of the same guys who made his precious Amnesia: Dark Descent but…well, quite frankly…Penumbra’s quality is poor.  The strange thing I find is that…the game opens to the main character speaking, but that’s the last time he’s had a spoken line of dialogue.  The rest of his lines are all loading screen monologues with no speaking role.  Which is okay, because his voice actor kind of reminded me of the serial killer from that South Park episode that keeps showing Cartman slides of his vacations yelling, “Do you see?  DO YOU SEE!”

The other voice actors don’t seem too bad, but the opening narrative was a little on the atrocious side.  I actually kind of like your split-personality’s voice, he’s amusing and well-acted.

So far the storyline really reminds me of Stephen King’s book Dreamcatcher.  I feel like Jonesy with Mr. Gray running around in my head.  Clarence, your other personality’s name, is an interesting mix of help and hindrance.

On the one hand, he’s parasitic and tries to get you eaten by the monsters of the game, because he wants to rejoin them on a molecular level.  On the other hand, he tries to help you get out of sticky situations and survive because if you just die…so does he.

At the same time he likes to play games with you…like changing the color of a box from yellow to purple.  Then when you come back through he turns the box into a giant spider that chases you only to burst into fragmented pieces of light when it touches you; all trickery, since he has control over the visual sensations part of your brain.

So far I’m only about three hours into it.  I’d be further in the game, but a serious texture issue has made a particular section of the game literally unplayable.  None of the wall, floor, or item textures will load below the ceiling level.

This makes it rather difficult to find items, open doors, climb over obstacles, and hide from enemies.  Hiding from enemies is especially important because there is no combat system.  None, whatsoever.

The first game’s combat system was a major point of criticism, so says Wikipedia, and it looks like rather than improving it…they have decided that you simply have elected not to try to fight for your life anymore.

Don’t get me wrong…its not like you couldn’t.  You could pick up a chair and swing it at the monster, throw a chunk of concrete, or wield a piece of rebar like a quarterstaff.  The game just decides…not to let you.

Irregardless I’m not addicted to it, but I’m willing to look for a patch to fix the textures and try to keep playing it.


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