Blame The Lag

Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul

Retroactive Reviews: Penumbra: Overture Episode One

Hey folks. It’s been a little while since my last post, but that’s mostly due to me establishing some new website contacts.

I’m proud to say that I’m now working as a News Contributor for Beef Jack, a fairly new but well maintained website where I’ll be posting weekly game news. I’ve got two posts to my name for now, and hopefully there won’t be too many dry periods where nothing of interest is leaked out into forums. I may also get bumped up as a reviewer soon, if Beefjack manages to start sending out games to their employees as they hope to do.

I’ve also gotten a response back from Armchair after almost a month of no contact. They’re going to be sending me Skate 2 soon to review. Having never played a skateboarding game since Tony Hawk 3 on the PS2, I’m quite interested to see how far skating gaming has been playing. Flaming.

They’re also sending me Kingdom Hearts RE: Chain of Memories on the PS2. Shh, don’t tell them I already played that one.

And finally, I’ve submitted my first review for British site Z Connect, Penumbra: Overture Episode One. As it’s commonly stereotyped how Brits tend to be witty and funny, I worked toward writing the review in a similar manner. Does it hold up? Find out below:

Update: It seems it held up quite well, as my editor found the review to be “excellent and entertaining to read”. That definitely makes me happy, so I’ll continue with that same style of writing with their site.

You can find the direct link here.

Penumbra: Overture Episode One

What exactly is a Penumbra? Wikipedia describes it as “the region in which only a portion of the occulting body is obscuring the light source.” Good to know.

And there certainly is a lot of obscured light sources in Penumbra: Overture Episode One, the first of developer Friction Games’ PC horror trilogy (which was briefly cut into a two-parter before shortly becoming a trilogy again), which places our hero (a thirty-something physicist named Phillip) in an abandoned mine that spirals deeper below the earth, as he journeys to unravel a deep secret laid out by a letter from his supposedly dead father Howard.

The opening narration states that despite not being very close to Daddy, Phillip’s curiosity eggs him on to partake in Howard’s post-mortem (or is it?) mystery. Apparently curiosity didn’t tell him to bring a jacket, because once players step off the boat and into the snow-storming isle of Greenland, they have to make a mad dash to the mysterious shelter before the cold saps away at their health.

From there, players will traverse areas full of unstable structures, locked doors, several convenient tools and files, obscured light sources and unanswered questions.

Oh, and hungry undead dogs, worms, and spiders. The game contains only three types of enemies, but they are all deadly mutations that will attack on sight, and Phillip’s measly weapons of pick axes and hammers will do little to subdue the ravenous monstrosities. Despite what Gordon Freeman may lead you to believe, most thirty year old scientists can’t fight like army commandos, and the most Phillip can hope to accomplish is to momentarily stun the creatures while making a quick escape. A better option involves hiding from the creatures altogether, switching off the flashlight and hiding behind a crate or wall until the AI makes a random turn away from you.

P:OEO (an acronym, not the newest Star Wars droid) is a mystery game first before anything else, and it’s up to players to inspect every nook, cranny and corpse to find the clues needed to travel deeper into the mines (and maybe find a path that will work its way upward and into daylight). When the clues aren’t keys to a locked door, they are items of dubious quality that usually require a combination so that Phillip can create his own way out (a quest to clear a blockading rubble involves finding the fuse, sticks, gunpowder, and lighter needed to create an explosive). Aside from frequent radio hints from the enigmatic “Red” (a person trapped along with Phillip? a figment of his imagination? Daddy?), the game is devoid of voice acting and sticks mostly to text descriptions and files to guide players further along, and the developer’s HPL engine (take a guess what that stands for. Think about the setting) makes like Nintendo and forces players to use their mice to open table drawers, swing tools, and turn cranks in order to create a new type of innovative gameplay; It works, for the most part, but some levers require a large circular turn that might require players to invest in a larger mouse pad, if not a wider desk.

There are also moments in the game that borrow another common fad in today’s console games, Quick Time Events. In some quick-paced situations, you only have a few seconds to spare in order to escape whatever is quickly catching up behind you, and one wrong step could result in instant death. Even areas where you can take your time may require multiple restarts in order to figure out the correct patterns or opportunities to traverse forward.

The final draw against Penumbra is its short length; at a mere three or four hours, the game ends with a very abrupt cliffhanger that sets the stage for its next episode. A Penumbra collection is slated to arrive soon that will contain all three games in the trilogy. Whether Overture: Episode One can stand on its own to warrant an individual purchase will be up to the consumer, but at a cheap price and a low-lit environment, the game can bring an entertaining experience full of solid writing and creepy visuals that won’t require five denimite mem-shards for your PC to run it. Recommended.

Final Score: 73%


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This entry was posted on January 25, 2009 by in Retroactive Reviews and tagged .
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