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Retroactive Reviews: Penumbra: Requiem

I never reviewed a trilogy before. It was a fun experience for me, especially since I worked to have my reviewes reference each other.

It’s just too bad that the last game in this promising series had to end up being such a snoozefest. Did the developers just run of steam, or money?

Well either way, here’s my last review for Penumbra (if there’s a part 4, I’ll be somewhat surprised). Street Fighter IV is out next week, so I might do an article related to it this week.

And as always, check the direct link to my review here.

Penumbra: Requiem

The first Penumbra (Overture) was an interesting dish of horror and mystery, with a small order of combat salad that was pushed to the side yet occasionally picked at for its croutons. Black Plague, the second game in the trilogy did away with the combat entirely in order to strengthen its horror elements, with puzzles complimenting the tense surreal imagery instead of contradicting it.

For Requiem, the third and final game in the Penumbra trilogy, Friction Games decided to remove one more gameplay aspect in some experimental attempt to strengthen the remaining elements.

It’s just too bad they decided to remove the horror aspect in order to focus squarely on the puzzles. Survival Horror? Try Survival Puzzler.

That’s right; there isn’t a single enemy encounter in Penumbra: Requiem. If some of you preferred to go into the game not knowing that, thinking that the uncertainty of what may be lurking away in the dark unknown was part of the experience, sorry for the spoiler, but sparing everyone else the disappointment takes priority.

Having discovered the deep mystery laid forth by his father (and leaving an e-mail for someone else to actually solve it), Phillip decides to finally escape the deep hallways and dark catacombs once and for all….maybe. While the virus infecting his body and mind may have been contained, it hasn’t been eliminated entirely, resulting in memory loss, déjà vu, and twisted proverbs that would’ve gotten him an F in English class.

But on the plus side, his humorous wit seems to have improved, considering his situation.

Yet aside from some bits of dialogue pouring through loudspeakers, journal entries, and the subconscious mind of this delusional physicist, all of Requiem’s areas are straight forward paths linked together by weird portals, requiring players to collect a set amount of keys before advancing forward. Read that again: instead of dodging monstrous creatures, you’re collecting keys. How cliché could this game have gotten?

Much more cliché, it seems, because the solution for most of the game’s puzzles involve one simple tried and true gameplay mechanic: Crates. Whether it’s stacking crates, tossing crates, creating crates or even teleporting crates, there isn’t a single puzzle that can’t be solved without crates. If the developers really thought moving crates around with the HPL engine (named after H.P. Lovecraft. You knew that all along, right?) would be fun, they probably missed out on the last twenty years of gaming.

There’s also a sewer level, filling in the quota that every game with a dark setting must require a trek through the Ninja Turtles’ home of discarded pizza boxes.

As a whole, Requiem is best looked at not as a sequel, but as the final area in a game spanning across three discs. Even so, that delusion hardly excuses the lack of any imminent danger, or even interesting puzzles. Another annoying change is that key items are no longer saved in the inventory screen; all items must now be held with the left mouse button and dragged to its appropriate location. Does climbing stairs while holding a piece of firewood in order to light up a furnace sound fun to you? If so, Penumbra: The Crates of Wrath is the perfect game for you.

On the upside, the flashlight no longer requires batteries, giving off an infinite supply of light that the glowstick no longer serves any purpose…unless the notion of a flashlight never running out of battery life creeps you out (few else in this game does).

Should you manage to stay awake long enough to reach the finale, you’ll be given a choice that leads to two endings, provided you collected all of the hidden artefacts up to that point. However, even though this is the last game, the ending in both scenarios is as abrupt and anticlimactic as the previous games’ cliffhangers. At the very least, the final third of the game contains one of the oddest references to a classic Nintendo game seen in recent memory (you’ll know it when you see it). It’s a unique touch in a game sorely lacking in them.

It’s unfortunate that the finale to such a promising niche title ended up as such a formulaic bore. Should you be interested in purchasing the Penumbra collection, you could still play Requiem to wrap up the twisted narrative for good, but as a standalone title, Penumbra: Requiem of a Crate is hardly worth your time or patience.

Final Score: 64%


One comment on “Retroactive Reviews: Penumbra: Requiem

  1. ROF
    June 25, 2010

    Haha, climb with a log? Why didn’t you just toss it down the shaft?

    Requiem isn’t even standalone, it is an add-on to Black Plague.

    This is like Portal but not thinking with portals.

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This entry was posted on February 9, 2009 by in Retroactive Reviews and tagged .
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