Amnesia: The Dark Descent is lovingly remembered as a horrifying title that changed the indie game industry, re-popularized survival horror, and influenced interactive media 10 years later. The skillful craftsmanship behind Frictional Games’ masterpiece cannot be denied, but with the right sequel imminent, it may be a good time to look back at the ambitious games that helped create the Frictional formula. Maybe. The Penumbra series may not be as affectionately remembered as Amnesia, but it’s undeniable that it helped lay the foundation for modern horror games and is definitely worth a visit.
Initially aimed at an elaborate tech demonstration to showcase the then innovative HPL Engine 1 (named after HP Lovecraft), Penumbra: Overture was expanded and finally a full game in 2007. Released as, it presented players with a highly interactive environment and an uneasy story. The game put the player in the position of Philip, a physicist who received a letter from his supposedly deceased father and decided to chase him in northern Greenland. In search of shelter from the cold, Philip is trapped in an abandoned mine / research facility and needs to investigate this sinister place to escape and find the truth behind his father’s message.
Like Amnesia, players explore the world of overtures in first person, solve clever puzzles (usually using impressive physics systems), repel deadly creatures, and finally the eerie of the facility. I will reveal the inside story. Although this first release has a little more influence from John Carpenter’s The Thing, the plots are actually very interesting and are developed through diary scraps and environmental storytelling. We won’t ruin anything here, but as you descend further into the abyss and encounter more monsters and madmen, it’s clear that Eldritch’s horror awaits you.
The overture wasn’t a big hit, and many critics complained about the primitive combat system and complex story, with minor changes justifying the story with sequels and extensions. Was popular enough for. It was clear that the strength of friction games lies in stealth and puzzle solving. As such, subsequent titles will hone the gameplay experience and turn it into something similar to today’s Amnesia.
In 2008, Frictional released Penumbra: Black Plague. This was a big step from its predecessor. The combat system has been completely removed and levels are now dedicated to enhanced stealth mechanics and puzzle solving. Again, the story got pretty tight, and I picked up where the previous title was interrupted as Philip recorded his tragic misfortune through an email sent to a friend. As players continue to traverse the facility, they discover a vast conspiracy about anotherworldly viruses and Inuit myths, leading to horrifying but satisfying conclusions.
Penumbra was initially envisioned as a trilogy, but budget and time constraints forced developers to withdraw their plans. As a result, the second game tried much more than its predecessor in the story section, trying to get things together. This is both good and bad. Manipulating pseudo-zombie outbreaks, murder hallucinations, and spiritual quests to follow the storyline isn’t always easy, but the simplification of gameplay is at least not boring.
Personally, I would have liked it if the studio simply improved the battle in the original game rather than completely removing it (junkie is a horror factor, like the nasty tank control of Resident Evil). I always thought it would be added to), but I must admit that the exclusion provided a much smoother experience. The plague is still problematic, with nasty enemies and occasional physical problems, but it’s still a landmark in horror games and can be returned much easier than in the first game.
Despite the fairly decisive ending, Black Plague is actually followed by Penumbra: Requiem. This is not a proper conclusion, but an extension that acts as a weird coder. Completely eliminate enemies from the game, Requiem is the title of a horror-themed puzzle where you can play with meta-storytelling and revisit the past elements of the series. It’s still a fascinating experience, but it’s the least interesting part of the franchise, and we’re happy that Frictional Games will move on to new projects afterwards.
I may be a big fan of penumbra games, but it’s by no means a perfect title. Pulling back the rosy glasses reveals a variety of nasty problems that plague this ambitious collection of physics-based interactions and lovecraft folklore. Sure, many of these features were breathtaking at the time, but by 2020, many were mediocre, especially after many games directly mimicked the first-person horror formula and further improved. It feels like.
Nonetheless, it was through these experiments that Frictional Games pioneered many (if not most) modern survival horror metaphors and conventions. So even if you’re not a fan of the series, you can at least thank the ideas that inspired it. Beyond the Amnesia series, you can see the impact of these games on AAA titles such as Alien Isolation and the sequel to recent Resident Evil (judging from the trailer, Village is actually a big budget friction. Looks like a piece).
With that in mind, it’s not surprising that Penumbra still boasts quite a few followers after all these years. Some fans have gone as far as creating a whole new game in 2014 through Amnesia’s Total Conversion Mod. The title is Penumbra: Necrolog, the game is a love letter, a reversion to the humble beginnings of Frictional, and ultimately popular enough to guarantee an add-on called the Twilight of the Archaic. These may not be official additions to the Penumbra Canon, but they still serve as proof of the series. ‘Permanent quality.
So if you need quirky puzzles or ancient horror this Halloween season (or if you want to marvel at how interactive horror has evolved over the years), try the Penumbra game. I recommend it. They may be rough, but they guarantee you will soon be afraid of the sounds of mutated dogs and infected scientists as they break into the nightmares of stacking your boxes.
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