Penumbra Overture is the first game in a trilogy from Frictional Games. I previously reviewed their lastest release, Amnesia ~ Justine ~ which was a stand alone expansion for Amensia: The Dark Descent. After I finished Amnesia, I looked up the company and found that they had released the Penumbra trilogy three years prior in 2007. I only recently started playing at Conklederp's request, although it didn't take long for her to convince me. Now on to the game itself, although I'm going to be making a lot of comparisons to Amnesia as that was the game from Frictional Games that I played first, so you'll have to bare with me on that front.
Having already played Amnesia, Penumbra Overture. felt very familiar. They're both exploration games in and fps world. Manipulating objects is also the same as in Amnesia, in that you move the cross hairs over a particular object such as a door or a chest and the cross hairs change to a hand. By clicking on the object, your hand grasps the item and you're able to pick up, open, throw said item/object. One big change I noticed with Penumbra Overture was that objects here seemed to have more weight than in Amnesia, which was odd considering that this game came first. In Amnesia I could lift boxes and barrels, hurling them across the room as if I was throwing a baseball. In Penumbra Overture, if I can throw a barrel, it's most likely because it's empty while I can only just lift a machine motor (and move slowly while doing so) because it's made out of dense materials.
There is another major departure between Penumbra Overture and Amnesia:
Yes, you are wielding a pickaxe. Granted it's not the most graceful of wieldings, but it does the job when you come up against the stubborn boarded up door or air vent grate. It's not as useful against feral wolves, but it has proved effective on at least one occasion. Yes, you have physical weapons and there's more than one way of wielding them. Let's stay with the pickaxe for the time being as it's still right there. You're able to slash from upper right to lower left, back hand slash (upper left to lower right) and jab with the top part of the pickaxe. This is done by holding the left mouse button and mimicking the motions you want to do. Now, before you start thinking that by being armed with a pickaxe, you're a death dealing miner from hell. As any normal person swinging a weapon at an attacking feral wolf, you're somewhat clumsy. I don't feel that that's an error on the part of the programmers, but this isn't an fps action game, it's an fps exploration/adventure game and the safer thing to do, would be to either run away or hide.
Now hiding is a big part of this game, so big in fact that you have your own visual cues to let you know how well you're hiding. "Hiding" is activated whenever you crouch. When you stop moving, a thin blue "fuzz" circles the screen, which lets you know that you're kind of hiding but when the screen looks like this:
(by "this" I mean when the foreground is all blue and saturated), you know you're well hidden. Bare in mind, that doesn't mean you're invisible. If a wolf were to come around that far corner, it would be far less likely to see/react to me than if I were standing. If a wolf came around that nearby corner, it would spot me, stop, growl, back up, then charge and kill me in three bites.
To answer that question, yes, you do have life, although it's a slightly arbitrary health meter. You have a outline of your body standing, highlighted in green as well as a textual description such as, "I'm as fit as can be expected." Health can be regained by either staying put for a short while or by taking pain killers. The only problem with this approach, is that in the amount of time it takes to open up your inventory (which doesn't pause the game mind you), and take the pills, you could almost, just as easily find a corner to duck into until your health reaches full. As in Amnesia, death has become more of an annoyance than something that I fear.
Death now brings me to saving. Until I began writing this, I was not sure at all about what/where the save spots in the game where. I knew that the game kept a number of auto saves, usually when you go through a door that requires the loading screen, but an obvious place to save? I figured they didn't exist. It turns out that whenever you encounter an odd, creepy looking lantern that seems like it's burrowing into your soul/subconscious, the game saves. There's no hitting "escape" then clicking "save & exit," which to some extent makes me fear for wondering when I'll come to the next transition door. It does feel a bit odd though having/needing to go to the "Auto Saves" file to find where I want the game to load from.
One really cool thing that I've been doing while playing is keeping a notebook. The character in the game has a notebook and I figured, why shouldn't I? It has come in pretty handy as well. Now instead of going to the in-game notebook to look at the page with the Morse Code cipher to figure out what the pass code is for the key pad on the other side of the area, I can just look at my own notes while listening to the radio transmission and write down the sequence. That way when I go to the keypad, I'll know exactly what to press. It's also been very handy for making maps. There are in-game maps, but those are in the form of a map being on the wall of the mine and you looking at it. You can't take it with you, so I thought it best to carry one with me.
Now, I just realized that I haven't said anything about the story and that's mainly because I'm still trying to figure out what the story is. Similar to Amnesia in that I only was able to put all the little pieces together near the end of the game, I feel like Penumbra Overture will operate in a very similar manner. This game also involves a lot of reading, either from notes, diary entries and newspaper clippings from topics ranging from Inuit culture, Greenland mythology, to the ravings of a man eating spiders. It's all about creating the world and mood.
In closing, Penumbra Overture is a very creepy, atmospheric survival horror game where you go to open a door, and shit like this happens:
We're Gunna Need a Bigger Boat