Friday, December 21, 2012

Full Review: Penumbra: Overture (PC)

I just finished Penumbra: Overture and I really want to tell you the last scene/event and post a picture of it, but that would be giving away part of the story and I don't want to be that guy.  I will say that some may find the ending a little anti-climactic and unfulfilled, as in there is not a "true" ending, but the game pseudo-segue's into the next game in the series, Penumbra: Black Plague.  The game even says "Part I" when you load, so there shouldn't be too much of a surprise by the lack of closure.

The story is somewhat of a mystery and I mean that in both the sense that the game falls under the genre of Survival Horror Mystery, but also that you find out more about the story while you're playing it.  You start off the game with a prologue saying that you received a letter from your father, whom you thought was dead and you end up heading to Northern Greenland, taking a plain then freighter.  You get dropped off in the middle of nowhere, which apparently is where you want to go and after solving the problem of the frozen hatch, your first person dungeon crawl begins.

The game's story is fairly well hidden throughout the entirety of the game.  You find out bits of information as you run from dimly lit room through darkened hallway to well lit room.  Most of the information you find through bits of journals left behind and the occasional newspaper clipping.  I have absolutely no qualms with this method of story telling although I could see how someone else may not find all too fun.

As previously mentioned, the game runs like an FPS without any emphasis on the Shooter part.  You do have some weapons such as a hammer and pickaxe, but it's incredibly hard to kill a starving feral wolf who's darting around you, taking bites out of your ankle, shin, calf, thigh, butt, arm, back and only after three bites do you "die."  

Being the case with most/all FPS's, I had to switch the mouse's y-axis to be inverted, which only became confusing on a couple of occasions.  While playing, if you want to manipulate anything, a hand icon appears over your normal simple looking cross hairs.  This hand uses the same controls as the camera.  However, if you take something out of your inventory and want to say, try and use your screwdriver on a screw, the y-axis reverts to standard, non-inverted.  This can be a bit disorienting if you were to have a giant spider coming at you.  (Thankfully there are no giant spiders, only jumping spiders the size of a Nerf football).

The game itself though is broken up into getting from Point A to Point B to Point C.  Wherein Point B and C you'll have to solve some type of puzzle.  Getting to Point B though can be difficult if you don't have a map drawn.  Luckily, as the area you're in was once a functioning mine, there are handy "You Are Here" maps every so-many yards.  I decided that I would camp out in front of a map with my flashlight illuminating the map and just draw it down in my handy-dandy notebook.  (I highly recommend keeping a notebook to write down maps and the occasional note).  I will say that I was probably a lot more conservative about using my flashlight than I would have been if I hadn't first played Amnesia.  As there were no sanity effects and constant fear of running out of fuel/power, I only had my flashlight on sparingly.  I also didn't use any of the flares and only in the final area did I break out my glow stick.  It's not that I liked seeing in the dark, I just kept thinking that I'd reach an area where I was blocked in and I would have no battery power left to spot potential danger or solve a puzzle

Some of the puzzles though were quite difficult and I had to revert to using either gamefaqs or youtube to find out what to do next.  Other sections were flat out difficult.  As in an area where I was crouched (so no sprinting) in a tunnel and had to make it past some spider eggs, knock some boulders out of the way with a pickaxe, enter a room then shove a boulder to cover up the hole leading back into the tunnel.  Do all of this before you were bitten 3-4 times by the spiders.  I don't know how many times I replayed trying to find my way through the tunnel without dying, and then trying to figure out how to close up the hole without dying (turns out piling up chairs and rocks isn't a good enough barricade against spiders).

I'll also briefly cover dying.  Dying was something that happened to me a lot while playing.  Granted I didn't do it intentionally, but I wasn't overly frightened by death either.  Definitely by the end of the game, it was more of an annoyance than anything else.  I would run down a hallway to try and avoid Wolf #1, only to run into Wolf #2 and in the process of avoiding that wolf, Wolf #1 would catch up and kill me.  Upon restarting, I would maybe wait another 10 seconds before running down the hall, just to see if the different location of the wolf would change my outcome.   The point is, I rarely used any of my healing pills and just went for death.  I could possibly see this as a failure, but I can't initially think of how to fix it.

The music I enjoyed very much although most of it was ambient background sounds designed to unnerve you, which it did very well.  When there was impending doom though, the score really kicked up and got interesting, at least long enough to know that you were about to die.  The sound effects were also really well done.  There were multiple times where I could just faintly hear the growling of a wolf and knew that I'd either have to hide quickly or make a break for it and sprint to the next door down the hall and around the corner.

In short, I really liked this game and I feel like I've become a fan of Frictional Games.  There were some aspects that I didn't like, such as not caring about dying and some of the puzzles which had to be solved on the fly while being chased by something that could kill you was a bit frustrating.  It definitely had the feel of wanting to ask a friend how they made it past the noxious gas pits.  As a whole though, Penumbra: Overture had a solid 10 hours of gameplay with about an hour or so of frustrating gameplay.  So now I'm looking forward to delving into part II, Penumbra: Black Plague.

We'll All Sleep Well Tonight

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