This review of Frictional Games' 2008 release, Penumbra Black Plague might be a little shorter than my previous review for the first game in the series (Penumbra: Overture), but that is because I am omitting the "gameplay" section as the game operates on the same HPL Engine that Overture ran on, so all the mechanics are identical. I will add though that there was a tutorial of sorts and leave it to Frictional Games to have a tutorial that managed to give me chills.
The game takes place shortly after the end of Overture. You wake up to find yourself locked in a room and you have to escape, and to figure out what's going on and if you father (aptly named Howard) is still alive, whom you previously had thought was dead. Like most sequels, all the gear and notes that you had accumulated from the first game are gone, possibly explained that whomever knocked you out had taken them, so I'm okay with that.
Once out of the room, the remainder of the story is more straight forward than the first game, although you are still attempting to locate your father. In Overture, you're wandering through many layers of caves while in Black Plague, you find yourself in another section of the same complex, but predominantly in and around research labs and offices. The setting change was a bit drastic and took me a little while to get used to, but I ultimately preferred this location to the caves.
Early on in the game, you start hearing a "voice" inside your head who talks to you in consistently demeaning way, frequently calling you "monkey." Now, the voice that was chosen I had a little bit of an issue with as it was a pseud0-stereotypical New Jersey accent. Seeing as how the game was made by Swedes, I don't know if this type of accent is unnerving or has some other kind of connotation, but I just found it amusing and not disarming at all.
Like many of Lovecraft's stories, the story takes a hard right turn in the third act, revealing the backstory of the main antagonist. It's honestly not really my pint of stout, but I do appreciate that this element works for the story that was written and I feel that if H.P. Lovecraft were to write for a video game company, this is probably what he would come up with as well. Ultimately, it makes sense, and I'm okay with that.
I lied, I am going to go into gameplay a little bit as there were some elements that were new for this game. Hallucinations played a big part in this game. During the first part of the game, you find yourself in a series of hallways, forced to complete different puzzles to exit said hallway to find yourself in yet another hallway.
|For a research lab's hallway, I don't think this is very sterile.|
There's another time in the game when you find yourself running away from something in an area that you've previously spent at least an hour in, so you know the general layout. During this escape you're trying to make, you find that the layout is changing, hallways are momentarily becoming dead-ends, once open doors cannot be opened or have disappeared all together and all the while someone/thing is laughing at you. Oh, and your vision is slightly blurry and shaky, so there's that to deal with as well.
SOUND & MUSIC
There was no real noticeable difference between the quality of the music/sound in Black Plague and Overture.
I felt that Black Plague was a very good follow up to Overture. The game was a little short (I finished it in just over nine hours), but honestly, any longer and it might have felt like I was playing the same set of hallway, room, puzzle, monster, puzzle, hallway, monster, puzzle, room. And being able to maintain a constant level of fear and paranoia for that long is highly commendable. In the end, I didn't feel like I struggled as much with Black Plague, but that could have also been due to the fact that the spiders and wolves from Overture had been taken out and replaced with one particular type of monster/creature that was even more terrifying.
I will add that I had to look on gamefaqs for a couple of the final puzzles in the game, but as it turned out, I had either forgotten about something a few rooms back or just didn't notice that switch on the wall that blended in with the drab concrete/bricks. The last puzzle in the game though I don't think I would have figured out on my own, which is kind of sad, but I guess my brain just didn't work in the way that the Tuurngait wanted it to.
Now it's onto the final installment, Penumbra: Requiem.