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Publisher: Got Game Entertainment
Developer: Frictional Games
System requirements: Pentium 1 GHz; 256 MB RAM; Windows 2000/XP/Vista; 3D graphics acceleration.
Genre: Survival horror
Release date: Available now
Review by: Bob Mandel
Many games have emerged in recent years in the survival-horror genre, including Clive Barker’s Undying, Scratches and the Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil series. But none of them combined the action of first-person shooters with the puzzle solving and exploration of adventure titles. Now Frictional Games, a small Swedish development team, has released Penumbra: Overture — Episode One, which attempts to combine elements of horror, first-person combat and adventure.
Penumbra started out as a very scary tech demo which didn’t do well in the game contest for which it was made. While it gained popularity when it was released to the public, it had little in the way of story or cohesiveness. In this ultra-competitive world of gaming, is it possible for a limited group to make a successful game? And could the unique blending of adventure and FPS gameplay work? These were the questions on my mind when I began to play Penumbra.
This release is the first of three episodes. Although this first episode’s story is unclear, clues and tidbits will intrigue and frighten you. The basic premise of the game is that after your father’s death, you follow clues he left to a remote location in Greenland, where you crawl into a hatch to escape the bitter cold. A character called “Red” guides you as you venture ever deeper, and promises you the answers you seek. But can he be trusted? The game also gives you outstanding between-level text transitions that explain how the main character, Phillip, feels about the section you just played.
The level design is intriguing. When you enter a new area, it often seems like a vast network of tunnels to explore instead of a predictable series of rooms. Each area is used for a certain function, which you can learn by reading the papers strewn about and the items you find within the labyrinthine network. Although the majority of the game takes place indoors within one complex, and the level design makes you feel claustrophobic and scared, the rooms vary a lot, so each one feels fresh.
The enemies you face will keep you on the edge of your seat. Although just three types appear in the game, each one is different in every way. There are drooling, glowing-eyed dogs that howl into the night; ubiquitous, yet deadly, spiders that hatch from pulsating eggs and swarm all over you; and gray rockworms, frightening behemoths that can’t be killed and burst through steel doors to hunt you down. When you see their gaping maws full of razor-sharp teeth, run, or you’ll soon be a tasty snack.
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