Penumbra: Black Plague PC
Published by: Paradox Interactive
Developed by: Frictional Games
Release Date: Out Now
Early last year we reviewed Penumbra Overture which was to be the first of an episodic first-person survival-horror action adventure game. On the whole the game was both refreshing and enjoyable. There was room for improvement however. Probably our biggest gripe was that the storyline wasn’t as fully developed as it could be. Still, with two more parts to follow there was always the hope that the storyline would be fully fleshed out. However, Penumbra: Black Plague isn’t just the second part of the story, it’s the conclusion.
Black Plague begins with Philip locked in a rough looking room that’s part of a mysterious underground complex. Those who played Overture will be fully aware of what’s going on but even if you didn’t play Overture you’ll have no problem in picking up the storyline as the game gives a brief recap of the first game. The story is essentially about Philip attempting to discover the truth about his father’s disappearance. His search takes him to an underground complex in Greenland that’s just about as eerie and intimidating as it could be.
If you haven’t played Overture you’re probably wandering about the style of game-play that the Penumbra games offer. Rather than provide a collection of obscure puzzles for you to solve, Black Plague, like Overture before it, goes for a more realistic approach with much more logical puzzles. Essentially the game uses an advanced physics system that allows you to manipulate items in a similar way to how you would in the real world. For instance, at the beginning of the game you’ll find yourself trapped in a room with the only means of escape being a ventilation shaft that has a grill covering it. To remove the grill you’ll have to undo the screws from the grill. The problem is that you don’t have a screwdriver. You’ll find a coin in the room and there is a vice which you can use. What you need to do is put the coin in the vice and use the mouse to turn the handle and flatten the coin, so that it’s thin enough to fit into the head of the screws that are restraining the grill. Interacting with objects isn’t just a case of clicking the mouse. You’ll have to put the cursor over the object and when the hand icon appears you’ll click and hold down the left mouse button and make the necessary movements with the mouse. To turn the vice handle for instance, you’ll click and hold the left mouse button and make circular motions to open and close the vice. This kind of interaction (which has some similarities to the motion sensing controls of the Wii and the touch screen controls of the DS) with various objects in the game really adds an extra dimension and a tactile quality that you just don’t get in most PC games.
There can be no denying that Black Plague is an enjoyable game and that Frictional Games have produced a style of game that’s very enjoyable. There are some problems which prevent the game from being an even better experience. As we mentioned earlier, the first Penumbra game didn’t provide much in the way of a storyline. Black Plague, whilst a little better in this respect, still isn’t ideal and you come away from the game thinking the storyline should have been richer. With Overture you could take consolation in that another two parts were to follow but as we now know, Black Plague is the final part and nothing can be done to improve the quality of the storyline. It doesn’t help that the game isn’t that long. The game will take you around 4 to 5 hours to complete (of course the difficulty level you play on will have a bearing on this) and the game definitely feels all too brief. Thankfully the quality of the game manages, to a certain degree, to make up for the lack of length but personally I would have preferred to have had at least 8 hours from the game.
If you didn’t play Overture, you may be surprised at how good Black Plague looks. In fact the quality of the graphics might suggest the game was an FPS rather than an action adventure. The textures in the game are actually quite impressive and do a lot to enhance the generally dilapidated feel of your surroundings. The game should run well on most PC specifications and has a good range of configuration options that can be tinkered with to enable the game to run smoothly on your system.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Black Plague is pretty much the same as Overture in regards to its deaf gamer friendliness. The game is subtitled and you’ll be able to follow the storyline. All of the important information is shown in text and you can recall journal information and personal notes at any time. You're notified when a journal note has been added. Once again there are no captions, so deaf gamers aren’t really aware of the intimidating ambience that Frictional Games have created in Black Plague. Some visual clues to indicate the presence of nearby enemies and other noises that serve to heighten the suspense would have been preferable. There are no gauges to show you how much noise Philip is making but it’s not so much of a problem as it was in Overture as stealth isn’t needed quite so much. However, if you crouch and remain still for a moment, in a location that enables you to be covered from the eyes of a enemy, you'll have a blue tint to your vision which enables you to see a little more clearly in the dark until you begin to move again.
Penumbra: Black Plague brings the story to a close and it manages to both impress and disappoint. The disappointment is because the storyline was never developed as well as it should have been. Perhaps the decision to compress the final two parts of the story into one might have something to do with this, particularly when this second part isn’t that long. Still there’s no denying that Frictional Games are onto something with this formula. The clever use of physics to interact with objects and solve puzzles in a believable fashion really gives the game a unique, intuitive and satisfying feel. I look forward to future games from Frictional Games and just hope that the next time we get a storyline that’s as enjoyable as the game-play because if we do it will be one heck of a game.