Penumbra: Black Plague Review

After having the chance to preview Penumbra: Black Plague, I was eager to dive deeper into the dark, Lovecraft-like tale and to play more with the pervasive physics-based game engine. After completing the game in its entirety, I must say it not only met my expectations, but far exceeded them. Penumbra: Black Plague is a phenomenal, one-of-a-kind videogame experience that should not be passed up.

Now that I’ve given my verdict in the very first paragraph of the review, I might as well work my way back and describe what the game is all about. Black Plague is a first-person horror adventure that operates in real-time. This is not your typical Myst clone…and it is not an fps.

Players interact with the environment almost entirely using the game’s physics engine. Searching through dark rooms and corridors is as simple as mousing over objects and manipulating them as if your hand is actually penetrating the computer screen. Clicking on something takes hold of it, and dragging the mouse moves the object in 3D space. A drawer, for example, is opened not by simply clicking on it, but by “pulling” it out. Doors are similarly pushed or pulled open and closed.

Interactions become far more complex as the game wears on, of course, as untethered objects’ abilities to be freely rotated and moved about create all kinds of possibilities. Creativity, inventiveness, and resourcefulness play a large role in Black Plague’s puzzle-solving, while the game manages to avoid the ridiculous and impractical item usage so commonly seen in the adventure genre. Think Half-Life 2 -style physics-based puzzles, but more involved.

So Black Plaque manages to outshine even the great Half-Life 2 with its physics, but how does the game actually play? Well, it’s a mixture of slow, careful, I’m-too-scared-to-look-around-this-next- corner sort of exploration and high-tension, holy-s***-what-the-f***-is-that-and-how-do-I-get-further- away-from-it-really-fast sort of gameplay. Oh, and did I mention there’s no combat?

That’s right, throughout the entire game, the protagonist does not physically engage in a single test of gladiatorial skill. This game is about survival – escaping/evading those who might do you harm. It makes for a far more frightening experience when you know that any enemy you encounter CAN AND WILL KILL YOU if you can’t outrun or outsmart it. Just for the record, I’d be scared of these guys even if I had a pair of Uzis.

Without giving too much away, the baddies are an other-worldly race of collectively conscious creatures who have overrun a research facility in Greenland. The truth behind it all is revealed over the course of the game in one of the best plots I’ve encountered in quite some time. The many notes and computer files discovered throughout the derelict facility serve to further the player’s knowledge, while the many interactions with a few key characters improve their understanding of the entire situation.

Possibly the greatest achievement of Black Plague is in its writing. The script never fails to both entertain and enthrall the player, and the game’s final, overarching message is profound and well-delivered. I was truly impressed.

I have contemplated whether Penumbra: Black Plague is too esoteric of a videogame to score among the cream of the crop, because I’m not sure it will resonate with as much clarity for everyone else as it did for me. However, it’s universally clear that when a game combines a compelling plot, great acting, innovative gameplay, and tremendous atmosphere all in one package (a $19.99 package, mind you), it can be described as nothing short of outstanding.

Well, that’s what Penumbra: Black Plague is: outstanding.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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