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Penumbra: Black Plague

There are games that worth their prices. Well, the mascot of Frictional Games, the second episode of the Penumbra series, the Black Plague just belongs to this category.

Penumbra_02And this is quite true if you buy a localized version, which means that nor just the menu and the hub, but the dub will be localized too ― at least Hungarian version is worth the money, thanks to CD Projekt. The first episode of Penumbra was also good, if I wanna pen it with mild terms, and it had a relatively big success in spite of its unhyped release. The reception was fishy a little, but commendatory voices were predominant. The second installment goes uber on almost every aspect of the first episode. I try to examine this game to see what it brings up, and what the developers didn’t manage to improve…

We Don’t (?) Go Step by Step

Characteristically, the game has exceptionally lifelike physics, acceptable graphics and lots of hard puzzles. In the first episode we might get to know the physics, or I can say: We could see how professional the 4 swede undergrad guys were regarding the simulation of physics. Every object was falling, breaking, exploding, etc. just as in real life. Well, Black Plague shows it no otherwise, so the engine ― I can say ― became a trademark of the game and the series. Unfortunately, it seems that short playtime became a trademark too.

Another thing we can raise objection against is graphics, which is nowhere to Crysis. What’s more, it could be an eyesore at first that the game is not fine even on 1280×1024, but I think and found it not a big setback on long terms, because after a time I neglected it entirely. What made me cry again was the bad appearance and animation of characters. Sadly and inexplicably they didn’t improve these, and some monsters raise rather a smile than fear ― it’s not typical, but it can occur. OK, after hurting the game a little I list its good characteristics, because there are a lot of them.

penumbra 04Let’s Go Through the Door… But How?

After the end of the first episode it was sure there will be a continuance, because it was left open by the developers. So, the second part begins exactly where the first one ended. Here is a little overview in a nutshell and be warned: There is a spoiler danger, so if you are about to begin playing with the game, just jump over the next paragraph.

Knocked out and with aching head you find yourself in a cell, and of course, you want to get out ASAP. However, the game starts with its far from stupid aspect: a puzzle. There is a closed door, and nothing to do with it. In a cupboard you can find a coin, it should be good for something. Drawing away a metal shelf, you can find a vent shaft or something like that, with a lid full of screws. Of course, there is a vice on a table, so you can work on the coin to make its edge thinner, so it can serve as a screwdriver for the lid.

Unlike many games you can’t just stand before a door and press a key on your keyboard to open it. Everything goes manually: Move the door handle by mouse moves, etc. Yes, this is Penumbra with detailed physics. The game is full of ― let me say, it was built on ― thought-provoking parts, and resolving them gives joy. At least I was happy to get through some tough puzzles.

For the matter, certain logical puzzles give you more than one possibility for resolving them. For example there is a refreshment vending machine which can be brought to life with a coin or by some beating (with a brick) alike.

penumbra 05I don’t know what this place is, but it gives me the creeps

Another thing that makes the whole stuff very good and enjoyable, is the elusively creeping atmosphere. Locations and sound effects are summoning H. P. Lovecraft and his dark, horrific world. Your every step is followed by suspicious sounds. Scraping noises come from a room, and you can see a shadow vanishing when you look through a hole on the door of another room. These things ensure pressure, a sense of constant danger. It is only the cream on the cake when you first meet a creature ― let’s call it an alien.

I Tell You a Story, Just Listen

As in the first episode, you are investigating in this one too. To be more exact, you are still on the same case, but without any gun, so without brainless shooting. Although Philip is not a detective but just a simple man who tries to find his lost father after he gets a letter from the parent, but sometimes he rolls up unsewn strings in a way that can shame Agatha Christie. I think storytelling is even better here then it was in the first episode.

As you go room to room, corridor to corridor (of course, there are more locations than just rooms and corridors), you get to know more and more information, or to be more exact, you gather them. In the first episode you collected only papers and documents, and reading these you could go further in the story. In Black Plague you can handle computers too, which is a refreshing new element, especially together with the slides you can watch and the records you can listen. Without spoiler I can only say that the endgame ― or the endgame-like ending ― is all right too. You don’t fight against dogs by hammers or axes, but I think that’s far from hurting the game.

penumbra 09What’s Up? Don’t You Know What to Do?

As I mentioned above, I played with the Hungarian version, and the localization made the game experience more intense. Maybe that’s the cause why Black Plague grabbed and held me. The overdub is a professional work! The voice of the “aliens” is repelling and scary, the female voice of the “Shelter” ― where most of the story takes place ― speaking from the boxes on the walls is typically a pleasant, mechanic a little but decided. I cannot tell you about the voice of a special someone, which is very distinct in the localized version (I hope it is the same in the original version too). Maybe the best hit is the voice of your own subconscious. It is “forced” enough to understand Philip’s hatred against himself, and it is pesky enough to eventually draw the player into hating this voice. This gives an extra to the game.

Summing Up

To sum it up: I think Penumbra: Black Plague is an up to par and very enjoyable game. Only the seedy graphics and the short playtime (according to the statistics I completed it in 4h 39 min) lessen its worth a little. Anyway, it is very estimable that 4 undergrads made up such a good horror flick, showing to the greater developer teams that there is no need of millions of dollars for the making of an ambitious game. I recommend it for the fans of the style, and for anyone who would like to get some hours of excitement and a little scare. Black Plague pins you to the chair before your screen.


Penumbra_boxDeveloper: Frictional Games
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Style: action, horror

Ami tetszett:
scary atmosphere

good world setting
professional design

Ami nem tetszett:
very short

graphical bugs



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