A dark, mysterious adventure with - literally - a twist
Developed by small Swedish outfit Frictional Games, the first Penumbra title - Penumbra: Overture - was a low-budget game released quietly last year.
It impressed us with its intelligence and originality, despite a few rough edges.
Black Plague is a direct follow up to Overture and the intervening period seems to have helped smooth out some of the original game’s flaws.
In Black Plague, the main character is a troubled young fellow who has travelled to the icy Greenland in search of answers - specifically those concerning the disappearance of his father some years before.
What he discovers instead is a Lost-style hatch in the ground and a deeply spooky underworld mystery that swallows him up and starts to mess with his mind.
At its heart, Black Plague is a classic point-and-click adventure game. Except that, in this instance, you need to point, click, push, pull, twist and turn, since Penumbra’s unique in-game physics lets the player mimic real-world actions with the mouse. Most of the time this is very intuitive: you pull a drawer to open it, pick up something heavy and throw it to smash something else and so on. What let the previous game down was the crude combat system and it’s no surprise to find that this has been virtually eradicated from the new game.
Instead, Black Plague focuses on the puzzles and the scares - of which there are plenty. The puzzles are clever and the scares are of a more subtle, psychological nature than the all-out gore that we’re used to seeing in more bloodthirsty mainstream video games. The graphics and sound might not be cutting edge, but both are used creatively and to very good effect, while the game’s slightly lower technical requirements mean that it will play well on older and cheaper PCs.
A great combination of brain-teasing riddles and psychological chills, Penumbra Black Plague is definitely worth exploring - our only major caveat is that we recommend playing through the first episode (available from around £15) if you haven’t already, since it’ll help make at least some sense of the intentionally murky plot.
Vista compatibility: Yes
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Good points Intelligent, brain-taxing puzzles and good, old fashioned chills Interesting in-game physics Doesn’t need a top-of-the-range PC to play Bad points Graphics and sound are a little behind the times Best enjoyed if you have completed the first game Overall Eerie rather than gory and confoundingly clever instead of mindlessly violent, Penumbra is the perfect antidote to all those big, dumb blockbusters that hog the shelves at your local game store.
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