Penumbra Review

Two days ago I was hit by a news regarding the new release of a free game which uses hightech graphic and physics engine. I was a little bit sceptical because very rare you can see a free game which uses hightechnology components.

Penumbra is actually a tech demo for evaluating and testing the home made physics and 3D graphics engine of Frictional Games. The physics engine is similar to Havoc, but hey, it was created only by four swedish students. For the best perception, they created a gameplay based on puzzles that are using this engine. You have to pull or push different crates, activate machines, throw flares, open or close doors or even barricade them

Anyway I decided to test it. I was really shocked of its quality and of its immersive gameplay. This game is really an experience. Forget about cheap stories which are just a justification for the whole game.

Well, Penumbra represents an adventure and a story by its gameplay. You begin the adventure after a short introduction story in which a guy finds a weird letter in his mailbox after his mother died. It’s a letter written by his father who disappeard misteriously. There was also a key for a bank deposit. Here the guy finds a book written in a strange language and with some notes written by his father. He understands that it’s about a weird place in Greenland, some hidden base. After weeks he decides to go there. From this point starts the adventure.

Being in the first room I felt a similarity to Silent Hill The Room. It uses the same graphic effects like a blur combined with some old movie effects. Anyway the feeling is weird from the start. You don’t have any weapon and you already feel that you are in danger. The whole complex is designed like an old KGB secret facility. Only that everything is deserted and the dark pushes upon your shoulders.

Overall Penumbra is a first person surviver horror. But you won’t find any weapon to defeat the enemy, and you have to find different ways to protect yourself.

Being a demo, there are five or six main regions where the game autosaves and you will meet only two enemies. But this won’t spoil the pleasure of playing it. The game is very interactive because you can move almost anything in the environment and all the puzzles are based on this. Inspired from the classical adventure games you have two modes of interaction: one for obtaining important informations about an object and one for actions like pushing, pulling, activating, etc. For any important object a hand will appear that will show you if you can activate it or not, similar to Myst games.

One of the major puzzles is to obtain a wire from the top of a shelf. This can be done only by rising the car platforms and pulling a plank between the shelf and the platform. Anyway this is how I solved it. There are points in the game where you can solve puzzles in different ways. For example you have to pass a corridor with some hot steam flowing on the walls from some broken pipes. You can even discover and use the faucets, behind a lost mattress, for each pipe to turn off the steam, or you can climb into the ventilation system and get down on the other side.

Now the only enemies that I have met were two flying things similar to a bat but with a frightening mouth. The first one I killed using the switch which activated an electricity flow that stroke the monster. The second one was a little bit more difficult to kill, because there was no environment solution. I had to use the dynamites in a more shooter way, but in the end I did it. But I could also block the door with a chair or simply run into the ventilation system.

To solve the puzzles you need some objects, which you can collect and add them to your inventory. I like the idea of getting objects from your inventory and put them in some active slots numbered from one to five. Like in normal shooters to use them you have to push the appropriate number from the keyboard.

Of course there still are some bugs. The game freezed several times on my computer. But it didn’t count knowing that it’s just a project, and what a powerful immersion it has even though it is a project!

One of the hottest topic on the specialized forums stil is the question if the ending of the game is the ending of the game or there will be a sequel?

Well, from my point of view this is a demo tech, so actually the game is just an experiment. More than that, version 1.1 brings an editing tool that gives you the ability of changing the game or creating a new one. Maybe the game will be continued by the gamers, because they have the tools and the story has potential.

Pluses: really amazing physics engine (try to pick up a bucket, you will have the impression of having it picked up by yourself); good graphic effects like bloom or blur;

you can set the anisotropy filtering up to 16x and anti-aliasing up to 4x like in all high-end games; creepy atmosphere;

if there is no source of light you have to use the lantern which uses batteries (no batteries no light); it is open source

Drawbacks/flaws: they should use more texture for the objects;

In conclusion: Best free game I have ever seen. This game is an example for the big publishers that are throwing huge sums of money in developing always the same commercial trash.

Features: 5

Usability: 5

Eye-candy: 5

Stability: 4