Reviewed: February 12, 2008
Released: February 12, 2008
The two man team of Frictional Games is at it again to instill your mind with terror and foreboding this year with the release of Penumbra: Black Plague for the PC. Black Plague, the follow-up to Overture, is the last and final chapter in the Penumbra story. Overture was revolutionary with a few of its gameplay elements and still to this day is one of the scariest adventure titles I have ever played. Well that is until I got my hands on Black Plague.
You continue to play as Philip as you wake up in a room that looks like it hasnít seen a janitorial crew in the last year. Your objective is to not only escape the Shelter but to get to the bottom of its true purpose. Honestly I wish I didnít know now after playing it.
The gameplay of Penumbra: Black Plague is pretty spot on with the previous title with a few improvements though. Penumbra: Black Plague while being an adventure title by default is nothing short of being one of the creepiest first person survival horrors Iíve ever played. Sure it may not be Resident Evil or Silent Hill caliber, but it had enough to make my skin crawl. Penumbra: Black Plague is done completely in 3D setting itself apart from the point and click titles normally associated with the adventure genre. Instead of using the mouse to move, you use the WASD keys or you can map the keys to whatever feels comfortable to you. The inventory menu, which is rudimentary in design, is accessible by pressing the TAB key.
There is a tutorial for those who have never played Overture. The tutorial was short and to the point without any unnecessarily long objectives. This is a great way to introduce players to the physics engine. I also got a more personally look at one of the monsters inhabiting the eerie facility, and I must say I jumped about a foot out of my chair and ran the other way. Black Plague is not geared towards fighting like Overture, so you must outsmart your enemies and navigate the halls and surroundings of the Shelter. But this in itself is not so easy of a task. If you so much as look at the enemy too long they will find you and attack.
The real beauty of Black Plague is its ability to instill a sense of constant psychological terror. A perfect example of this is when I was moving through a ventilation shaft with no light source available except a glow stick and I happened across a vent to look upon a disturbing room. I had put away the glow stick and Philip pretty much started to freak out until I pulled my glow stick back out.
But Black Plague isnít just about scaring the pants off you itís about immersing you into Philips world. The biggest appeal for me is doing real world motions to achieve something. Having to manually click and hold the left mouse button while I move the mouse to the left or right to open a door not knowing whatís on the other side if it is so much more creepier than just clicking on is to open it. Literally everything in Black Plague that is not nailed down is interactive. You can pick up objects, inspect then or ever use them as makeshift weapons against your enemies much like you do in Half-Life 2. However all that does is buy you some time or piss off the creatures even more.
Moving things around in Black Plague is often clumsy, but I think that this is done on purpose. It adds a level of realism to the experience. I know if I was trapped in a dark, dreary facility freaking out I wouldnít be moving things around without hitting things along the way.
Penumbra: Black Plague also features some of the most ingenious, although frustrating at times, puzzles. All the puzzles are physics based so you have to actually stack stuff to reach an object or place that out of you reach or use certain objects as makeshift tools to solve certain puzzles. And let me tell you, most of these puzzles are no pushovers. Some of them take a little bit of logic and are solved easily, but others are a royal pain. But the plus side is that all the puzzles in Black Plague are more manageable then those in Overture.
The graphics of Penumbra: Black Plague are somewhat outdated compared to some of the more modern style adventure titles these days, but that doesnít stop it from presenting the player with a generally creepy look. The monster that I encountered looked good and pretty scary especially in one particular area. I wonít spoil where but all I can say is these two words: gas mask.
The opening menu and even the interface looked pretty good as well. I was fairly impressed with the dead scientist model laying in his dried blood right in front of a nasty looking trap. There are those out there that complain about the lack of polish in the Penumbra series, I say that it makes the adventure even creepier.
One of my favorite things about Penumbra: Black Plague is its ability to keep you constantly creeped out with its sound effects and foreboding environmental music. Everything from the creaking of the doors as you opened them to the idle noise of the monster is just done so beautifully. The noise that the monster makes is uber creepy and the first time I heard it and what it was doing to the man in the room next to me was enough to make me want to hide behind the desk in my room.
I remember one particular time where I was walking down a corridor and heard a voice and was like ďWhere the hell did that come from?Ē There were also times where things slammed into doors just as I walked past them that didnít help feel any safer. Long after the Penumbra series is finished, I will always remember it for its chilling sounds.
Penumbra: Black Plague is an innovative title with enough creep factors to go around. Although the road to final confrontation is enjoyable, there is really no need to play this title again. I however plan on playing this one again, sometime in the near future. The puzzles are numerous and a little easier to solve than in the previous title and very few will leave you in a state of despair.
The physics engine once again proves its self and the added feature of being able to maneuver and rotate objects in 3D space is pretty cool. This is definitely a title you donít want to miss out on. Penumbra: Black Plague retails for $20 dollars.
All in all, I was very impressed with Penumbra: Black Plague. The gameplay saw some nice improvements from the previous title and they only added to the fear factor. Itís sad to hear that this will be the last Penumbra title but it is definitely on my list of the creepiest games that I have ever played. If you like Overture, then you will definitely like Black Plague. I highly recommend picking this title. I survived the madness, now itís your turn.