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Destructoid review: Penumbra: Overture Episode One

12:17 PM on 04.09.2007 // Robert Summa

Now usually, with our reviews, we like to have at least three of our writers contribute their thoughts. But, with the PC game Penumbra: Overture Episode One, we were a little short, but still wanted to let you know about this title. Because, let's be honest, the chances you've actually heard of it are slim at best.

So, hit the jump for the review of Penumbra: Overture Episode One and see what you think. 

Mike -Savant- Ferry

Penumbra: Overture is the first episode in an upcoming series of first-person horror games created by Frictional Games. The setting for this game is a seemingly deserted mining facility located somewhere in Greenland. It may sound a bit stereotypical, but Penumbra pulls off this setting very well by using some great lighting effects and immersive sound design. Unfortunately, the layout of the various rooms and corridors seems very uninspired due to a lot of rehashing of objects and textures.

One of the most enjoyable and refreshing elements of the experience is the physical interaction system. Opening a door is not just a simple click or button press, it actually involves a physical movement of the mouse in the proper direction to swing a door open, or slam it closed. There are many great uses for this system which mesh perfectly with the game's many puzzles.

Speaking of puzzles, that is what Penumbra is built around from the ground up. If you are looking for a balls-out, shoot-anything-that-moves type game, then this is certainly not for you. The combat system in Penumbra is bittersweet. You are a simple man, not a soldier, so your combat expertise is very limited. You must click and drag the mouse from side-to-side to perform a striking motion with the melee weapons you acquire.

Your weakness is evident the moment you try to fight an enemy with your brawn alone. As with everything else, combat is a thought-provoking situation. Picking up a large object and hurling it at your enemy to knock them to the ground is a great option, or perhaps you can sneak past using stealth to avoid a confrontation completely. Sadly, the clunky combat control system lacks any sort of accuracy when you try to actually hit an enemy and comes off being more frustrating and sloppy than enjoyable. Another big personal turn off is a lack of rendered hand models --- the items just kind of float in front of you when you swing.

All-in-all, Penumbra: Overture is a very promising game with a lot of untapped potential. There are a lot of positives here, but also some undeniable glaring negatives that really take you out of the whole experience at times. Looking past the problems with combat and such, Penumbra should definitely scratch the itch of anyone looking for a horror game with a few unique twists.

Final score: 6.5


Reverend Anthony

First things first: If you played Call of Cthulhu and loved it up to the point where you got a gun, then Overture is for you. It's been specifically designed for those gamers who love the horror genre, but are tired of all the overblown action and combat that comes with it.

The two keywords in Overture are "atmosphere" and "physics." The game is essentially a horror title mixed with an adventure/exploration titlem -- think Myst meets Resident Evil.

You play a regular guy with no special abilities, and so the focus is on puzzles, mood, and avoiding combat rather than hiding. If you ever do need to kill an enemy, then you can almost always use your environment to do so (trapping a baddie next to a steam valve and then turning it on full blast, for example). The bulk of the game's puzzles are physics based. The puzzles make sense and fit well into the overall flow of the game, because you aren't constantly feeling that the developers are just throwing random ideas at you and forcing you to cope with them.

While some of the puzzles don't really pan out, most of them do, and they do so without ever feeling forced. The atmosphere is awesome, too -- the lighting is fantastic, and everything you grab has a tactile feel as the game forces you to move your mouse around in circles to spin a wheel, or pull it back to open a door, and so on.

That being said, however, the game does have some flaws. For one thing -- Savant and I agree on this -- the combat, at times, seems to be the worst of both worlds. It's simultaneously too easy and too frustrating once you get the hang of it -- despite the fact that the game wants you to hide and cower from every undead wolf you meet, it turns out to be pretty easy to just throw a barrel at them to stun them before whacking them to death with a hammer. Conversely, the action weapon swinging system is really inaccurate and wonky; while this was an obvious choice on the part of the developers, it creates a considerable problem when you combine the too-ineffective melee weapons with the too-effective object throwing. The combat should be much, much tougher than it is.

Additionally, one of the puzzles in particular had me stumped, and not in a good way. The information the game provided me was contradictory to what I actually had to do, and so I eventually had to email the developers myself. The solution they gave me was more or less the exact opposite of what the puzzle clues said to do, and it really took me out of the game.

All around, though, I have to say that it's relatively easy to look past these flaws and appreciate what, at its heart, is a clever, original, unorthodox take on the horror and adventure genres. If you're in the mood for something new, Overture will not disappoint. Personally, I'm looking forward to episode two already.

Final score: 7

Robert Summa, Contributor
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