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eisley avatar 2:20 PM on 05.10.2011  (server time)
High Expectations: Penumbra: Overture

I recently reinstalled Steam and while updating it I went on a hunt for the Steam activation code for the 2nd Indie Humble Bundle that I had previously bought. To my surprise I also found the activation code for the 1st Indie Humble Bundle, which I took no questions asked. When I was looking through the games Penumbra: Overture caught my eye, it was in fact the only one I had heard of. I knew it was by the developers, Frictional Games, of the currently popular and supposedly horrifying Amnesia: Dark Descent but that was about all I knew. Now, I love the horror genre in general but very few games have managed to give me the scare I really wanted outside of the first Dead Space, but I went in with high expectations.

***SPOILERS*** from here on out.

Penumbra: Overture is set in modern day uninhabited northern Greenland, about as far away from civilization as you can get. The player character follows the trail of his absent and recently deceased father which leads him to a legitimately spooky vacated mine. Itís dark, yes, but you have a flashlight, which runs on batteries, and a limitless glowstick, so itís beyond me as to why you would ever use the flashlight, but anyway. The basic point of the game is to move from room to room to find clues and tools that will help you proceed to the next area of the mine. Youíll often also come upon notes that tell the story and it is a disturbing one. There is one main obstacle that prevents you from going about your business, though, and that is the rabid dogs patrolling the main central areas that connect all the rooms.
Now, the first time I heard the low growling and scratchy footsteps of one of the beasts I dashed behind a nearby crate and stared at the wall for some time. If you didnít know, these games do not give you a way to fight off your enemies and instead you must hide and are encouraged not to look at them. I sneaked past this first one without getting a good look at it but when I ran into the next one I caught a glimpse of him full on, glowing yellow eyes and all.

And then I wasnít scared anymore. Dogs, no matter how rabid, donít frighten me. In real life, yes I would definitely avoid such a dog but itís hard to take the dogs seriously when my black Labrador mix is nudging my arm away from my mouse to pet him. From that point on it turned from a survival horror game into a stealth adventure game. I moved from crate to crate around them but I knew I was safe once I got to a room and that security I felt was never compromised in a way that legitimately scared me. There are two other kind of enemies, giant spiders and giant worms on the scale of Dune almost. As someone who is terrified of spiders I was a bit hesitant when I found out about them and presumably heard one of the last survivors in the mine be dragged away by them. But when I encountered them for the first time they quickly went from scary to extremely annoying. They can actually be killed but I preferred to run past them if I could, not out of fear but out of avoiding annoyance. There are only two huge worms in the game and they can be treated as a sort of boss fight. And by fight I mean running away in a specific way or specific time or else they kill you in one hit. There is a bit of panic that comes with that but you donít really have much time to think about it.

Other than the enemies there is the classic nonsensical whispering from time to time, strange scream-like sounds from the radio in a room or two and one room full of creepy scribbles on the wall. But the terror I expected was not present for the vast majority of the game. The sort of terror I speak of is that which glues you to the ground, immovable because of the sheer thought of what lies ahead or what just made that noise. The sort of terror that keeps you on edge even in areas you think are safe, and then you of course are proven wrong. This feeling occurred only twice for me, in that very first encounter with a dog and then with the last act of the game. That part chilled me to the bone.

In the end you are led to a door to a different area of the mine or bunker, the place youíve been led to throughout the whole game. I met the requirements to open this door, a strange unfamiliar door with a bright light shining through it, and went through. On the other side was a perfectly lit stairwell, completely silent. I pranced down the steps, anxious to explore this new area, and took a moment to examine a power box at the bottom. Turning away from that I entered a long lit hallway and was about to continue prancing when I noticed something at the end of the hallway. Just as I thought I made out the figure of a man the lights turned off and I was in complete darkness. I immediately crouched and hid behind a crate just to my right, breathing as heavily as any horror game character. There were no sounds, nothing. If I took out my glowstick he, or it, would see me, right? It was a long while before I decided to move, and when I did I jumped as I was grabbed from behind and the credits rolled, leaving a ďto be continuedĒ vibe.

It seems like Iím complaining a lot about Overture, but I really did enjoy it. The puzzles worked wonderfully and I was really fond of the flow of the game. Hell, I feel like I could spend a long time just talking about the frozen lake room. If it does one thing right though it is the set up of its cliffhanger ending which has me itching to buy the second installment, Penumbra: Black Plague, in hopes that the horror I felt at the end there was a preview of things to come.

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