> # Welcome to GameGrinOS v1.01 > # How can I help you? > # Press ` again to close
Hello… | Log in or sign up
Steam Backlog: Penumbra Overture

Steam Backlog: Penumbra Overture

When I first considered the idea of playing through my Steam backlog, I understood there were numerous titles that were left to collect digital dust for a reason. Whether it be a poorly timed release or a quality issue, some games just never seem like a valuable use of time.

The Penumbra series is a collection of games I’ve always had a tendency to overlook. It’s not so much the horror aspect of Penumbra that gets me. I’m not too afraid to play them. It’s the gameplay that gets me. Now I’ve given myself the task of working through my backlog, I’ve decided to swing for Penumbra: Overture early.

Purchased: 30/10/11
Last Played: 1/11/11
Total Play Time: 15 minutes

Some five hours later, Penumbra: Overture was completed. It was slow at times, painfully so, but I can’t help but feel there is a gem of a game here and maybe I’m the problem. A lesson I’ve learned between 2011 and now is that you can’t enjoy everything you play - and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Booting up Penumbra: Overture in glorious 480p (apparently this was a thing I did for every game nine years ago), the opening cutscene really reminded me what I enjoyed most about Frictional Games: their storytelling. Although the gameplay slowly drags itself along, Frictional creates some of the most intriguing settings and characters. It takes a special kind of talent to create such a curiosity within a five minute opening cutscene. It’s a story that builds up throughout the game and although it doesn’t deliver a true ending (Penumbra is a trilogy), the cliffhanger ending is built up well enough to keep you wanting more.

As someone who doesn’t enjoy how Penumbra plays, I have to commend the writing for still making me want to play a second game - even though I know I won’t enjoy that one either. The pen is a mighty tool and Frictional Games are proven masters of that craft.

Writing praise aside, what is it about Penumbra that really puts me off? Like I said above, Penumbra isn’t a particularly scary title. Its biggest issue being the mobs that threaten you aren’t spooky in any way. Dogs, spiders and earthworms. That is all Penumbra throws at you. Once you catch sight of them, it snaps the atmosphere like a twig. There’s no fear, no danger. They’re a barricade between you and the next checkpoint, acting as a mechanism to slow the players progress down. I’ve often wondered if Penumbra would have been better off without enemy AI of any kind. Sometimes the unknown works better for fear.

Between interesting world building and mundane monsters comes the puzzles. If the writing is the meat of the game and the monsters are the weird gherkin you want to toss aside, the puzzles are the bread that hold it together. Heavily physics based, the puzzles in Penumbra do enough to get you through. The real brain scratchers are balanced nicely with simple, tedious tasks. There’s not really a middle ground. Some parts are great, some really let the game down and I think perfectly sums up the overall experience of the first Penumbra.

Sometimes excellent, sometimes poor, playing Penumbra: Overture is watching a company lay the foundations for future acclaim. You can see hints of Amnesia and SOMA in this, and I’m sure parts of Penumbra will inspire future Frictional titles. I wouldn’t call it a great game by any means. The story is interesting and does a good job getting you interested in the next entry, but there’s long stretches of gameplay that feel like a chore.

If you have Penumbra: Overture in your backlog, I wouldn’t push most people to play it immediately. It’s definitely something you should try and experience and, if you’re a big fan of modern horror games, the revolution of the genre and how we see it today starts here. That probably makes it a worthy play for a lot of people.

Adam Kerr

Adam Kerr

Staff Writer

Doesn't talk about Persona to avoid screaming in anger

Share this: