Feeling your way on into constant unknowns…
Despite the huge popularity of their better-known subsequent games, the “Penumbra” series by Frictional Games shouldn’t be overlooked; In many ways they’re just as effective, if not more varied as an experience.
The main benefit they have is their diversity – In “Penumbra” the studio are experimenting and full of ideas, before they settled more on a particular formula for each game. Whereas later games were more focused round a single idea&experience, Penumbra in contrast is brimming with concepts you can tell they were just dying to see created. This gives the whole experience a more unpredictable feeling – anything could happen, with novel experiences just round every corner.
It’s experienced from a first-person perspective, with their system of manipulating the environment- you can click on things like doors, desk drawers, and other objects and then move the mouse to manipulate the object -This sounds simple enough, but it allows you to control how you do things- inching doors open just a crack or flinging them open, and makes every interaction feel much more real and part of the world. They have a great time in Penumbra using this system to its maximum in as many ways as possible, with plenty of puzzles about how to proceed… They also follow other games in leaving you mostly defenseless (any weapons you find are almost useless) and having to hide and run to survive encounters, and being unable to even look at enemies. It’s a thinking-running-hiding man’s game.
The story’s about a scientist named Philip who after receiving a letter from his estranged father tracks him to a place in Greenland, and it’s a tense & atmospheric journey as more details of the story slowly get uncovered. It’s the unpredictability I mentioned before that really makes it effective, keeping it fresh, with so many ‘moments’. It tries so many different things on you- Some of the ways the illness that is involved in the game is handled are amazing.