Penumbra: Requiem

Posted by Erik-André Vik Mamen.
First posted on 19 October 2008. Last updated on 10 January 2011.
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Penumbra: Requiem
The near darkness of the earlier games is still present in this expansion of the Penumbra series.
Penumbra: Requiem
The flashlight is important tool to use when exploring dark places.
Penumbra: Requiem
The glowstick is a good substitute for the flashlight.
Penumbra: Requiem
The light and shadow effects make for a creepy atmosphere.
Penumbra: Requiem
Ambient light sources are sparse and rarely enough to see ahead, including across the bridge.

The game is available at GamersGate.

Officially released as an expansion rather than a sequel, the road taken by Frictional Games in developing Penumbra: Requiem had not been as easy as it might be initially assumed. The original game in the series, Penumbra: Overture, was actually created as a tech demo by the indie developer for a Swedish game development competition. Later, it was revamped and released commercially as the first part (Episode 1) of a planned episodic trilogy. Unfortunately, further development of the series was hampered by major logistic problems with the game's original publisher Lexicon Entertainment, and for a while, it appeared that no further sequels would ever be released. Fortunately, the developer was able to strike a deal with new publisher Paradox Interactive to continue development, but not before it had decided that subsequent episodes (Episode 2 and 3) would be merged together as a single release, thereby concluding the story that was in Penumbra: Black Plague.

Loosely speaking, Penumbra: Requiem is the third game in the Penumbra series. However, it is better described as an epilogue to Penumbra: Black Plague (the game even requires Penumbra: Black Plague to be first installed to work). Given that the game does not qualify as a bona fide sequel, it differs in several ways from both previous games of the series. Fans familiar with the series will immediately realize the ambient and dark atmosphere that is largely left unchanged. There is much darkness in this game, with many creepy places and strange sounds. From time to time, Phillip, the main protagonist, also hears creepy voices emanating from afar. However, there are no characters to interact with at all in the game. There are some scattered chats through a radio and audio tapes to which Phillip can listen, but there are no monsters, allies, or any other living beings he will encounter in the complex. Consequently, there are also no combat or fighting at all in this game.

Like the previous titles, Penumbra: Requiem has all the appearance of a First Person Shooter (FPS), but without any shooting. Phillip can maneuver around the environment from a first person perspective and can interact with items around him. The same system of "mouse force" from previous games used for opening doors or moving crates is still present. It means that if you grab the door near the handle, only a little force is necessary to open it. However, if you try to grab the door in the middle or even near the hinges, you have to move the mouse much farther to swing it open. Manipulating other items such as heavy crates makes you really feel how heavy they are with this unique system.

As with previous games, this game is light on adventure elements, perhaps even more so since there are no inventory based puzzles. In fact, you will have little use of the inventory at all. There is a health bar, and there are painkillers that you can use to heal up. The glowstick and the flashlight are still available. There are a few places where some items are needed, but instead of stashing them in your inventory, you can just drag them in front of you and place them where you like. In some cases, they will even snap to a location nearby where they are needed without any help. An example is a fuse that will automatically snap to the fuse box when you come close to it.

Since there are no monsters that are on a hunt for you, much of the horror that dominates the previous games is gone. This is more or less a pure first person puzzle game, not unlike another first person puzzle game—Portal. For each level, the objective is essentially the same: getting a strange orb or a key to open a gateway to exit the level. The 9 levels that are in this game make up the many variations that exist to solve the puzzles. Many strange devices and rooms make each level unique and different from each other.

With many such changes from the originals, Penumbra: Requiem is in many ways a standalone game rather than a typical expansion. There are some story elements told through the audio logs and radio transmissions, but they do not amount to very much. If you are unfamiliar with the story of the previous games, the significance of most of the chatting may be easily missed. The ending, however, will not make much sense without the knowledge of the back story of the earlier games (which may still be a bit confusing, either way).

The puzzles vary from Sokoban clones, where you have to position crates on ground levels to open doors, to more advances control systems, where you need to set levers in the correct order to achieve an effect. Some levels offer different ways or paths which you may choose, while most have single simple solutions.

There is no way to manually save your game. The game has an autosave function which is triggered each time you are about to perform an important task, such as getting a key, opening a door, or solving a level. The game is automatically loaded from the last autosave point if you die, but you may also manually choose from other previous autosave points if you wish to restart from an earlier game or if you think you may be stuck at the current game.

Since there is no combat, it is not very often that you die. Death may still happen if you fall from a height, drown, or bump into hazards like electric wires. In most cases, you just loose a little bit of your health, which can be quickly restored by taking a painkiller. Even without any aid, your health will also slowly recover over time.

As a bonus, each level contains a small strange artifact which you can try to find. Most of them are well hidden, but it may be fun to explore the game just to find them all.

While Penumbra: Requiem is a great puzzle game by itself, in some ways it may disappoint diehard fans of the series because of its lack of a good story. If not for the story from the previous games (who can forget Red?), this game can easily be played as a standalone title. Although some of the game's puzzles are indeed amusing or even clever, the game just cannot reach the same level of quality or entertainment value as other similar derivatives like Portal.

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