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Penumbra - Unique, Immersive, Pretty, And ...


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I stumbled across this just-released game, Penumbra, amidst browsing an independent-game development website. Penumbra is a completely free, first person, survival-horror adventure that is based on an independently developed (and--from what I've experienced--spectacular) engine, created by four team members at Frictional Games. The game boasts dynamic shadows (ala Doom 3), graphics on par with that of today's commercially released games (easily comparable to "F.E.A.R."), an extremely impressive physics engine, and immersive (and downright scary) gameplay that is drenched in atmosphere.


I'm going to say right up front that I have yet to endure a game as scary as this to date (I have played Doom 3 and F.E.A.R.--both of which I didn't find scary at all, System Shock 1/2, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, The Resident Evil Series, and the Silent Hill Series). And this coming from someone who is only 15 minutes into the game--having yet to encounter or even hear any of the horrors lurking about (that of which I've read are quite gruesome). Perhaps it is only because it is late at night and I am all alone (Though, this never stopped me before), but I'm finding it extremely difficult to let alone open doors, or even venture around the bends of dark corners; I always feel as if something is going to jump out at me. Lending to this spookiness is the fact that the only weapon available to you is your witts: either you manipulate the environment to your advantage (For example, blocking doors), or you frikkin' run like hell and pray your ensuer loses track of you. It's the type of scary where when the lights go out, you may find yourself scared still--unable to move, in fear of what repercussions any sort of further action will render. And to make things worse, your only truly "reliable" light source is a shitty flashlight that seems to consume entire batteries by the minute.


This is not a "run and gun" FPS clone. Most of the game's challenges (aside from battling with your own fear) reside in avoiding confrontation and somewhat challenging puzzles, with the manipulation of physics. Perhaps from your Half-Life 2 experiences, you may think you'll be turned off by this, but I must say these are the most convincing/realistic and enjoyable physics I've used to date. Objects actually feel as if they have weight (In HL2 and D3, I always felt as if the physics affected objects were unrealistic and felt, for lack of a better word, "weightless," making it quite a relief to experience these). And the methods in which you're given to manipulate the physics are quite novel, but I won't spoil this for you. It is in no way as dull as HL2's "pick up object A and place on object B, offsetting weight, and triggering action C..."


The only downsides to this game seem to be the fact that it was only created as a tech demo, and thus there are some bugs and occassional performance issues. The system requirements are quite reasonable, though (1GHz CPU, 512MB Ram, At least Radeon 9600 or equivalent Geforce card). In addition (and naturally), it is not as long as a commercially released game, but it is definitely long enough from what I've read. The quality is easily on par or better than commercial quality, though. It's quite amazing only 4 people assembled this engine and created such a fantastic game. It would seem an understatement to call it a "tech demo," in my opinion.


Penumbra is only 200 MB large and does not need to be installed (it is just a folder). Make sure you pick up version 1.1. Here is a link to the website (if you didn't use the hyper-text links above):





Now I'm going to go asleep. I can't possibly play this game alone and at such late hours. It's too stressful :(

Edited by woah
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I played it for about 30 min, and while it has it's plusses, I was turned off and decided to just uninstall it.


First of all, this is not an FPS; rather, it's an adventure game. You gather clues and inventory, and solve puzzles using your inventory items and just figuring things out.


I wasn't scared, mainly because since there aren't any weapons of any kind at all I knew that nothing could really be thrown at me, and I was right. There was one point where I found a sort of "trap" and I figured "oh, okay, I'll probably have to use this to kill a monster", and then, sure enough, a monster came from the other room at me and I used the "trap" to get it just in time.


I will say the atmosphere is GREAT! It's dark and musty and just feels right. Pushing and pulling large crates and grabbing other stuff works pretty well, although I prefer the Oblivion aspect that things will dangle straight downward from the point you grabbed them at (in this game, they stay in the exact same position).


I really didn't like the controls at all! I like the idea of manipulating the environment, but it was very awkward and clunky to do some of the simplest things. It's just a tech demo, yes, and a lot of smoothing out the interface needs to happen.


I thought the performance wasn't very good, and VERY inefficient. Each teensy tiny area has to load separately when you go through a door/portal (think 1/5 size of DWIW areas).


The architecture is only square rooms and rectange halls, and the draw distance is very small in the dark, so the game ought to run at something more than an unplayable slideshow with all options turned down to absolute minimum on my GeForce 5650 128mb 1gig ram Pentium M 1.4ghz. When I played on my desktop at home (Athlon XP 2500+, 1gig ram, GeForce 6800GT 256mb) it ran smoothly. So perhaps the game makes heavy use of newer shaders.


My bottom line - worth trying out, good atmosphere, innovative yet clunky gameplay, demanding on your system for not much to show.

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Really? Didn't even notice that. Sorry *blush*


Just finished the game, and I thought it was great. I loved the story and the setting. Both really set the mood and atmosphere perfectly, making it not only extremely scary, but intriguing. What I mean by this is that the game invoked your curiousity very well. As much as you were fearfully reluctant to venture beyond each door or dark corner, and explore further into the base, your curiousity was tickled enough to manifest a true yearning to "keep going"; you really wanted to know what was down below in this remote and mysterious base. These two elements, fear and curiousity, blend with one another superbly =D


I did notice a problem with the physics, though. When stacking several objects upon one another, they tend to jitter and move about unrealistically (I assume there is some sort of constant gravitational force simulated which causes this problem). In addition, the physics objects will occassional get stuck in other objects or walls.


SPOILER - Please don't read this if you have not completed the tech demo--it will most assuredly ruin the game for you

(highlight between SPOILER to reveal text)

My only pet peeve with the demo was the monster selection. The Flying "dolphin-bat" looking creature was not very scary--it just looked extremely odd and I felt it did not fit. It was disappointing that this was the only monster included. In the screenshots, there is a "hunter" creature that looks like something out of Silent Hill--but much, much scarier (When playing the game, I had assumed this creature was in the bathroom (you could hear something hideous breathing inside)--but you were never permitted to enter the bathroom in the tech demo. My eyes never left the door of the bathroom whenever I had passed by it as I always thought something was going to bust out of there). Unfortunately, the developers claim they didn't have enough time to implement this creature. Still, I was always on my toes, heart pumping ferociously, as (at the time) I had no idea what else might be lurking around. Sometimes I would hear a sound--perhaps ambient or not--and frantically go running for a vent or a known-to-be-safe area.


Edited by woah
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Really? Didn't even notice that.


Sorry *blush*


It's ok mate. I did it but only one or 2 replies. Check page 2 on Gen Discussion and this thread:


"A Free Horror Game With Good Physics..."

ZylonBane's confession about himself:

"What can I say, I'm a jerk. A three times all American Jerk, from Jerksville, Kentucky. Yee Haw"

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I just tried this demo 'cause of this thread... woah! fantastic work.


Haven't finished it yet, got as far as getting the power back on and fixing the next door, but I've been left seriously impressed so far. The GFX and sound are nice 'n all but it's the physics and object interation that I find particularly engaging. I'd love a fully fledged adventure game like this even though I'm not particularly big on the genre, or perhaps a more cerebral (ironically at a lose to spell that correctly right now) System Shock follow on... MMMM


Regarding the control system, I love it. But then again I didn't mind TDS too much and I absolutely love OFPs mechanics... the ability to look around whilst walking in a linear direction I miss so badly nowadays. And, for what reasons I don't know, i like the way the mouse cursor moves a certain amount before the view will turn... OFP also does this. HL2 was okay as a game but the viewing and movements mechanics I find absolutely dire in a game in tihs day and age and resulted in me buying and ditching the game for well over a year.

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As much of a fan of Shock 2 as i was (barely played more than a few minutes of the first I'm ashamed to say) I haven't bothered to look into Bioshock too much. There been any revelations of late? I'm hesitant to hold my breath over this one for some reason



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Yes, it a full free game, but I guess it's pretty short. It's not a commercial game. It's more like a rough tech demo or alpha of a game. There aren't many textures or models overall, so the filesize is small

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Just started playing it. The physics is pretty good, the "procedural" sounds are awesome and work well most of the time, altho I found some ways to break them (opening a door very fast by grabbing it and hitting the "throw" makes the creaking sound pitch up/down in weird ways when it opens and then bounces back closed). I wish D3 physics were that good, although I miss being able to mantle things and rotate objects. Maybe we should patent the concept of rotating objects ingame because other games don't seem to be doing it. Not really something you can patent though... I hope. :)

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Hmm, I suppose people are just frightened by different things. I felt the game was the scariest I had ever played D:


Though, I notice these games do not scare me if the sound isn't up loud enough, and/or if there is lots of accessory noise in your gaming location. Of course, that takes all the fun out of it. Anything like this is sure to castrate your immersion.

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Damn, so there's not worse coming? I'm perhaps one of the few that was very disturbed for ... well at least the first parts of D3. Beyond that, I admit is became less "scary" and just more "bothersome." But I remember a few times (that goddamn aging/melting face scene in the restroom) where I said, "OKAY! THAT'S ENOUGH FOR THE NIGHT" and I took my headphones off, put the lights on, and tried to stop shaking for a few minutes.


Doom3 had better not have ruined me for that stuff. Eh, I'm sure SS3 BioShock will bring it back. :)

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My scariest moment in D3 was after making my way across the martian landcape to the safety of a building... when I finally got inside, there was this periodic thumping noise. I'd hear a large *whump* and the lights would flicker... then a moment of silence and I'd hear it again. After making my way past corpses scattered about, wondering what was causing the pounding, I finally discovered the source... a metal door with something very large pounding on the other side of it. With trepidation, I made my way towards the door, and... well, I'll leave the specifics of the surprise up to you, but seeing that thing, whatever the hell it was, really scared the crap out of me.


Another favorite moment was the spider and the computer; so beautifully simple, and yet so effective since I wasn't expecting it at all.


So far Penumbra hasn't been that scary, except games like D3 have caused me to expect a monster to jump out of the darkness at any moment, and I don't really have much to fend them off with except dynamite, and I'm worried that I might need it for something in the future.

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