More of what I loved about Penumbra: Overture
Penumbra: Black Plague, being a sequel to Penumbra: Overture, is of course a continuation of the same story with very similar gameplay. Considering how much I enjoyed Overture and that both games are on the short side (I finished this one with 6.3 hours logged in Steam), that was very much welcome. I got Overture with the first Humble Indie Bundle, and by the time I got around playing it the included offer to get the rest of Penumbra cheap had expired. Luckily it was part of the Halloween 2011 Steam sale and I finally got my hands on Black Plague and Requiem.
You resume your role as Philip, a not particularly athletic physicist. Unlike Gordon Freeman, Philip doesn’t develop skills fighting with tools and then ever more powerful weapons when finding himself in a situation where such a thing would be useful. I was happy to see that the hammer and pickaxe Philip was able to ineffectively use as weapons in Overture were not present in Black Plague. I didn’t particularly enjoy attempting to brain a hungry, angry, possibly possessed zombie wolf with a simple hammer, yet the distraction of having the hammer made it take longer for me to realize I could effectively sneak past.
Both games are set in mostly dark locations which are also eerily dangerous. I played Black Plague exclusively in a darkened room and found that I rarely used the flashlight (which requires batteries) or the everlasting glow stick to help me see, as Philip seems to be reasonably well-skilled at adjusting his eyes to the darkness. The one area where I thought maybe I’d look around using my flashlight brought me almost face-to-face with an infected (zombie-like) creature who carried a flashlight of his own in addition to an axe! There are plenty of potential moments like that which can catch you by surprise such that you can’t quite react in time and end up dead. Luckily, the game autosaves frequently enough that you usually continue from just before you blundered into some sort of monster.
Once again a voice makes contact with you early in the game, and you spend most of the game working your way to that person. This time though the voice belongs to a lady doctor / scientist named Amabel who seems to have all her wits about her. The craziness instead comes from a voice in your own head, the manifestation of your own infection of what those before you have called the Tuurngait Virus. I actually felt less alone with the voice (which names itself Clarence) talking to me in between times I was able to hear from Amabel, even though Clarence is usually not nice to the player at all. It also feels very unfair that Clarence is able to control what you see, for example once you manage to get a certain door unlocked and then go back to it he makes you see just a wall with no door just to mess with you. This made me angry at Clarence rather than at the game though, which just drove me forward to find Amabel who would hopefully help me get rid of Clarence.
Black Plague’s ending actually gives a good amount of closure, unlike Overture which ends with you getting knocked out and captured. I would have been okay with the series ending here, but all the same I’m happy Penumbra: Requiem exists so I can experience even more Penumbra. If you’re at all interested in horror and puzzles I highly recommend the Penumbra games! They are short but also inexpensive: you can get the entire collection for under $20 on Steam.