Descent into the Unknown
Penumbra: Overture is a rarity. The game combines both adventure game-esque exploration with it's inventory and item based puzzles as well as intense first person survival horror. The game's physics engine increases player immersion as well as creating interest in manipulating the game world to better your chances of survival. With a Lovecraftian plot of hidden evil and unexplained horrors Phillip (the player character) stumbles blindly into, (honestly, the game recommends having as little visibility as possible when playing) relying on the small amount of light your glow-stick or flashlight gives you. The game environment works against you as the glow-stick provides minimal light and the flashlight operates on a diminishing battery power system which has to be topped up by picking up batteries at various points in the journey. Combat is a fairly clumsy affair as the player must wind up the various tools they find with a movement of the mouse and then swing the mouse back to get a similar reaction from the on-screen weapon (such as a hammer).
The core mechanics of the game are fairly unique but tend to be a bit clunky. Another weakness of the game is the dated graphics engine, which manages to do a superb job of lighting areas and objects but fails to give the objects much detail in light that isn't being generated by the player. That said the engine does what is required of it, the objects are clearly distinguishable from the background and the game is totally playable. Just don't expect the flash you have come to expect from big studios as the team that made Penumbra: Overture is small one. The game's engine gets many things right as you will often find yourself frantically scrambling to block doors with the games interactive physics engine or hack away at obstacles preventing you from proceeding (such as boards blocking corridors). One early puzzle requires you to pull down a old shelf to discover a boarded up hole which must be dealt with, a tool lying nearby does the job amicably with a little encouragement from the player.
For a game set underground there are a wide variety of environments for you to get scared silly in. The excellent use of light and sound creates an atmosphere that leaves the player with a sense of encompassing doom and gloom. The utter hopelessness of the situation at hand (my reaction to the game, not the game itself) forced me to pause the game multiple times during my play-though and have a quick breather before reassessing the situation. The atmosphere conjures up comparisons with other classics of the survival horror genre which should make the development team proud. If this is the flavor of "interdependently" developed First-Person-Shooters then sign me up as Penumbra: Overture was a harrowing experience with a clever plot (if one can get past the fact that English was clearly not the native tongue of the developers and voice talent) that kept me delving deeper into darkness to discover what secrets were being kept from Phillip. Penumbra: Overture asks for a little forgiveness from the player, however if one is willing to give it that benefit an awesome experience awaits buried under the ice.