Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Penumbra Overture: Further Thoughts

I didn't want yesterday's post to get too long, I think I tend to have a problem with that, so I'm continuing my thoughts in today's post.

I'm really enjoying the atmosphere of the game. It does a really good job using lighting and sound to convey a feeling of omnipresent threat. Frequently throughout the game you have to venture into spider infested tunnels, often you don't see anything, but you can hear crawling things all around you. The game thus far has taken place almost entirely in an old mine, which shakes and rumbles from time to time. The small earthquakes sound almost like the angry growls of a nasty monster deep in the mine.

Most of the mine is covered in darkness, it's a relief whenever you're able to spend time in areas that are more well lit. But even the well lit areas are still covered in rust and decay, serving as a reminder that you are very alone. Additionally the areas of light serve a nice contrast, making the dark areas even more frightening.

This really bothered me for a while until I figured out how the saving mechanism worked. Throughout the game you'll find ancient artifacts, that look almost like lanterns. When you click on one, it gives a brief description of the main characters thoughts as the artifact invades his head. I finally noticed that the save game files all seemed to be created around the same time that I clicked on the artifacts. After that I was able to relax because I didn't have to worry about whether my progress would be lost. There are also auto-save spots scattered around, and so far they have been very well positioned.

One thing that can always sap the scary out of a game is having to replay a particular portion over and over. So good check point placement is important. It's done an admirable job so far. There was one sequence where you have to move through a small spider infested tunnel, and you actually get chased by spiders. You can hear them hatching from their eggs and coming after you, and you have to run through the tunnel, and find ways to prevent them from chasing you. It was thrilling and terrifying, and it could have easily been ruined by poor save spot placement. I had to replay one section through four or five times, there was a rock rolling down an incline, Indiana Jones style, and it took a couple of tries to figure out where to run to get out of the way. Each time I died it placed me right before the rock puzzle, meaning I was only ten or fifteen seconds between attempts. If I had had to replay the entire tunnel sequence each time I would have quickly grown tired of it, and it would have lost all of its terror inducing goodness.

The plot is interesting so far, it seems to have some Lovecraftian influences, which is always a good thing in my book. So far a lot of the story has been told through notes left behind by other characters, which is always a good way to include other characters, but still keep the player isolated.

Anyway, I'm enjoying it so far. I'll post more thoughts as they occur to me.

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