Penumbra: Black Plague

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Penumbra: Black Plague game cover

DeveloperFrictional Games
PublisherFrictional Games
GenreHorror survival, puzzle, indie
Release Year2008
Purchase Penumbra trilogy (PC)Click here to purchase from Amazon.
Purchase (PC/Mac/Linux)Click here to buy from Steam.

Next on the list is the highest-rated entry of the Penumbra series, which is often considered to be the face of the series itself. It is easily the scariest, as well as being the most fun and the most engaging.

Today, we are going to look at Penumbra: Black Plague.

Black Plague takes place directly after the events of Overture, after the cliffhanger ending. In this episode, Philip is at a new place known as the Shelter, where he discovers the root of the problem that occurred at the mines from the previous game.

The game comes with a quick interactive tutorial. Weird idea but I guess we may get people who don’t know how to play first-person games. Or computer games. Or any game. Or never used a computer.

Huh.

Penumbra: Black Plague tutorial
Nice start. Oops.

The gameplay is largely the same as Overture’s, but there are a couple of major exceptions:

  1. The batteries are now items you carry in your inventory and will restore half of your flashlight’s energy meter.
  2. The combat is removed, making enemies a larger threat

Like with Overture, you need to solve puzzles to get to the next “hub area” and make progress throughout the game. The “hub” maps make a return, making your treks easier. The puzzles are trickier this time around, as you may need to do a lot of backtracking in order to solve the next phase of a puzzle.

Penumbra: Black Plague computer screen

Penumbra: Black Plague computer

Some puzzles involve using computers, either to read documents or deactivate security in some areas.

Penumbra: Black Plague save artifact

The glowing artifacts from the previous game make a return, once again serving as checkpoints and save points.

Penumbra: Black Plague Strange Artefact

A new addition is a special item called a Strange Artefact. The game has a total of ten of these items and will give you a special password that will help you unlock hidden development content. That, and give a funny little Easter egg called Schmup.exe.

Penumbra: Black Plague Schmup

Black Plague introduces a new monster called an Infected, a former human mutated by a supernatural being known as the Tuurngait.

Well, okay. We’ve seen stuff similar to those before. How’s about we take a look at—

Penumbra: Black Plague Infected
OH-HO-HO! MAN, GOD CLEARLY HASN’T BEEN KIND TO YOU, SIR!

Unlike the mutated creatures from Overture, the Infected appear to be intelligent and are capable of speech and using tools. These monsters often wander the hallways of the Shelter, carrying flashlights and weapons. And they are pretty much unstoppable. They can’t be killed.

OR ARE THEY?

Penumbra: Black Plague Infected
So one day, I decided to fuck around with this guy by constantly grabbing the boxes next to him. And they hurt him for some reason.
Penumbra: Black Plague Infected dying
And after a few minutes of grabbing boxes, he just suddenly starts choking and drops dead.
Penumbra: Black Plague Infected dead
Uh, buddy? Hey, buddy? Don’t you want to kill me anymore?

I don’t really understand how it works but I guess these guys do die if you hit them with larger objects enough times. But it takes so much time to kill one that you’re better off running away from them instead.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of monster variety, even compared to Overture. However, the Infected are not only more interesting to learn about but are actually quite horrifying. These guys don’t fuck around and they will mess you up with their crowbars.

The absence of the combat mechanics is rather fitting, instilling that same sense of helplessness that you get from playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent. That alone effectively makes the Infected even scarier monsters.

Penumbra: Black Plague Tom Red Redwood

The story is faster-paced and gives more depth to what happened during the previous game. Philip was captured by a mysterious figure during the ending of Overture and Black Plague begins with him finding himself in a locked office as a prisoner. With some help, he is able to escape his makeshift jail cell and continue his hellish journey. Philip discovers that his father, Howard, is somewhere in the Shelter in hiding so he wants to get to the bottom of his situation once and for all.

Along the way, he makes contact with a former Shelter employee named Dr. Amabel Swanson and a disgruntled spirit living in his head named Clarence—ironically named after the guardian angel from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.

Penumbra: Black Plague Amabel Swanson

The characters are polar opposites in a way. Dr. Swanson encourages Philip throughout the game, giving him the promise of a rescue and a possible cure for the “virus” known as Clarence.

Clarence, on the other hand, is once part of the Tuurngait—an ancient amalgam of spirits from Inuit mythology—and wants to merge back. However, he later develops a more independent personality throughout the game.

Penumbra: Black Plague Clarence

Penumbra: Black Plague Clarence

Penumbra: Black Plague Clarence and Grey Rock Worm

Penumbra: Black Plague Clarence

Clarence is a total smartass. He does everything in his power to discourage Philip from progressing and he frequently torments the man to insanity. He has a sick little hobby of fucking around with Philip’s head, creating illusions at will and questioning his intelligence.

He is like that really weird uncle with a fucked up sense of humor.

I LIKE THIS GUY!

And that is a major contrast from the previous game. The game has a dark sense of humor but can still also be creepy on its own right.

Take this part for example.

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And just like Overture, it does not stray from the disturbing or fantastic imagery.

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And despite the rather disappointing ending, which I won’t give away here—but maybe in the Penumbra: Requiem review—, the narrative is more compelling this time around and the characters overall are more interesting. This is not to say Red from the previous game isn’t as compelling but it is hard to place an entire narrative onto the shoulders of one character.

And because of the more challenging puzzles, you are likely to spend more time in this game than Overture. It is also more legitimately scary, which is why it has its rightful place as the scariest game of the trilogy and lives up to its genre of horror survival.

The atmosphere from Overture is also there and still gives a sense of isolation, but definitely puts more emphasis on the creepy bits. From surreal environments to uniquely lit rooms, you will feel like you’re trekking through a haunted science facility while in an internal battle against your own sanity.

So Frictional Games releases what it calls an “expansion” for Black Plague called Penumbra: Requiem. And… uh…

Well, let’s say fans of the series weren’t satisfied with it. But we’ll be taking a look soon. Until next time.

Penumbra: Black Plague

Price Varies
Penumbra: Black Plague
77.5

GAMEPLAY

8/10

    STORY

    8/10

      GRAPHICS

      8/10

        SOUNDTRACK

        9/10

          Pros

          • The puzzles are more complex than Overture’s, making them more challenging and satisfying to complete.
          • Clarence stands out as an unusual but interesting anti-hero character, adding a depth of dark humor into the game.
          • The setting is creepier and more surreal, giving some more impressive areas to look at.
          • The story is given more depth and helps answer the leftover questions from Overture.

          Cons

          • Like with Overture, the game will only last for a few hours from beginning to finish.
          • By the ending, some key characters have been killed off seemingly too early and some plot-related questions were left unanswered.
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