Penumbra: Necrologue

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Penumbra: Necrologue game cover

So let me get this straight. We have a full conversion mod of Amnesia that is a sequel to Penumbra: Requiem. And it’s GOOD fan fiction? WHAT!

ConsolePC/Mac/Linux
DeveloperCounterCurrent Games
PublisherCounterCurrent Games
GenreHorror, puzzle
Release Year2015
Free download of Necrologue (requires Amnesia: The Dark Descent)Download from Steam.
Purchase Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC/Mac/Linux)Purchase from Humble Store.
Purchase (Penumbra Collection)Purchase from Humble Store.

Yeeeeeep. You read that right. It turns out that there is another Penumbra game. And this one is not developed by Frictional Games. Instead, a Russian indie developer known as Countercurrent Games had decided to make a sequel to Requiem in order to tie up the story better.

Again, you read that right. This game is basically fan fiction. Thankfully, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Quite the opposite.

Penumbra: Necrologue is actually a full-conversion mod of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Basically, this means that it goes beyond being an Amnesia custom story, since it makes changes to the game mechanics, user interface, and more. You also have to use its own executable file instead of selecting from Amnesia’s custom story menu.

Most full-conversion mods for Amnesia can be downloaded from ModDB. However, Penumbra: Necrologue also has the honor of being downloadable through Steam. Both methods require a copy of Amnesia: The Dark Descent in order to work.

Unlike the previous Penumbra games, this entry is built on the HPL2 engine (same as Amnesia’s) so gameplay is slightly smoother this time around.

Penumbra: Necrologue computer room

If you’re already familiar with the gameplay of Penumbra or Amnesia, then you should feel right at home. For the most part, the mod plays just like a Penumbra game, even getting the items menu interface down.

Look, we even see a return of our little death slogan!

Penumbra: Necrologue Death is the final unknown

So once again. First person view, explore different areas, collect items, solve puzzles, rinse and repeat. If you’re somehow reading this and you don’t know anything about either Penumbra or Amnesia and how they play, best go back to my other reviews… or suffer the pain of confusion!

Any takers? No? Okay. Let’s move on.

You no longer have the glowstick so you have to rely heavily on your flashlight and find as many batteries as possible. And unfortunately, you don’t heal up over time like in the previous games so you need to rely on painkillers to stay in top shape.

“Hub” maps return.

Penumbra: Necrologue maps

And once again, more Strange Artefacts!

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Ten in total, will give a password to a “super secret” folder. Sound familiar?

Noting the minor differences, this mod plays very much like Black Plague. You would enter “hub” maps with smaller areas to go to, then try to get to the next “hub” map.

What astounds me about this game is that it is longer than any of the official Penumbra releases, so you can certainly be playing this one for a while. Even for an Amnesia mod, that is pretty damn impressive.

But what I find particularly satisfying about this mod is the monster variety. It manages to pull in the mutant dogs and spiders from Overture and the Infected from Black Plague.

Penumbra: Necrologue Infected

It gets better though. It even includes the two scrapped monsters from the Penumbra demo, neither of which made an appearance in the complete trilogy.

We have the Roaches, which are very rare to encounter—and louder than an angry parrot.

And the Hunter, which looks like—

Penumbra Hunter
H-h-h-h-holy shit!!!!

It’s like they crossed SCP-096’s DNA with that of a beast and a spider…

The Hunter is easily the freakiest and nastiest enemy in the game. It moves incredibly fast and just refuses to stop giving chase, even smashing away obstacles with little effort. It is recognizable from its grotesque design, glowing white eyes, the weird sounds it makes, and how it walks like a crab.

Penumbra: Necrologue Hunter
This is the part where I shat bricks.

You first encounter this thing in a toxic area while wearing a gas mask, which already gives you a lower depth of field.  The fogginess and low lighting are also an issue. You can just be walking around, searching for a way out. But then you suddenly hear hoarse breathing sounds and squishy footsteps. Then THIS THING comes charging at you out of nowhere with an insatiable hunger for your flesh!

Penumbra: Necrologue Hunter (Wilbur Frisk?)
No, seriously, it will NOT leave you alone!

A heart attack in the form of what was possibly a human being. This thing is just a trip to the ER waiting to happen.

*shudders*

So with this much said, this mod is a very impressive effort. However, I do have a few criticisms.

First, some parts of the Necrologue can get really tedious. Even in areas actively patrolled by monsters, you STILL have to solve a puzzle simultaneously while avoiding the monsters. And the Tuurngait Infected now run faster than you, so it’s much harder to avoid them than in Black Plague.

Keep in mind that the “combat” in this mod is limited to throwing large objects at the monsters to slow them down, just like Black Plague. There are no tools you can wield and you can’t lure away dogs with old beef jerky like in Overture.

What springs into mind is the first encounter with the Hunter. While a scary demon of Hell, the Hunter makes it difficult to explore the area and find an exit. It turns out that you need to solve an odd puzzle in order to move forward.

Second, some of the puzzles can get really annoying. It is far too easy to miss something, because sometimes there is no hint of whether the solution is in plain sight or not.

Penumbra: Necrologue hidden switch
Look very closely. Can’t you see the hidden switch?

It’s even worse when you’re not aware that you were supposed to look for hidden solutions like these—which one of the final maps of the game is especially guilty for. This doesn’t detract from the overall experience, but it is jarring at best.

Another such example is one specific puzzle where you need to find out a door code. Even though you will have the important document that has a list of door codes, this particular door does not have its code on this list. A total red herring.

You just have to take a wild guess and take a closer look at this black stain on a table.

Penumbra: Necrologue ink stain

Then you wipe it off, and it reveals…

Penumbra: Necrologue hidden code
Scratch marks…

Now this one is a headscratcher. There is no indication that these scratch marks are somehow connected to the door code to begin with. You just had to take a leap of faith. The worst part about this puzzle is that you have to figure out the code from these four patterned scratch marks. But there doesn’t seem to be a clear pattern to begin with and no one really knows what to connect them to. There just so happened to be a few lucky guesses.

Numbers of arms per symbol? Nope.

Number of complete lines used to draw the symbols? Nope.

No, it turns out to be the number of points the lines have. If you’re just looking at individual line segments, the code would be 7251. But with the number of points, it’s 7352. How would anyone know to do this?

Necrologue also has this very annoying tendency in placing you in dark areas, which gets old quick. While there is no real threat in standing in the dark, there’s no visual appeal to it and you can’t access certain areas without turning the electricity back on. Also, you don’t have the glowstick like in previous Penumbra games—which provides a small but unlimited source of light. You only have the flashlight, which drains batteries quick—and batteries are limited. So in all likelihood, you’re going to stare at an ugly shade of blue for most of the game.

The enemies themselves can be a pain to deal with. I know this is weird considering the monsters are a major part of the game, but that is what adds to a frustration factor here.

The monsters are undoubtedly hideous creations. And the new enemy models to accommodate the game are well done. But I find that the AI is quite sensitive to your movements. Even when you’re crouching down in darkness and taking a peek at the enemy, the enemy spots you almost immediately and is out for your blood. At times, it’s like they can suddenly see through walls just to find you. This makes staying hidden much more difficult and makes it harder to concentrate in finding a way out.

This also makes it more difficult in sneaking past the enemies, because they patrol areas rather quickly and easily react to movement and sounds around them. For example, the Hunter in some sections of the game.

While he is no doubt the scariest monster of the game, he is also very annoying to deal with. There is this one chase sequence where he pursues through a long corridor, then the game just does this stupid motion blur effect that makes it hard to see anything. As a result, I couldn’t see a button that I was supposed to press to get through a door. This is an example of how poor visuals can interfere with a set piece.

Also, any segments that have spiders in them. They have a strangely massive collision box, meaning you can’t easily pass them (despite them being much smaller than you). They move incredibly fast. Like with other enemies in Necrologue, they’re impervious to damage. And they’re usually unavoidable. The one time when you see spider eggs in a basement and it’s too late to react? That was a cheap shot.

Scares in horror games can only last for so long, and getting killed repeatedly by the same monster doesn’t make it any scarier. It just makes it more tedious.

And none of these monsters despawn either. They’re around until you leave the map.

The best thing to do with this kind of sensitive AI is to rely on sneaking around sparsely and running away more often.

Penumbra: Necrologue beginning

The environments look quite amazing for an Amnesia mod. With some interesting designs and proper lighting, these are definitely places you wouldn’t want to wander into. They capture the eerie feel and tone of the Penumbra games quite well.

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However, I did encounter quite a few performance issues. The loading times whenever you transition between maps can be rather monstrous. And there are times when the game crashes during those load times. According to this thread, you have to keep the Texture Quality setting to High or else the game won’t work properly on some parts. It’s annoying if you wanted to trade off graphics quality for performance.

As for the story, it retcons a couple of major points.

  1. Dr. Amabel Swanson from Black Plague is not dead. In fact, the spot where her corpse was was instead replaced by the corpse of a Tuurngait Infected.
  2. Clarence from Black Plague is not dead, claiming the entire ending of that game is basically him fucking with Philips’s mind. Possibly even what happened during Requiem.

…W-what?

Penumbra: Necrologue Clarence's prank

Yeeeah… the entire beginning of Necrologue is basically Clarence coming back to reside in your head, while explaining that him trying to murder you and causing Dr. Swanson’s death were just one big elaborate joke. It is such a hard sell. I know the foundation of an official sequel to Requiem is shaky at best, but… you gotta find something better than, “lol, it’s just a prank, bro!”

What makes it even more difficult to buy is that neither of the characters seem to acknowledge some semi-important parts of Black Plague.

In Black Plague, Dr. Swanson was trapped at a specific spot and asked Philip to rescue her there. In this game, she doesn’t seem to acknowledge this and is at an entirely different location for some reason.

As for Clarence, Philip used some kind of chemical mixture on himself to force Clarence to leave his head. And while it did work, Clarence stole a nearby human corpse for himself and attempted to kill Philip. However, he met his demise when the other Infected killed him. Yet, Clarence still returns somehow and handwaves the whole incident as, “It’s a prank, bro!”

But what makes it more confusing is that you see the same dead body that Clarence used just lying outside of the room.

Penumbra: Necrologue Clarence's body

…I still don’t get it. Does that mean the other Infected simply banished Clarence from this body in Black Plague? But why? What’s even the point? This whole introductory sequence just feels like one big Ass Pull.

While I liked Clarence’s character in Black Plague, he doesn’t seem to be as entertaining in Necrologue. This is because that in Black Plague, you get a sense that Clarence is antagonizing you and will do whatever he can to throw you off. He even taunts about the deaths of people important to Philip, in an attempt to break the man’s morale.

In Necrologue though, Clarence just seems to be that sidekick who cracks a stupid joke every now and then. Unlike before, he seems even more passive-aggressive and makes little attempt to steer Philip into the wrong direction. However, he still does taunt Philip—sometimes even recycling old jokes from Black Plague. In this sense, it doesn’t feel like Clarence adds a whole lot to the experience of Necrologue and is more or less a tagalong. You can find his antics either amusing or worthy of eye-rolling.

Penumbra: Necrologue Clarence

Oddly enough, Tom “Red” Redwood makes a return as a disembodied voice to encourage Philip along his way. It is unknown how he could do this and why. After a certain point in the game, we never hear from him again.

The game also introduces two more key characters:

  1. Jayla/Jeila Kwon, an operator hired by the Archaic Caste to rescue people at the shelter. Also, her name is spelled differently at various points of the game for some weird reason.
  2. Alford Richardson, a former member of the Archaic Caste only heard through tape recordings and was apparently a key scientist responsible for discovering the Tuurngait artifacts

As for actual plot progression, it’s hard to say if this sequel had truly wrapped everything up. It takes some interesting directions and some weird ones.

What it does cover:

  1. Philip waking up from the events of Penumbra: Requiem, allowing him to continue traveling through the Shelter and carrying out his deeds.
  2. Meeting the creature (the Hunter) that had apparently been wandering the Kennels in Black Plague.
  3. What some of the mysterious locations in Penumbra: Requiem are or may imply.

What is not addressed:

  1. The ending of Black Plague, where Philip contacted an unknown person (supposedly someone he trusts) to destroy the mine and the facility and even gave out the coordinates. This person may be Jayla Kwon since she mentioned that an unknown person contacted her, but it was never confirmed if Jayla was actually his friend.
  2. Dr. Amabel Swanson’s fate remains unknown. The last we heard from her, she was waiting for Philip at the Meteorological Center. But the bridge leading there collapsed, leading Philip to an underground mine where he has zero contact with the rest of the world.
  3. Clarence suddenly leaving on his own accord, never explaining why he did or how he could do it—considering he wanted to leave Philip’s head in Black Plague, it’s odd that he can now do it at any point in Necrologue. His reasoning? “My role has ended” and “You’ll know soon enough.”Penumbra: Necrologue Clarence leaving
  4. How Tom “Red” Redwood can suddenly communicate with Phillip with some sort of psychic connection, despite supposedly being dead. Has his soul not merged with the Tuurngait, still keeping his individuality? It’s never explained how he could speak to Philip beyond the grave. Furthermore, he was never heard from again right before you enter the Tuurngait’s tomb, seemingly distressed by your decision to go further.
  5. Why Howard LaFresque’s body is wandering on its own, whether he’s actually alive or the Tuurngait is controlling his corpse. You also find a mysterious note, next to where his corpse was originally, that says, “Find him,” signed by a person calling themselves O.
  6. Somewhere, you could find Eloff Carpenter, one of the members of Archaic’s Elevated Caste. He appears to have entered some sort of coma, perhaps still experiencing the out-of-body hallucination in Requiem. Clarence even told you not to touch him, claiming that he must find a way out on his own. His fate remains unknown.
  7. What in the hell is the Hunter anyway? Is he really the transformed state of the Archaic worker Wilbur Frisk? At one point, Clarence even said that the Hunter isn’t “one of us.” If he’s not a part of the Tuurngait like the other Infected, then what actually is he?
  8. Sometimes, you may see these mysterious shadowy figures stalking you. They tend to pop up in weird places, watching you. Who are they? Are they even human?
  9. Whatever really happened to Dr. Richard Eminess, though Penumbra: Requiem suggested that he merged with the Tuurngait.
  10. In one of the endings, we don’t know for sure whether Philip destroyed the Tuurngait and the Shelter. It seems to imply that Philip did indeed destroy the Tuurngait—indicated by a collapsing tower. After this, Philip appears to be at home in Britain, with no line of dialogue clarifying anything. I guess he finally got his happy ending, but the whole thing felt like there were many loose ends with no real closure.

It’s really odd because Dr. Swanson and Clarence were revived in this game, but their departures were abrupt and their fates were left ambiguous. It kinda makes bringing them back rather pointless. Other than determining Philip’s survival and his conflict with the Tuurngait, there isn’t much point to this game’s plot.

Penumbra: Necrologue alien statue

Despite some minor shortcomings, this is a valiant effort to recapture the experience of the Penumbra series. It’s made by people who love the games. It’s made for people who love the games. It is undoubtedly one of the best full conversion mods you can play on Amnesia and well worthy of being an official sequel of the Penumbra series.

Penumbra: Necrologue

Free
7.6

GAMEPLAY

8.0/10

STORY

6.5/10

GRAPHICS

8.0/10

SOUNDTRACK

8.0/10

Pros

  • The mod successfully plays like a real Penumbra game, with some minor changes that can be looked over.
  • The wide monster variety and the addition of the Hunter, which truly makes an impression as a terrifying force to be reckoned with.
  • The amount of time and the variety of challenging puzzles makes this mod last even longer than the original Penumbra entries.
  • Atmosphere. It’s hard to have a good horror game without the right atmosphere, and this one successfully recaptures the dark, isolated setting of the Penumbra universe.

Cons

  • Some puzzles can get tedious or tricky, sometimes requiring a shot in the dark in order to move forward.
  • Avoiding monsters can be a real pain, as they can easily spot you and give pursuit almost immediately.
  • The story is largely uneventful, somewhat feeling like a retelling of Black Plague but adds up to some predictable conclusions and many unexplained questions.
  • Performance issues including long load times and crashes.
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Penumbra: Necrologue
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