Penumbra: Necrologue

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Penumbra: Necrologue game cover

ConsolePC/Mac/Linux (Steam)
DeveloperCounterCurrent Games
PublisherCounterCurrent Games
GenreHorror survival, puzzle, indie, mod
Release Year2015
Purchase Penumbra trilogy (PC)Click here to purchase from Amazon.
Free download of Necrologue (requires Amnesia: The Dark Descent)Click here to buy from Steam.
Purchase Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC/Mac/Linux)Click here to buy from Steam.

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.

To be fair for a moment, Penumbra: Necrologue is actually a full-conversion mod of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. 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.

Penumbra Roach
Mmm, not a bad design.

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
*sobs* Leave me alone, you motherfucker!

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 couple of criticisms.

First, some parts of the game can get really tedious. Even in areas actively patrolled by monsters, you STILL have to solve a puzzle simultaneously while avoiding the monsters. 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.

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 lines used to draw the symbols? Nope.

I really don’t know. If someone can give an explanation, that would be great.

And third, the enemies themselves. 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. 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. 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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As for the story, it retcons a couple of major points.

  1. Dr. Amabel Swanson from Black Plague is not dead.
  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… when I first found out about those, it was a little hard to buy. 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, he previously stole an Infected’s body for himself and attempted to kill Philip. However, he met his demise when the other Infected killed him to have him merge back into the Tuurngait. In this game, Clarence seems to handwave this whole incident, even saying it’s nothing more than a practical joke.

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?

And 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 currently 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 him 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 Kwon, an operator hired by the Archaic Caste to rescue people at the shelter
  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 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 left hanging:

  1. 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.Penumbra: Necrologue Clarence leaving
  2. Dr. Amabel Swanson’s fate remains unknown
  3. Why Howard LaFresque’s body is wandering on its own, whether he’s actually alive or the Tuurngait is controlling his corpse.
  4. Whatever really happened to Dr. Richard Eminess, though Penumbra: Requiem suggested that he merged with the Tuurngait
  5. We don’t know for sure whether Philip destroyed the Tuurngait and the Shelter. One of the endings seems to imply that he did, in fact, destroyed the Tuurngait—indicated by a collapsing tower—but neither ending really clarifies this
  6. How Tom “Red” Redwood can suddenly communicate with Phillip with some sort of psychic connection. It’s never explained and he was never heard from again after chastising Philip for journeying even deeper into the Shelter.
  7. The ending of Black Plague, where Philip contacted an unknown person to destroy the mine and the facility and even gave out the coordinates. This has never been addressed in the game.

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.

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
Penumbra: Necrologue
7.625

GAMEPLAY

8/10

    STORY

    7/10

      GRAPHICS

      8/10

        SOUNDTRACK

        8/10

          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.
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