Penumbra: Twilight of the Archaic

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Penumbra: Twilight of the Archaic game cover art

Penumbra: Twilight of the Archaic is the followup to fan-made Necrologue, filling some of the series’ story gaps. Scary, but silly at times…

ConsolePC/Mac/Linux
DeveloperCounterCurrent Games
PublisherCounterCurrent Games
GenreHorror, puzzle
Release Year2015
Game Number5
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.

It’s been about four years since I talked about the Penumbra series. My review on Penumbra: Overture was posted on October 15, 2015 and it was among the first video game reviews I posted on Breaking Canon. This site’s come a long way since then.

For those who don’t know, the Penumbra games are a series of horror titles originally created by developer Frictional Games, before they made it big with games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and SOMA. The series follows the tale of an English physics professor named Philip Buchanon in 2001. After receiving a mysterious letter from his long deceased father, Philip takes a journey to a remote location in Greenland, where he finds a mysterious underground mine and a shady research facility. Along the way, he had close encounters against mutated animals and intelligent reanimated human corpses known as the Infected. These horrors trace back to an Inuit mythological entity known as the Tuurngait.

The original series consisted of OvertureBlack Plague and Requiem (in that order). They are generally known for their lonely and melancholic atmosphere, due to putting you through long periods of isolation. You also have to go through many dark corridors (whether inside a decrepit building or the deep dark underground) with the possible danger of a monster lurking nearby.

However, the story sort of stopped midway and since then had not received any real closure by Frictional Games. You could say that Requiem’s anticlimactic endings are deliberately depressing and leave you with so many questions, but fans of the series were not satisfied. So a Russian indie developer known as CounterCurrent Games picked up the pieces and created Necrologue as Philip’s conclusion to the story. While the Penumbra series is certainly rough around the edges, it’s still a worthwhile series to get into if you love horror games that feature minimal combat mechanics and an emphasis on puzzle-solving.

For a while, I thought I was done with Penumbra. The overarching story of the series had concluded with the fan-made Necrologue. It wasn’t how we expected the series to end, but there were enough fans out there who wanted to give the series some proper closure. And Frictional Games allowed it, so that was cool.

Clearly, I wasn’t paying enough attention. Because I somehow missed Penumbra: Twilight of the Archaic, which came out the same year as Necrologue did. This game was also created by CounterCurrent Games. And while you could download the mod files from ModDB, you can easily play Twilight of the Archaic if you have both Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Penumbra: Necrologue installed on Steam. Then you just run Necrologue.

How to play Penumbra: Twilight of the Archaic on Steam

Well, that was easy. I guess let’s jump right in!

 

Reliving the Events of the Shelter

So to gain a better understanding of the game’s narrative, I decided to play through the whole series (including Necrologue) again. I mean, it’s been about 4 years so I might as well. That way, I can get into the right mindset to approach Twilight of the Archaic. There wasn’t a whole lot of talk for this game online compared to Necrologue, so that’s a bit worrying. But of course, the Penumbra series had somewhat faded to obscurity and only a small cult following talks about it anymore.

So to begin with, Twilight of the Archaic isn’t really a “sequel” per say. At least, not in the traditional sense. As of Penumbra: Necrologue, Philip Buchanon’s story has already ended. Instead, this game consists of two side stories merged into one title.

Penumbra: Twilight of the Archaic Eleanor Loreyd and Eamon Stanley

The first chapter, titled “Unforeseen consequences,” follows the short tale of a new character named Eleanor Loreyd, a radiologist employed by the secret society Archaic. Her story takes place before the events of Overture, making this chapter a prequel. And… that’s pretty much all you need to know about her. Eleanor’s character is almost as one-dimensional as you can get, possessing only a basic backstory. She abandoned her old life to become a part of Archaic, just like how every other member of Archaic must do.

Really, she’s a throwaway character who personally witnessed the outbreak of the Tuurngait virus that ravaged the Shelter Research Station. Mainly, this chapter adds some lore to Archaic’s real purpose (which is to create a race of superhumans with their knowledge and discoveries) and answers some questions unaddressed by Necrologue.

Penumbra: Twilight of the Archaic Dr. Amabel Swanson

The second chapter, titled “Revelation,” follows Dr. Amabel Swanson, the chemist lady you were meant to rescue in Black Plague. What’s interesting about this is that her story takes place in the middle of Necrologue, specifically right after Philip falls to his apparent doom near the Meteorological Center. From that point in the story, Amabel was never seen or heard from again, leaving her fate unresolved. So it’s great that we’re finally getting some closure regarding that in Twilight of the Archaic.

Sadly, Amabel’s character here was reduced to a silent protagonist, which contrasts her usual friendly (and somewhat cheeky) personality in the previous games. You could make the argument that Philip possibly dying left her in a shitty mood, but it’s still pretty jarring to not hear her speak at all.

Both of the chapters play identically, so gameplay elements are pretty much the same. So let’s get right on that.

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So just like with the previous Penumbra games, Twilight of the Archaic is a first-person exploration game where you must examine your environment to collect stuff and solve puzzles. And occasionally, avoid deadly monsters. If you have played anything from Frictional Games (such as Amnesia), you pretty much know what to expect. For the most part, it’s the same exact gameplay, which is fine.

The Glowstick actually makes a return here, as it was noticeably absent in Necrologue. However, the tradeoff is that there is no Flashlight. Instead, the Glowstick is your main source of light. But at the very least, you don’t have to worry about scavenging for Batteries. That and I personally find the Glowstick to be more useful than the Flashlight anyway. The real downside here is that you can’t see very far with the Glowstick’s small range.

Penumbra: Twilight of the Archaic gameplay

Twilight of the Archaic also introduces a new consumable, Adrenaline. These shots increase your running speed, making them very useful for fleeing monsters. Seeing how this is an Amnesia mod and monsters typically run faster than you, this is a welcome change.

Oddly, there are no Strange Artefacts to collect in the game and that’s fairly disappointing. In the previous games, they’re optional collectibles that require you to be diligent in your exploration. Finding all of them gives you a password to unlock a zipped folder with the game files, letting you view cool stuff like concept arts. Here, there’s no such thing and that’s disappointing.

The game’s musical score reuses a lot of tracks from all of the past Penumbra games, which is fine. There aren’t any new tracks from what I remembered, but I’m fine with consistency. The voice acting does leave a bit to be desired, though I know the actors are trying. And the graphics nowadays are looking more dated (considering they’re based on late 2000s-early 2010s graphics), though they work in this setting. The human character models are of noticeably lower quality compared to the monsters, though.

As you play through the game, you notice that it’s uneventful compared to previous Penumbra entries. Well, maybe not as much as Requiem, but still. While there are plenty of monster encounters and various events, exploring individual rooms seem to feel less rewarding because they often don’t have anything useful. Even some of the notes you come across feel like needless filler, as in they don’t add in anything substantial to the game’s setting. And the puzzles you need to solve to progress are…. pretty dang easy. Generally speaking, Twilight of the Archaic tends to fall short compared to its predecessor Necrologue.

 

Journeying Far for Little Gain

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Eleanor’s story doesn’t really add much to the series. While there are some interesting set pieces (including some callbacks to Requiem), it feels like it’s all been done before. You even have a brief encounter with the Hunter from Necrologue, but that would be the last you see of him. Oddly, he didn’t have the glowing white eyes that made him easy to spot in the dark.

At first, you think the story might be a bit interesting since Eleanor’s story started off with her reporting in to work, to examine a deceased patient who had contracted the Tuurngait virus. You would uncover more info about the virus itself. And you could get some human interactions and get to know the other characters. But this all ended quickly when a sudden outbreak occurred and the Archaic employees became the Infected creatures.

The closest we have to a notable supporting character in Eleanor’s story is someone by the name of Wilmar (sometimes spelled Willmar). In order to find a way to send a distress signal, find her remaining coworkers and escape the Shelter, Eleanor followed Wilmar’s instructions via PA speaker. At first, we thought Wilmar is a sentient supercomputer since he stayed out of view and Eleanor conversed with him through a series of monitors. But as soon as you discovered a hidden room behind the monitors, it became clear that Wilmar was a person. WAS.

Penumbra: Twilight of the Archaic Professor Wilmar/Willmar
The giant penguin hungers!

To be fair, Wilmar’s character model is a freaky abomination of nature. Compared to the other Infected, he has a unique appearance with scythe hands, a rotund body, googly eyes and a long tongue. Interestingly enough, this monster was intended to be used for an Amnesia custom story called “In Lucy’s Eyes,” but was cut from the final version.

HOW TO MAKE HIM NOT SCARY?

Depending on the lighting of the environment, he may unintentionally look like something different. Some fans referred to him as a giant penguin/stork, with his scythe hands looking like flippers and his long tongue looking like a twisted beak. And of course, his goofy waddling walk animation. As you can imagine, some people don’t really take this guy seriously and I can understand why.

Personally, I thought he kinda looked like a one-time character animated by Señor Pelo for a humorous video.

Sr Pelo EVERY F* TOP 10 (TOP 100 CREEPY PASTA monster)
SPOILED PASTA!

But your encounters with Wilmar don’t last long. The last time you see him, you don’t really defeat him or anything. He just watches you escape and he never shows up again. It just felt like a wasted opportunity to make him into a more important antagonist, especially when he has minor plot significance in Amabel’s story.

It seems like the main point of Eleanor’s story is to address two things.

Penumbra: Twilight of the Archaic gameplay

The first one being on who sent the distress signal to dispatcher Jayla Kwon from Necrologue. At first, I thought it was Philip when he sent that one email in Black Plague, though it seems implausible considering it wasn’t established if he even knew who Jayla Kwon is. But as it turns out, it was Eleanor who did it. It was a minor flaw to address, but okay then.

The second one was intended to be a bizarre plot twist. Towards the end of her journey, Eleanor searched for a surviving woman (implied and later confirmed to be Amabel Swanson) after hearing about her from Wilmar. She later experienced a hallucination of going through a bloody tunnel, which is a similar experience that Philip had in Black Plague. Shortly after, Eleanor was becoming one of the Infected, until someone dropped a heavy crate on her…

Yep, that’s right. Apparently, Philip didn’t kill Amabel in Black Plague. He killed a different woman named Eleanor, and Necrologue showed that her corpse became one of the Tuurngait Infected. Amabel just so happened to be in the area and escaped during the incident.

Well, that’s a tough sell for a story retcon that probably didn’t need an additional explanation. Necrologue already tried to address this by saying that Clarence messed with Philip’s vision, by showing a woman’s corpse in place of an Infected’s corpse and leading him to believe that he killed Amabel. But this “twist” with Philip actually killing Eleanor just further complicates things. It doesn’t patch the story flaw. It just makes it worse.

 

Cheated by Fate

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With the end of Eleanor’s story, the rest of Twilight of the Archaic picks up from Amabel’s point of view after Philip fell into a chasm. With her supposed rescuer gone, Amabel went deeper underground to search for Philip and also searched for a new means of escape from the Shelter.

You’d think Wilmar would pop up again at some point since you found a note written by him before the Tuurngait virus outbreak happened. You learned that he descended into paranoid madness, and that he was the one responsible for poisoning a whole underground area and releasing some mutant bat-like creatures, all to protect himself from the infection (in vain, of course).

Nope. Penguin Man still doesn’t show up again. Again, wasted opportunity.

Later on, you found a recently deceased corpse of a man, who you learn to be named Paul C., a helicopter pilot. Apparently, he was part of the same rescue team as Jayla Kwon before disaster struck the whole group. And when you return to his spot, his corpse vanished and you saw it walking on its own deeper underground.

Penumbra: Twilight of the Archaic text

This, by far, is probably the most suspenseful moment of Twilight of the Archaic. This walking corpse is out on its own and you don’t know if he’s an actual threat or not. And you also expect him to jump out at you at some point.

Well. He does.

Penumbra: Twilight of the Archaic Paul C. Clarence
BOO!

But… this leads to a lame twist, sadly. And one that makes ZERO SENSE.

Remember when Clarence left Philip’s head in Necrologue right out of nowhere? Ever wondered what happened to him? Well, you’re looking at him. Just like that, he possessed the body of a faraway deceased person. This makes no sense because if he could always do that, then why didn’t he before? Philip had come across plenty of corpses while Clarence was on tow.

And also, Clarence wants to kill Amabel for no real reason. I guess he didn’t buy into Amabel’s story of wanting to help Philip out of the kindness of her heart (in exchange for helping her escape, of course). But then, why didn’t Clarence try to kill Philip for real then? Why is he holding this kind of grudge against only Amabel?

Remember how in Necrologue that he’s more like this passive-aggressive companion to Philip rather than being an outright antagonist? Boop! We’re switching him over to being the final antagonist in Twilight of the Archaic!

This twist was kind of foreshadowed in Necrologue, but it could only work from an Ass Pull. More specifically, when Clarence was able to leave Philip’s mind on his own (when it was established in Black Plague that he couldn’t do this!)

Penumbra: Twilight of the Archaic Paul C. Clarence
Interestingly, Clarence looks like Paxton Fettel from the F.E.A.R. series here.

And to add insult to injury, you had to go through possibly the most annoying part of Twilight of the Archaic. With Clarence being the chaser, your final challenge is to search a bunch of empty rooms for a Wirecutter and a Screwdriver. You need both of these tools to gain access to your final destination, a helicopter you could use to escape the Shelter. Clarence will quickly patrol in the darkness while occasionally lighting up Flares to expose any potential hiding spots. Not only that he moves really fast, you could only hear his footsteps if he’s very close. So hopefully, you have some shots of Adrenaline left.

But once you evaded that motherfucker and reach your final destination… you get the most bullshit ending possible…

Penumbra: Twilight of the Archaic ending

SOMEHOW, RIGHT THE FUCK OUT OF NOWHERE, Clarence managed to beat you to the helicopter. The helicopter was guarded by an electric fence. To even reach it, Amabel must use the Screwdriver and the Wirecutter to cut the wires in an electrical panel. So he knew you were going to do this (though he tried to trap you and kill you earlier), so he waited until you’re finished so he can sneak inside and hijack the helicopter.

Then he leaves on his merry way to… I guess, unleash Hell on the world with his new body, whatever it entails. Then the Shelter crumbles apart and a rock falls on Amabel, killing her.

So there you have it! That’s why we never saw Amabel again in Necrologue. She died to a random Diabolus ex Machina. This whole ending just feels like a cheap shot. We had not one, but TWO protagonists die to ridiculous circumstances in this game. Furthermore, a psychopath who was formerly a part of the Tuurngait is now loose in the world, doing god-knows-what.

What a way to end on a low note. I’m disappointed, son.

Despite all that, Penumbra: Twilight of the Archaic is a decent addition to the expanded fan continuity. Yeah, it’s certainly lacking in the story department and the puzzles aren’t as fun, but I’d say it’s at least worth it for some of the scares. Sad to say though, this game lacks any replay value so chances are that you probably won’t be coming back to this one, especially compared to the more ambitious Necrologue.

Alas, we are still not done with the series. Because developer CounterCurrent Games is working on a prequel to the series called Penumbra: Prisoner of Fate. The demo came out in March 2018. Though I posted this review on October 2019, I played this demo on June earlier this year. So while it’s still available, I’ll give my brief thoughts on the Prisoner of Fate demo.

 

Penumbra: Prisoner of Fate Demo

So as you might have guessed, you could play this demo the same way you could play Twilight of the Archaic.

How to play Penumbra: Prisoner of Fate demo on Steam

And while this demo is still a mod of Amnesia (therefore using the HPL2 engine), the original plan for the full release is to be a mod to SOMA in order to utilize the HPL3 engine. But due to difficulties, it may be a while before we see a full release of Prisoner of Fate. But yeah, a heads-up here. You would most likely need a PC copy of SOMA.

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So Prisoner of Fate takes place shortly before Overture, being another prequel story. The most interesting part of this demo is the fact that you’re playing as the mysterious hermit miner himself, Tom “Red” Redwood! Out of all supporting characters to base an expansion on, he’s probably the best candidate. Not just for his strange purple prose speech, but the fact that he’s been trapped in the mines since he was only 14 years old and somehow survived in horrible conditions for over 30 years! Presumably, the events here take place before Philip even arrives at Greenland, before Red’s home was sealed during a cave-in.

The demo itself takes somewhere between 30 minutes to 1 hour to complete, and it’s mostly a retread of places you’ve been to in Overture and Necrologue. But this time, they are somewhat more simplified so navigation is not much of an issue. However, it’s a bit open-ended since many doors are already open from the beginning, giving you a lot of freedom to explore the mines. Even the mutant dogs still remain in their kennels, not yet having escaped, so you don’t have to worry about being chased by them.

Interestingly, your main healing item is Beef Jerky (which was originally an item used to distract the mutant dogs in Overture). And later on, you can find a Miner’s Helmet for an unlimited flashlight, if you don’t really like using Flares.

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The plot is that Red received a distress call signal through his radio equipment from Lake Utuqaq, so he went to investigate it himself. For those who played Overture, we already know what grim fate happens to those people at Lake Utuqaq. But as Red ventures further into the mines, he seems to be stalked by a shadowy figure who appears briefly and vanishes just as quickly. And during the demo’s last few minutes, a confrontation with the Tuurngait Infected.

The puzzles themselves are kinda… eh. Some fetch quests here and there, and that’s about it. And you don’t see any monsters until the demo is about to be over. If there’s any interesting takeaway from the Prisoner of Fate demo, it’s that you get some flavor text of Red’s flowery but pessimistic speech. Oh, and he also tried to eat a dead rock worm, only to find it too repulsive to eat. That was fun.

So far, Prisoner of Fate has potential but the demo didn’t really showcase anything new or exciting. But seeing as how the developer is interested in turning the game into a mod of SOMA with its HPL3 engine, this may open new possibilities for the full release. Maybe even further customize on what the monsters can do, which I’m looking forward to. Plus I would love to see an interpretation of Red’s past life, before he made contact with the Tuurngait virus. So, chances are that this won’t be the last time we’ll see a game with the Penumbra label on it or something from the expanded fan continuity.

Well, it’s been a wild ride. Who would’ve thought a frozen over science facility in Greenland could be so terrifying? It certainly wasn’t exactly how I expected it to be either, but that’s what makes the Penumbra series so unique. Developer Frictional Games seems to know the best kinds of settings to base horror games on, so I’m looking forward to their two future “secret projects” later on.

And alongside Penumbra: Prisoner of Fate, CounterCurrent Games was working on a new Lovecraftian IP called The Diary of Arthur Gilman.

It’s been a couple of years and there hasn’t been an update since then, so I have no idea if this project is still ongoing. But only time will tell.

Anyways, whatever fan creation comes next for Penumbra, let’s hope it surpasses Necrologue and Twilight of the Archaic!

Penumbra: Twilight of the Archaic

Free
6.6

GAMEPLAY

7.0/10

STORY

3.5/10

GRAPHICS

8.0/10

SOUNDTRACK

8.0/10

Pros

  • 100% free, provided that you have a PC copy of Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
  • Somewhat addresses some of Necrologue's story flaws. Decent set pieces.
  • The Glowstick returning as a light source, though the Flashlight is no longer accessible.
  • The new monsters are alright design-wise.
  • Good ol' Penumbra soundtrack, even if there aren't really any new pieces.

Cons

  • The simple puzzles can get fairly repetitive fast.
  • Storywise, both chapters lack any real interesting story beats and you don't learn much about either of the playable characters.
  • Wilmar felt like a wasted character in terms of story importance.
  • The game's general story is very lacking and largely uneventful. Amabel's tale in particular ends on a pretty stupid note.
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