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Independent Games Festival 2008

Penumbra: Overture

Developer: Frictional Games
Genre: First Person Horror Action-Stealth and Physics Puzzler
License: $19.99 for Windows, Linux and Mac!

One of the more accomplished titles to be spotted on the list is the first episode in the new series from Frictional Games, titled Penumbra: Overture. In order to quell any nay-sayers we’ve been in contact with Frictional Games a bit over the last few months and we can promise both that the second episode is on its way and that we’ll be getting a good look at it when it does arrive.

Penumbra began as one of the most popular and most downloaded indie games ever and the original game was a short, self-contained tech demo which can be downloaded here if you want to get a taste for the full game.

The game is the first part of a continuing series which tells the story of Philip, a physicist who gets a mysterious letter from his long-absent and supposedly dead father. Philip sets out to investigate and predictably enough gets embroiled in a survival horror situation in an abandoned bunker somewhere in snow-swept Greenland.

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Penumbra: Overture has some of the best graphics we've seen in an indie game

What drives Overture though is the graphics, which have been improved since the tech-demo and truly does immerse the player in the game. The game is played from first person and combines stealth, combat and adventure game elements and it looks, quite frankly, gorgeous. The high-resolution textures and brilliant engines combine to create a world which effortlessly accomplishes sophisticated effects like depth of field, dynamic and highly realistic shadows and lighting as well as a complex physics system.

And the physics system, which is built around the Newton Game Dynamics system, is what really helps bring the game to life. Movement is accomplished in the normal way, but interaction is a lot more hands on and players will actually have to reach out with the mouse and grab objects.

Want to open the door? Reach out, grip the door by holding the left mouse button and open the door by turning the handle and pulling. It may sound like a gimmick, but it’s actually pivotal to the gameplay and you’ll be swinging hammers, creating obstacles and throwing debris around like a raver in a warehouse full of sponges.

The physics and graphics combine to make Overture one of the most impressive and professional looking titles in the line-up. True, the plot is a little clichéd and the whole ‘alone in a bunker looking for dad’ thing has been done to the living death, but the gameplay itself is incredibly tense and exciting.

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Overture is a damn scary game too, with a fantastic physics system

The game is set up with a few safe areas at the start to help new players get to grips with the interface and once you’ve learnt how the physics can be used the game is actually quite simple, with a neat little inventory and journal system.

Soon after that though you’ll be running from enemies and reacting in a thrillingly realistic manner. Just remember, in real life you don’t take a swing at the zombie dog with your hammer – you run away and pause to throw crates in its way and slow it down. It’s this immersion and sense of actual genuine threat which helps make the game so memorable as, at almost all points, you’ll be on the edge of your seat, sweating and worrying.

The polished sound effects, the gorgeous graphics and innovative design – all of them pull together perfectly to make Penumbra a hugely impressive effort for a small independent company and to make a strong gaming experience which won’t soon be forgotten.

There are few other games out there, let alone in this year's line-up of indie games, which can approach Penumbra: Overture in terms of fidelity, innovation and immersion and that’s why it’s our current favourite to scoop up a whole load of awards – including the Seumas McNally Grand Prize if all goes well.