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Penumbra: Requiem (PC) artwork

Penumbra: Requiem (PC) review


"After Black Plague so masterfully refined the Penumbra format, it seems like such a waste to throw it all away in favour of a poorly contextualised and badly designed puzzle game. Requiem resolutely fails in every aspect that made its predecessors so remarkable. The game that was never meant to be made should have stayed that way."



...Oh.

This is not the Penumbra we came to love over the course of its shaky episodic development. Frictional's split from publishers Lexicon, and their signing up with Paradox, meant cutting down their planned survival horror triology to just two games. It worked fine. Both were delectably spooky and thoroughly interesting, and Black Plague rounded off the narrative brilliantly. And now there's this, a sloppy semi-sequel with none of the imagination, fine writing or intense atmosphere of its predecessors. What happened, guys?

Requiem is essentially a puzzle-pack. When you consider that Penumbra's strength was never really its puzzles, alarm bells start to ring. When you realise they've done away with the creepy atmosphere and the story, you might think about starting the evacuation process.

That's apparently what Requiem is about: escaping the secret research facility explored in the previous games, while battling your increasing insanity as the title progresses. I wouldn't know: the game never had the courtesy to tell me. What I found myself doing was stacking boxes, pushing buttons, and jumping on moving platforms, while a voice inside my head told me things I didn't understand. And then I ran through some glowing portals, also unexplained, and appeared in completely new areas of the Penumbra world.

If it's making a statement, it's not clear enough what that is for it to be effective. Instead, everything feels rushed, and the whole product feels like a hasty afterthought. Black Plague had one of the most satisfying conclusions of any game I've played in recent months. To expand upon it seems like an odd decision in itself. To expand upon it like this seems foolish.

Removing the guided and well-paced storyline means everything feels hopelessly directionless. You'll plod along with your puzzle-solving, and a lot of the time you'll have a rough idea of what you're supposed to be doing. But there's never any suggestion of why you're doing it. It's just going through the motions, knowing that you have to collect this key, move this block, deactivate that laser grid, only because that's what the game is telling you to do. The result is confusing, and absolutely no fun.

We've seen worse adventure game puzzles, sure, but that's not the point. Penumbra always excelled at delivering a thick, beastly atmosphere, a strong if uninspired narrative, and some of the most perfectly distorted and unnerving level design in survival horror memory. In eradicating all enemy threat, and forcing players to think rather than feel, Penumbra simply collapses.

Add to this some of the most lazy and downright nonsensical design work that springs to mind, and you're dealing with a real stinker. Requiem often feels a game made by people with absolutely no sense of logic. So you can collect painkillers, but there are no enemies to deplete your health. You begin the game with both a flashlight and a dim glowstick, but the flashlight never runs out of power, so the glowstick is redundant. And you never really need to use either of them, as it's never dark enough for them to be necessary.

After Black Plague so masterfully refined the Penumbra format, it seems like such a waste to throw it all away in favour of a poorly contextualised and badly designed puzzle game. Requiem resolutely fails in every aspect that made its predecessors so remarkable. The game that was never meant to be made should have stayed that way.

Rating: 3/10

Lewis's avatar
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (March 11, 2009)

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