Penumbra: Requiem ReviewJoe Shaffer
Penumbra was over. Forced to wrap up their would-be trilogy in the second episode, developer Frictional pulled the plug on their story, but not before giving it a fitting conclusion. Black Plague was a fantastic end to the episodic adventure, and would have served as an acceptable close to the storyline. Unfortunately, it seems there was some unfinished business in regards to Penumbra. That spurred Frictional to release one more (unnecessary) episode entitled Penumbra: Requiem.
You might expect this game to play out in a manner similar to its predecessors, in which you traverse dark corridors and investigate various room for clues and items. Inhuman foes might stalk the vicinity while you examine your surroundings, forcing you to utilize the environment as a means to hide. Best of all, you can use any scrawled notes and items you've found to aid in solving clever puzzles found throughout the campaign.
Sadly, this isn't how Requiem rolls. For starters, the game sports a level-by-level structure. Rather than tuck all of its puzzles into various rooms connected by hallways, each level is itself a puzzle. This allows for more complex puzzles than we saw in previous chapters, where the solution for each stage requires numerous moves. Unfortunately, each puzzle is only loosely attached to the story or the setting. Where the puzzles before made sense and felt like they were a natural part of the game's environment, Requiem's puzzles are horribly contrived. Worse yet, they mostly consist of banal block pushing and crate stacking.
To make matters even worse, the game's mechanics are not exactly top notch, especially in regards to the aforementioned crate stacking. At times I 'd place a crate and it would inexplicably slide away from me. In other instances I'd stack one crate on top of another and both of them would slide. This especially irked me when I attempted to place crates in a certain formation to complete a step in a puzzle. They wouldn't stay in the formation I had intended, and would eventually topple over. One stage that truly pissed me off was the second one, which featured a scene where I was required to stack three crates vertically. More often than not, I'd lightly nudge the second crate with the third one and it would fly as if it were nailed by a wrecking ball.
Some segments completely eschew puzzle solving in favor of platforming sequences. Think about that now: Penumbra is a first-person game. Have there been many first-person platformers? Not really, and for good reason. Effective platformers usually require precise timing, especially in regards to jumping across pitfalls. Since you can't see exactly where your feet are in relation to the cliff side in a first-person game, precision goes out the window. You're instead forced to estimate your proximity to the edge while taking into account your character's limited leap range, which spells doom fairly often in Requiem. I either found myself overshooting a platform or falling before I could properly hit the space bar, though I did manage to get through the game's many platforming events eventually.
What stung me most about this game was its absolute lack of horror. Sure, the stages were atmospheric, but there no living threats stalking the grounds. Without anything to fear, the game's creepy atmosphere is useless.
Requiem fails in almost every category, but especially in the game's intended selling point. It was supposed to provide further information on the plot and some of the characters, but it gives only scant details about either, usually through arbitrary recordings and ramblings spouted off by mostly minor players. So basically, even in terms of narrative, Requiem is a waste of time.
It's saddening that Penumbra officially ended on such a low note. Frictional labored to put right Penumbra: Overture's wrongs with Black Plague, and succeeded with flying colors in that effort. Here we see them throw away everything the first two games did effectively and pump out an unnecessary installment that establishes little that's relevant to the story, and most certainly doesn't entertain. My recommendation is simple: don't feel obligated to play through Requiem just because you finished its predecessors. Just pretend the series ended with Black Plague, because it may as well have.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.