Nearly a month ago I was trying to justify to various gamer friends the score (in their opinion, too high) I gave to Penumbra: Black Plague. I couldn’t convince anyone that I hadn’t sold my integrity, but in the end they just spread around in their homes to see the „wonder”. Some of them later agreed with me, while most of them came back grinning, asking me „How are you going to make up for it in your Requiem review? Did you see how lame it is?”
Well, Requiem is not „lame”. It’s just an epilogue. Even though the Penumbra series has been initially announced as a trilogy, the producers declared in their initial Black Plague presentation that the third part was cut off, and then snuck it back in not as a final chapter, but as an expansion for the second title of the series.
And even if this slightly negative label can’t justify certain mishaps (a lame game is a lame game however you cut it, be it stand-alone, a console port or expansion), it would be unjust to judge it by the same standards I’ve judged Black Plague. Its structure is way different, major modifications have been made in terms of design and there’s no cohesion, story-wise. If you’re expecting continuity and a „grand final chapter” to Phillip’s tragedy you’ll be sorely dissapointed, but if you’re flexible enough to grant it a more plastic angle you might not be bittered by the whole ordeal.
Lysergic acid diethylamide-25
Requiem’s “story” starts where Black Plague ended, with the notable difference that the events in this final episode largely take place only in the hero’s mind. Which, come to think of it, wasn’t such a bad idea, because it makes the surreal moments seem a bit more natural. And these moments have notably raised the quality of level design, despite the fact that the levels have no synergy or connection – you just stroll around ancient ruins, industrial environments and polar outdoor research stations. There are 9 levels in all, and the game’s structure is more similar to Portal than the one in previous episodes.
The good part about this design strategy is being able to change environments like socks and not demand an explanation, which sort of gives color to some otherwise pretty monochrome corridors. If previous episodes had us begging for a bit of color while we were surrounded by colorless bricks and metals for hours on end, the lighting and textures here differ pretty much from one level to another, maintaining at the same time a somber and demented atmosphere.
The sneaking portions from previous episodes have been eliminated, and in their stead platforming elements were introduced. Which is not necessarily a bad idea, but the fact that they took out the monsters for good might lessen the horror value of the game. I don’t know your experiences with Overture and Black Plague, but I for one was grabbing my chair like a lunatic, somewhere past midnight, upon meeting some deranged hunchback in some dark corner. Requiem made me miss that sensation because the absence of said hunchback and because the entire game can be described as a “sort of a Portal without the Portal Gun”. All the more considering the purpose of each level is to activate and pass through… portals.
Moving over this slight setback, we must note that the puzzles get more and more interesting, and some levels have a “je ne sais quoi” about them that ties them to perhaps the most interesting game level ever designed – Constantine’s Mansion from Thief: The Dark Project. That specific level illustrated more than just a mansion, because you’d discover in its deepest catacombs that physics have no value that you’re a mouse trapped in the sick shapes of a psychedelic maze and that despite the horror that slowly creeps into you that you can’t stop for anything in the world. And for the third time, the Penumbra series asks you to suspend your objective reality to be able to really appreciate the game. For about 3 hours…
All in all, a game isn’t made out of just puzzles and atmosphere, and other aspects of Requiem aren’t so shiny. One of the main ingredients for quality horror experiences is the lack of resources the protagonist has. In Black Plague and Overture you’d be thrilled to find painkillers, because in most cases (especially when playing on the hardest difficulty level) you really, really needed them. The flashlight itself was a precious tool, with batteries scattered here and there, plenty for their utility to be appreciated and few enough to allow alternative means of illumination to be used (the glow stick, flares). The lack of any mobile danger in Requiem leaves a bitter taste every time you’d find painkillers lying around, as if to taunt you, and the flashlight doesn’t seem to use up batteries at all.
Over the dark and serious tone of this final tale in Phillip’s tumultuous experience there are a few jokes that reference other games. An icon straight out of Portal, a theme song from Donkey Kong running in the background while dodging flaming barrels (a recreation of a scene from the original DK game) and a few ambiguous send outs to the Oddworld universe make me think this expansion is sort of a bonus levels compilation with a tribute dressing dripping off it and not a serious, canonical project that ends an otherwise excellent series.
“True poems begin where they end on paper.”
Despite the major changes, most of them for the worse, Requiem is not a failure or a bad experience. Sure, it’s worse than the first two stand-alone episodes and I can understand why some might be angry with the producers, myself expecting a tad more out of it. Even so, I consider the 10 dollar cost money well spent, but it’s important to know that you need the second game of the series previously installed to run this expansion.
I wouldn’t worry about people unfamiliar with the Penumbra series having problems with Requiem though, because I don’t think anyone will install it on their hard drives prior to finishin the first two episodes of the series.