It’s All Overture

Sad and good news at once – kind of like a puppy being born then immediately exploding.

Penumbra: Overture, the creepy indie physics-based adventure game spun out of an impressive tech demo, is to get a sequel, one that ties off its story’s various loose ends. Trouble is, it was supposed to be a trilogy. Now it’s a mere duology, like the Kill Bill films or albums by the UK band behind the best-ever number one single that’s probably about something to do with ejaculation but no-one’s really entirely sure, Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

After the jump: no more unnecessary pop-culture references, promise.

Because of major problems we have had with our previous publisher, Lexicon Entertainment, our development on Penumbra has been severly delayed and we have also been forced to cut down on making a triology. Instead we will release “Black Plague” as the final installment of Penumbra. This will be done with a new publisher, Paradox Interactive, and we are extremly happy that things have finally turned out this good. Not too long ago, we where not even sure that there would be any more Penumbra games, and greatly thanks to the involvement of Paradox we can finish what we started.

To be honest I think that releasing Black Plague as a final chapter will be a lot better than releasing the two planned episodes. The story will be a lot tighter and not have any drawn out segments as you usally see midseason in other series.”
-Thomas Grip, Frictional Games

I reviewed Overture a while back, and certainly enjoyed it enough to now look forward to its sequel, Black Plague. The gesture-based Newtonian physics system (want to open a door? Click the handle and pull the mouse backwards) worked a treat, and being snuffled at by hideous mutant dogs in the dark was the most unsettled I’d been for a while, at least until STALKER came along and really put the willies up me.

I didn’t quite click with it though – the mystery! destiny! exposition told by conveniently left diary! storytelling approach felt hackneyed and a little uninvolved, while a vast amount of the puzzles amounted to finding a new way to open yet another bloody door. Still, it was bold and brainy enough that I’d have loved for it to be a gentle success, but a few months more of polish could have made all the difference to that happening. In other words, I’m not entirely surprised that Frictional aren’t yet another Introversion.

Thomas’ comments suggest some awareness that Penumbra 2 (as I’m sure he’d really rather I didn’t call it) needs a bit more gloss than its forerunners, so I’m quietly excited about it. Much of this is because of Red, a character in Overture who acts as your unseen narrator/advisor (somewhat in the vein of Bioshock’s Atlas). He’s a truly splendid madman, your only real source of information in the game, but one who speaks in lyrical gibberish and sporadically explodes into inexplicable rage at you, the world, or himself just when you least expect it. He’s a compelling hint that Frictional could one day achieve something really special. He’s also well worth the £10.43 (or $20, US chums) you can now buy Penumbra for direct from Frictional. You should without doubt try the demo, at any rate.

So, best of luck to Frictional. It’s a real shame Penumbra the first didn’t make them the cash they deserve, but I’m hoping their determination is redoubled enough by the bruising to ensure Black Plague is a truly catchy middle eight, not a forlorn coda.

I would, however, suggest a name change for the game, for fear of terrible misinterpretation.


  1. John Walker says:

    I’m still not sure if this is happy or sad news.

    The original Overture was all the more remarkable, being born of a student project to build a game engine, and creating something quite so remarkably vivid looking. There were moments, arranging corrogated metal sheets against rusting shelves to make impromptu bridges to air vents and banging the overhead lamp so it swang its dull light in arcs around the room, when the uncanniness of it astonished me.

  2. fluffy bunny says:

    One of the reasons it’s no longer a trilogy is apparently that the devs had major problems with their UK publisher, Lexicon Entertainment. Before Paradox stepped in, they weren’t sure if there would be any more Penumbra-games at all.

  3. John Walker says:

    That’s interesting, because *I* heard that the reason it’s no longer a trilogy is because they had problems with their UK publisher, Lexicon. There was a chance that ther wouldn’t be any more Penumbra games at all, before Paradox stepped in.

  4. fluffy bunny says:

    Uh, that’s what I get for skipping those text-boxes :)

  5. The_B says:

    Wait, did I just step into an Oblivion NPC conversation?

  6. John Walker says:

    Have you heard about the Grey Fox?

  7. Rock, Paper, Shotgun: Still Hoping For That Post-Apocalyptic Robot Versus Monkey Immersive Sim » Blog Archive » Penumbra: Black Plague Demo says:

    […] we reported last year, the Penumbra games were meant to be a trilogy, but the last two parts have been built into one. […]

  8. It Ain’t Penumbra till the fat lady sings. | Rock, Paper, Shotgun says:

    […] actual development of Penumbra is proving just as shocking as the horror-games themselves. We thought the series was over, with the planned two parts being crammed into the final Black Plague. Except it’s not true – […]

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