Still, such moments are few and far between, and most of the time you’re able to blitz through the game so fast that you don’t really notice. The atmosphere is relentlessly dark and hostile, with fantastic use of audio to convince you that there’s something truly horrible round the next corner. Like the best horror, Penumbra doesn’t try to drag this out too long, with regular set-pieces and curveballs to keep you both on edge, and on the edge of your seat. As the first screen says, turn off the lights and turn up the volume to enjoy it properly.
Simple creaking floors soon morph into perception-bending tricks, and there’s even dark humor - partly in the form of comedy PA announcements, but mostly due to the dark entity who starts squatting in your brain at around the halfway point, and the wonderfully laid-back damsel in distress trying to help you flush it out with a mental enema.
The major downturn comes when the monsters finally show up. The atmosphere builds the tension fantastically well. Then you actually face your fear head on... and it’s just a handful of wandering nudists who can’t even match your walking pace. Talk about a letdown. The ending’s a bit rushed and silly, too.
While it’s for the best that Penumbra shuns combat, it’s a shame it couldn’t have focused more on the unseen horrors instead of deflating it with such half-arsed opposition. Still, that shouldn’t detract from how well it does for the rest of the game. Penumbra is a fun adventure that quickly carves out its own niche in the horror genre. As an indie release, it’s exactly the kind of thing we like to see - something writing its own rules, and leaving us excited to see just where its ideas go next.