Penumbra Game Review

Penumbra is a first-person survival horror game developed by Frictional Studios and released in March 2007. Here, we’ll be giving an in-depth Penumbra game review, along with the game specifications and its impact on the horror series. We’ll also briefly discuss the moderate success of Penumbra, and what that meant for Frictional Games, the same developers who made Soma and Amnesia.

Type of Game First-person survival horror game
Developer Frictional Studios
Platforms Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux
Download Page
Free No

Your Mission

At the time of its release, Penumbra was a game different from the trend of horror games. For years, horror games had consisted of third-person perspective with an emphasis on action. Penumbra bucked the trend by focusing on a different kind of horror game: survival. And, much like the Silent Hill series, Penumbra has a focus on problem-solving, along with limited gore and violence. As a player, your purpose is to simply survive the horrors of an uninhabited and mysterious mine in Greenland while resolving the issue of the letter received from your father. Read on our Penumbra game review to learn more about its design and graphics.

Design & Graphics

Initially, Penumbra was released solely as a tech demo in an effort to demonstrate the new HPL Engine 1, a game engine created by Frictional Games. Later, Frictional made lots of changes to the engine so that it could accommodate both 2D and 3D rendering. When Penumbra game reviews of the demo released to overwhelming support and praise, Frictional turned it into a full-length game that was released episodically.

More Horror Games: Lucius Game Review & Fran Bow Walkthrough

At the time, Penumbra’s graphics fared comparably well with other PC games upon its release, but wasn’t any showstopper, and most gamers today would find the graphics pretty dated. Instead, more attention was drawn to the interaction between the player and the game, something most Penumbra game reviews applauded. The design is simple, but works incredibly well.

You’ll be solving lots of puzzles, which requires reading journal entries and other scattered notes all over the mines. You can interact with the environment: drawers, desks, switches, doors, chairs, and notes–all these interactions are real-time. If you want to open a door only slightly, for instance, you don’t just click on the door–you control it by holding down on your mouse and moving it slowly.

When it comes to combat, it’s also physics based. With no guns at your disposal, melee requires the player moving their ax or other melee weapons back and forth to knock out and kill enemies–something that’s new and interesting, but can get tedious after a while. However in the following release of the games, Frictional improved on this aspect by minimizing combat.

Main Characters

No Penumbra game review would be complete without discussing the characters. The central character of the story is a man by the name of Philip, a 30-year-old physicist whose mother just recently died. Players will follow Philip throughout the series, and won’t run into any other character except for Tom “Red” Redwood, who Philip will generally communicate with almost only from radio messages. Red suffers from cabin fever and is exceptionally well acted, contributing to the spooky atmosphere of the game.


The game starts after you happen to receive a letter from a dead man–Philip’s father. Following the letter takes Philip to an undisclosed and uninhabited area of northern Greenland, where Philip has to take shelter in a mine from the cold forces of the land. Once the mine collapses behind him, Philip has no choice but to go deeper in an effort to escape.

It’s when Philip runs into a seemingly incredibly horrific atmosphere lodged within the depths of the mines that things go bad. Eventually, Philip finally meets another soul–only it’s through the radio. Red, a man who seems as crazy as the creatures Philip runs into, promises that if Philip can find him, he’ll tell Philip everything he knows. The game follows Philip on his way through the mine, descending into the madness of his environment while trying to escape the psychological effects the mine has on his own mind.

Philip must venture into the mine in an effort to get out. The venture takes him deeper in. You’ll solve puzzles, read journal entries from deceased miners, and have to handle way more dogs than you probably anticipated.

Penumbra DLCs

The Penumbra series consists of three games:

  • Penumbra: Overture — the main game.
  • Penumbra: Black Plague — the second in the series, following shortly after the events of Overture with the same protagonist.
  • Penumbra: Requiem — the final installment of the series that focuses almost exclusively on puzzle solving.

The Penumbra: Black Plague Gold Edition includes all the games in a bundle. Like its successors, Penumbra can be bought seemingly only digital, either on the Penumbra website, the Steam app, the Humble Store, or GOG. Most Penumbra game reviews also find the final installment of the series underwhelming.

Currently, Frictional hasn’t released any other version of Penumbra on anything but Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. There are no console ports, which might be tricky anyway, given the design of the environment interactions may not work well with a console. It also hasn’t been released on mobile.

Penumbra Game Review: Final Thoughts

If you like horror games and you’re a fan of Fictional Games studio, you can’t go wrong with playing Penumbra. Sure, the graphics don’t necessarily stand the test of time, but the storyline and horror elements of the game do. And that’s a plus for gamers today who are heading towards games driven by story than say, combat. As a horror game, Penumbra holds up exceedingly well even today, giving the player plenty of spooks, especially since good horror games aren’t as plentiful as other genre games.

Playing Penumbra is like taking an interesting look in the mind of its studio Fictional Games during their infancy when they were first testing the waters. Some players have described Penumbra as a great introduction to a good horror game, especially to Frictional Games. What are your thoughts? If you’ve played the Penumbra and enjoyed reading this Penumbra game review, please share your views, experiences, or any questions you have about the game!

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