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Adventure & RPG
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Penumbra: Overture
August 31, 2007 | Michael Wuerthele

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Iíve got good hardware. A Mac Pro and an Intel 20Ē iMac grace my desk, and thereís a whole passel of other bits and bobs about the house. Sometimes, this motley assortment of hardware means that I get singled out for a weird job or other. Mr. Albers, my personal overlord in chief here at IMG (You do realize that I actually read these, right? -Ed.), decided that since I had the right hardware, a nVidia equipped Mac Pro, then Iíd get the honor of previewing Penumbra: Overture by Frictional Games. As is per usual with many of the titles I get to examine, Iím vexed by the subject. Is it a shooter? Is it an adventure? Well, dear reader, itís both, and itís coming soon for the Macintosh.

Penumbraís brief development history is fascinating. Leveraging the technology of the nVidia graphics processor, coupled with the tightly coded Newton Game Dynamics physics engine, the tech demo for Windows was released in 2006 by four Swedish college students. Often times, in adventure games, thereís one solution for the problem at hand. Ring the bell, get the candles, light the match, light the candles with the match, and read the book. In that order. In a very short period of time. Newer game experiences, such as Halflife 2 and Bioshock allow various elements of the environment to be manipulated by the player, and not in a scripted manner. Want to stack the wood beam on the barrel? Knock yourself out. Want to do that in Zork or Kingís Quest VI? Maybe you can balance the two, but only if itís specifically coded for. Penumbra: Overture takes the physics engine path, allowing you to do pretty much what you please with physical objects. Stack them, wave them around like baseball bats, stand on them, whatever. This is an ingenious recent development in gaming as processing power has escalated (thank you, Mooreís Law!), and Iím glad to see it. The mouse and keyboard combination isnít ideal for this kind of gameplay, but it does work. During the course of the preview, I really wanted Wii-type controls for this, as the mouse can be a bit awkward at times.

Story-wise, Penumbra has a lot going on. As Philip, youíve chosen to disregard a letter sent by your long-lost Father following the death of your Mother. For reasons not quite clear, you decide to search for him in the property in Greenland that was left to you. This evolves into a sort of madness and obsession, which tints the gameís story revelation for the entire chapter. Yes, Penumbra: Overture is the first of three chapters. No, thereís no huge revelation at the end of chapter one- rather the table is set, in much the same way that Fellowship of the Ring set the table for Two Towers and Return of the King.


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