Penumbra Overture's official title is Penumbra Overture Episode 1. This is set to be a series and as with all serials, the loyalty of its fan base relies on the script and its ability to make the player care about what happens to the characters. This is accomplished by continually developing a story line and Penumbra Overture does a decent job of this. I guess calling it an episode also accounts for the game not being terribly long.
On the day of his mother's funeral, our character Philip receives a letter and a key from a father he has never known. It points him to a bank where there is a safety deposit box containing notes and a map, as well as instructions to burn them. Of course, if he did, we would have no game. Instead, learning that his father has been declared legally dead for the past thirty years, Philip's driving curiosity takes him to his father's last known location, Greenland.
Upon disembarking his ship, Philip becomes lost in the frozen tundra and stumbles across a hatch that takes him deep into a mining facility that was converted to a bunker during WW2. A cave-in prevents his exit and in searching for another way out, he starts to uncover the history of this mine through diaries and notes left behind by its previous occupants. There is a strangeness to the place that effects a person's mind and the authorities believe this is due to some natural mineral deposits, but the locals believe that it's caused by the spirits known as Tuurngait. And thus the scene is set for a pretty good story.
The controls on this game may take a little getting used to as some of the characters movements are tied directly to moving the entire mouse in one direction or another. Thus Philip is not easily maneuverable. The premise is stealth, sneaking past creatures rather than engaging in combat. Crouching in shadows and leaning around corners allows you to stay hidden and how effective this strategy is will be indicated by a blue aura.
There are lots of items to add to your inventory, but not weapons per se. However, if pushed, some tools such as a hammer and a pickaxe may come in handy for this purpose. The game makes use of physics by allowing most objects to be moved as they would naturally. You must therefore swing the hammer by moving the mouse instead of clicking it. You must physically pull the drawer open, push boxes into place and lift items my means of grabbing them and moving the mouse. There are various puzzles to solve and machines to operate with instructions for concocting special items and exploring areas to find door access codes contained in the notes found lying around the mine.
The atmosphere is what you might expect to find being trapped underground. Everything is silent, gray and shadowy. When you start to hear growls and skittering noises you know it's time to worry. Imagine being all alone down here with only the ghosts of its previous occupants. Reading their diaries is what provides the history and gives clues to what happened to Philip's father. However, at a certain point, you will pick up a comm radio and be introduced to an unseen character named Red who, although somewhat helpful, also seems to have bouts of mental instability. It becomes debatable whether you really want to find him.
There are noticeable signs of something hellish having gone on with blood smeared floors and references to creatures that would enjoy snacking on you. At times when you have to enter holes in the walls, it will have you shivering with fearful anticipation, especially as these entrances cave-in behind you and your only option is forward into the dark and the unknown.
If you are a horror fan, this is one of the titles you should get. It's not a pretty game, but the graphics are apropo to the game setting. I'm sure it's not very pretty in any real mine either. Surprisingly, the creatures and environments are rather crudely rendered given the date of this game, but the whole thing works. This game is the first of a series by a small developer named Frictionless and it's a pretty darn good start. The sequels so far are Penumbra Black Plague and Penumbra Requiem, although I would advise researching the latter before purchasing.UPDATE Nov 2015: Most stores are now only offering the 3 game collection pack.