Penumbra Soundtrack - Special Edition :: Review by Rimo
Frictional Games' triology of horror adventure games recently received a soundtrack release through the composer's label, The Sound of Fiction. Mikko Tarmia handpicked a selection of 27 trademark tracks to be featured on this CD. The music styles include classical, ambiance and industrial. Like the games it originally accompanied, the soundtrack is dark and serious, and at times, tragic and disturbing.
The three Penumbra games represented on this album are: Overture, Black Plague, and Requiem. These PC titles were released between 2007 and 2008. Story-wise, they revolve around a dark mystery in Greenland, where the player explores a dark underground complex in search of an understanding of a letter from his father. The scenery is mostly cold and gloomy, which evokes feelings of loneliness. However, the protagonist is not the only living creature in this place, although he would fare better not to meet with the others. All these ingredients mix into an adventure game mainly based on exploration and puzzle-solving, with occasional survival horror elements.
The music also follows this description. Many pieces are ambient compositions, for example "Iron Mine" and "Water Tunnels", so are often dark and unsettling. To support, yet not to transport, the slow exploration of the concrete and steel buildings, these tracks are amelodic, relying instead on gritty hums, blowing wind, metallic industrial sounds, and echoing broken rhythms to name a few of the disturbing constituents of these soundscapes. Other pieces, those used in enemy scenes, are intense and fear-inducing, for example "The Fear is Near". While they work excellently in-game, these ambient tracks might not appeal to all VGM fans out of context because of their desolate, dismal and scary moods. Yet enthusiasts of the ambient side of Silent Hill could prolong their nightmare by adding Penumbra's offering of horror compositions to their playlist.
Besides the horror compositions, Tarmia included lighter moods in the main themes. Lighter, yet still somber, these pieces are principally classical in style, played on the piano with supporting strings. They are reflective and sad, underlining the mystery and inherent darkness of the story. "Original Penumbra Theme" features modern elements aside the orchestral palette such as industrial electronic noise and beats, which makes it stand out from the rest. The classical background of the composer is showcased in a masterful elegance in this section of the album.
The Penumbra compilation soundtrack stands strong in the horror game music category and is a more than welcome addition to the rather meager repertoire. This second release of Mikko Tarmia is not for everyone, though, because of its dark and ambient style a clash with the ever popular upbeat electronic and rock tunes found in many games. But those who enjoy melancholic music should definitely give it a listen, if they are not faint of heart.
Overall Score: 8/10