(Sorry for the long post, but this thread is just too tempting...)
I came across Penumbra online in one of those (usually useless) lists of "Ten best games for Linux". And I thought: Here they go again, trying to impress the world with those Linux native games that have exactly this one interesting point to them - that they exist as a native Linux port. But this list was different, if only in one aspect: Penumbra was in that list, which I had never heard of before. I went over to the website, saw the price (20$ for a trilogy sounded like a bargain, all the more for a game that seemed to be strong on story and atmosphere, not just nice textures and lots of blowing your enemies' heads off with the obligatory uber-weapon you pick up sooner or later in the game).
It took a while to get into the gameplay with Overture, but after I pulled my share of barrels and had thrown enough planks around, I was ready to "go in". And it was just so freaking real. I mean emotionally. The game didn't drop me into an ultra-scifi post-nuklear wasteworld where I would be witness to the big texture and meshes showoff. No, it was simple, rough, like the old Star Wars movies. That had me hooked. And when the acoustic layer had finally cooked my nerves enough, the smallest unforeseen bustles or dripping noises gave me my share of moments where I had to hurry to the next artifact and save, just to give myself a pause to calm down. Let alone when real danger showed up! I even had to skip many of my daily Penumbra sessions because I didn't feel up to the challenge that day
Alas when I told others (which I knew were into gaming), they'd never heard of the title. They would ask if this were some sort of Bioshock. And I agreed with them at first. Only to realize on second thought that Bioshock isn't really scary in comparison. It has scaring moments, but with Penumbra it seems that the game's world is just there, not to give you a little horror show now and then so you stay put and play till the end, but because that's how things are in Penumbraworld. But it is this very world that gives pure horror. At first glance, it all seems normal, real, and one part of my brain started to praise the game designers for their research in the settings they had chosen for the game. But soon this "they've done it well/bad" perspective was blotted out by the wish to get out of here. And with "here" I mean wherever I was right then in the game. That simply switching off the computer could save me from this nightmare didn't even occur to me (except for the moments when I "died" in-game).
So is Penumbra underrated and overlooked? When it comes to horror games, I'd say definitely yes. I mean this is THE horror game in my opinion. Let's spread the word; or, as Emilie Autumn might say: spread the plague!
I'm not what might be called a "gamer"; Penumbra being the first game in years that I seriously played. But I was a frequent bystander, watching others play.