Tenebris Pictura Review – Through a picture darkly

Reviewed August 31, 2023 on PS5


Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S


August 31, 2023


Pentadimensional Games


Pentadimensional Games

Developed by Pentadimensional Games, Tenebris Pictura (or “A Dark Picture” for those of you versed in Latin) is a particularly intriguing experience. With some apparent flaws, the game is rich in atmosphere, has a rather unique approach to combat, as well as plenty of cleverly-designed puzzles. Despite a somewhat lacklustre narrative and some gameplay bugbears, it has enough new ideas to be worth checking out for those looking for an action-puzzler with a difference.

In the game you play as Magnus Blom, a paranormal investigator with a connection to the spirit world. Blom has been invited to a mysterious island to locate Sophie, the daughter of an old friend who has vanished. Guided by the Aeter Pendulum, a strange artefact pointing Blom towards paranormal events around the island, and taunted by an enigmatic spectre, Blom must unravel the island’s mysteries and get to the bottom of Sophie’s disappearance.

“Tenebris Pictura has a strong start… but almost completely runs out of momentum as soon as it begins.”

Tenebris Pictura has a strong start, with a prologue that establishes both the trippy paranormal puzzle-solving gameplay as well as the dark and spooky tone quite effectively. Blom works well as a classical Byronic hero, who is weighed down by his tragic past, yet still motivated to do good. My problem with the overall narrative is that it almost completely runs out of momentum as soon as it begins.

Once Blom’s quest has been established, the remainder of the game consists of travelling to different locales around the island to clear them of paranormal entities because the Aeter Pendulum points Blom towards them; what actual progress is made towards uncovering Sophie’s fate or stopping the nefarious plot of the island’s sinister cult is drip fed through what amount to out-of-context audio logs. What’s more, you need to pay in-game currency to access most of said logs, ensuring you don’t get to listen to many of them.

Tenebris Pictura’s plot is basically a detective story, where the mystery is established, then the detective fights demons for several hours while doing minimal detective work, until it’s kind of resolved all at once near the end after the detective has banished a sufficient number of demons. It led to weird pacing problems, where I often felt unsure of if I was doing the right thing due to the lack of progress that had been made in the central mystery that the game had set up at the beginning as Blom’s driving goal.

Although there are semi-frequent interludes where Blom argues with a mysterious ghost who is haunting him, the subject of those conversations rarely progresses the plot forward or provides new information, even if it was interesting enough to explore Blom’s backstory a bit more. I would have preferred more frequent check-ins with Sophie’s father and butler, or at least more of Blom’s private eye monologues recapping what he is learning from all the otherwise essentially-plotless demon-hunting excursions, if only to give more of a sense that the plot is meaningfully progressing.

Fortunately, despite the underplayed narrative, the actual gameplay of Tenebris Pictura has a lot more going on. Each location is essentially separated into puzzle zones, and then usually one or two combat encounters. Blom’s main ability is to astrally project himself like Doctor Strange, with his ghost form able to float around, possess objects, and fight supernatural creatures, all while leaving Blom’s physical body immobile. I have to praise the puzzle designs; the game is very good at constantly presenting new scenarios, hazards, and solution types on a regular basis, without feeling like it is straying too far from a core set of mechanics.

Most puzzles involve possessing or manipulating objects as Blom’s spirit form in order to clear a path for Blom’s physical form to be able to reach the exit. With the exception of the handful of levels involving a lot of platforming, which from the game’s isometric camera view felt quite unreliable, I enjoyed many of the game’s challenges. These can range from pushing blocks around to redirect lasers towards giant boulders, to navigating an art gallery by jumping in and out of its paintings. Tenebris Pictura is also generally fairly welcoming of unconventional puzzle solutions, especially once one particularly interesting new ability is unlocked late in the game.

The combat is similarly ambitious, even if it did sometimes feel frustrating. Similarly to the puzzle gameplay, Blom must astrally project in order to fight his foes. This means that the start of most encounters involves creating barricades around Blom’s physical form so that he isn’t hurt during the fight. The actual combat feels kind of like an isometric beat-’em-up, with Blom’s spirit form being equipped with melee attacks and a handful of special attacks on lengthy cooldowns. The other clever string to the combat’s bow is that merely reducing the demons’ health bars to zero isn’t enough to defeat them; Blom must also lay down a blank canvas somewhere in the room, into which the demons will be absorbed once they’re sufficiently weakened, which reminded me of Ghostbusters, appropriately enough.

In regards to the combat, it does become somewhat repetitive and annoying before long. You don’t learn any new basic attacks, and the special attacks you can obtain are either mostly useless, like the one that lets you teleport a single demon, or way too powerful, like the one-two combo of the power that pushes all enemies far away, plus the one ranged area of effect spell which is extra-effective after all the enemies have been pushed into one corner. The fact that nearly all the foes had mostly ranged attacks when Blom didn’t was also slightly irritating, as it rendered a lot of the crowd control abilities to have limited utility when preventing the enemies from getting closer to you doesn’t do much to prevent them from continuing to attack you.

On the plus side, Tenebris Pictura gets a lot of mileage out of its surreal atmosphere and visuals, which kept me engaged when the plot didn’t. The neon purple hue of the demons attacks and many of the puzzle hazards contrasted strongly with the grey and washed out visuals of the human habitats, strongly delineating the physical and the supernatural.

I also quite appreciated the many fake-out visuals that the game frequently employs, such as illusory floors and walls. These visual trickeries always left me second-guessing my senses and not ready to trust what is in front of me. This was expanded even more in the worlds inside the paintings which you can travel too, which dialled up the levels of unreality and vibrant use of colours.




  • Appropriately eerie atmosphere and surreal visuals
  • Well-designed and varied puzzles
  • Combat feels quite unique in how it integrates the astral projection abilities


  • Central mystery is paced strangely and not explored much
  • Occasional platforming sections feel unreasonably difficult due to camera angles
  • Combat doesn't evolve a whole lot, and lack of meaningful ranged options feels limiting

In spite of various problems found within Tenebris Pictura, the game still leaves a fairly positive impression by the end. Some of it doesn’t quite work, from its very downplayed narrative to its slightly-annoying combat, but it brings enough novel content to the table to be engaging. If you’re into atmospheric adventure games with clever puzzles and unique ideas, you’re likely to find something rewarding in Tenebris Pictura.