Also available on: N/A
Developer: PlayDead Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
A boy wakes up in a forest, alone. His tiny eyes flicker into being before picking up his rag doll limbs and wondering off into the unknown. How did he get there? Where is he going? And what sort of place is populated with gargantuan spiders and deadly snare traps? Limbo is a game that starts with many questions, but all are soon washed away with an overwhelming sense of astonishment. From the breathtaking visuals to the excellently designed puzzles, it's a game that's understated in design but manages to be significant and quite simply unforgettable.
The comparisons to 2008 Live Arcade smash Braid are obvious but not entirely without merit. Limbo is also an artistic platformer that bestows simplistic gameplay behind lashings of ambience. There are only two buttons - jump and action - as you interact with surrounding perilous objects in order to survive. The world is governed by a physics system of swinging ropes, pushed boxes and rising waterways, and while its mechanics sound primitive, the puzzles are strung together to test your timing and imagination in a variety of ways.
As fearsome as overgrown creepy crawlies are, the bulk of your survival efforts are against traps designed to decapitate and maim the helpless child. While dying is a very regular occurrence, a checkpoint system that drops him moments before every demise ensures frustration is kept to a minimum, and fuels experimentation with how to overcome each harsh obstacle. Despite its difficulty, the solution to each puzzle is almost always noticeable from the offset, but the way in which you achieve it isn't. And so it's a case of accurate positioning and absolute timing, ensuring that giant saws and crushing boulders pass by you at just the right moment, and there's always a trick and surprise around the next corner to keep you on your toes. It's a constant struggle to keep the boy going on his journey.
The minimalist visuals are filled to the brim with subtle details, with crumbling dirt rolling down slopes and dust spraying off ropes after every daring leap. The audio is also happy to toil away in the background, leaving you with stretches of silence before billowing up as you inch closer to surviving a deadly situation. It's also quite possibly one of the most disturbing titles I've played; while witnessing the boy's head thrown from his body or a spider skewering him like a cocktail sausage is suitably gruesome in its own right, you'll come across countless corpses of those who have failed before you, hanging from ropes and floating across seemingly serene lakes, as well as the fleeting encounters with mysterious figures in the dark.
Although there are several well-hidden secrets off the beaten path, the game is a linear tale, following a strict path through a dense forest and several deserted urban environments. Harsh puzzles tend to override the heavy sense of atmosphere in the latter stages, but it remains utterly captivating from beginning to end. It sits happily alongside the likes of Braid in terms of artistic achievement, and similarly the only contentious point of Limbo is the length. Although it clocks in at between three to four hours, it's no doubt something you'll want to play again someday, and has more weight and density than anything you've played this year - and quite possibly this console generation. Limbo will stick with you for a long time, and you'd be a fool to miss it.
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