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Saturday, 23 October 2010

LIMBO (Playdead Studios, 2010)

LIMBO is an independently-developed XBOX Live platformer; a simply-told monochrome nightmare of perilous jumping and clever physics-based puzzles.

With no real plot or character, LIMBO is minimalist in the extreme. There is no on-screen clutter; no score or power bar. You have no lives to speak of, as liberally-placed checkpoints before and after each event ensure that there is never far to travel after suffering one of the numerous, black-humoured death animations. All you have to do is survive and progress.

Where LIMBO scores highest is with its overwhelming atmosphere. Beginning the game in a dark forest, your child protagonist ventures forth from left to right, avoiding pitfalls as huge trees, arachnids and primitive tribespeople gradually give way to dilapidated cityscapes and eventually a monstrous industrial complex. Every screen is a stark, depressing and beautifully-rendered tableau that adds immensely to the overall experience. LIMBO sounds as good as it looks, with flat blasts of noise and a scattering of effects creating a terrific ambience and contributing to the overwhelming, dreamlike feel.

The second half of the game does lose its way a little; the factory settings swiftly dispel the awesome sense of fear and wonder of the opening forest section, and sometimes death comes a bit too easily. Some of the puzzles are a little too obscure, although there is a genuine feeling of satisfaction when solving one of them .

LIMBO is a gorgeous slice of nightmare ambience, slightly hamstrung by its reliance on trial-and-error gameplay. It's Eraserhead meets Rick Dangerous, short and sweet, funny and disturbing. It's no Super Mario Galaxy, but it's an original spin on a well-worn genre and is well worth taking a look at.

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