Monday, 23 August 2010

Treehouse Mini Review: Limbo

Another demo that leads to an instant purchase – Limbo is a 2D platform puzzler like many others – guide the character across the landscape avoiding the traps and pitfalls. What makes Limbo uniquely irresistible is its delightfully melancholic presentation. A beautifully minimalist, grainy art-house black and white landscape is yours to traverse, as you, a nameless silhouette of a boy, awake in a dark and murky forest – all deep shade and eerie mist. Like crossing some macabre children's book dreamscape, the woods gradually introduce you to the game’s wicked intentions, and devilish sense of humour.

Here, physics are king with its rules all closely observed (except when they’re not) and the boy’s fragile little body, in its little schoolboy shorts, proves easy prey for the spiky pits, the powerful beartraps, the tumbling rocks and any one of 4 million other ways you can meet your demise here. Death comes hard and fast- the gore (which can be turned off) is surprising initially but is simply a logical conclusion of the world. Fall on a spike, there you stay, all spiked and dead. Each death is silently contemplated for a few moments before a nicely reactive checkpoint system means you never have to retrace a section or jump prior to the one you just died on.

As the game progresses from wood to cave to mountain to factory floor, the tricks and traps become ever more fiendish and a lot of trial and error becomes necessary – so determined are Playdead to separate your head from your shoulders. Leaping through one set of apparent death traps will usually lead you straight into the arms of another – but these tricks are so mischievous, so cheeky you can’t help but smile as you fall to a horrific death for the umpteenth time. The demo itself climaxes with a huge spider you’ve bothered previously picking you up as you struggle helplessly tangled in its web – even the language employed to make you buy the game is irresistible – Push x to “Abandon the boy”. Who could be so cold?

The why’s and the wherefore’s of the world are never revealed. This is Limbo, in it you will encounter others like yourself, suspicious and unfriendly. Also the bodies of several others, which can be put to good use several grisly puzzles. We do find a special someone by the end, but whether or not it is your sister, as the marketing blurb will have you believe, is academic. Music is minimal, the sound of your feet crunching through the undergrowth and wind in the trees suffice as part of a rich and evocative soundscape.

The boy himself is a joy to handle – not used that line for a while – he has a real sense of weight and movement and scrambling up ledges or leaping from chains to safety he sometimes seems to control himself unbidden, so responsive are his twitchy little feet. Comparisons with Braid are an obvious start, but aside from the 2D and platforming, little else here is similar. Emotionally, its closer to Shadow of the Colossus – the sense of isolation and desperation is immense.

At 1200 MS points for a little under 6 hours play, Limbo may seem pricey – but it is 6 hours of pure platforming joy that’s fun to revisit. You will simply not be able to put it down until you've reached wherever it is you're trying to get to. It’s also a great play for new/lapsed gamers so simple are the controls and captivating the presentation. Go on, give it a whirl.

Treehouse Rating: 4 out of 5

Plays like a dream

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