Turn off the lights, kick the cats/kids/husbands out for the night and turn up the volume to delve into this macabre, black and white, side-scrolling puzzle game from PlayDead.
This is the first game from the Danish developers, debuting on XBLAs Summer of Arcade 2010 and recently releasing on PS3/PC, starts you off as a kid just waking up in a very eerie forest. Well, I say kid, the boy you play is essentially a black silhouette. His eyes are his most defining feature, glowing almost supernaturally. There are some areas where all you can see of him is his eyes and you are left to lead him onwards dependent upon sound alone.
The subtle environmental sounds not only create an incredibly suspenseful and unnerving atmosphere but also give you hints as to what lies ahead. Which, If you want to avoid an untimely death, you’ll listen closely to Limbos ominous audio as it’s all part of the many and varied puzzles you’ll encounter. The musical soundtrack is simplistic and used sparingly but easily manages to instill a certain dread of what’s to come when it plays.
Though the audio plays a huge part, there is no vocal communication at all nor text based for that matter. You’re a boy, seemingly alone in this creepy environment left to explore the world, and, as you’re soon to realize – attempt to survive. Which will undoubtedly fail as it’s almost impossible to figure out and react accordingly to what you are going to be faced with until it’s sometimes quite literally sticking out of your face. However, it doesn’t feel out of place, death is definitely an integral part of this trial and error filled journey. Thankfully, after every simplistic yet visceral death you return mere moments away from your grave ready to try again – though possibly with a better strategy next time. It really is surprising how varied and complex the puzzles can be with the basic controls of moving, jumping and an action button.
Is anybody there?
The spooky forest is the first of many spine-chilling settings ranging from misty, forlorn lakes to abandoned industrial machinery and buildings. All seamlessly linked together so that you don’t feel jolted as you transition to the next location. The game makes you feel very alone, and for the most part you are just that. Although there are other kids here, don’t get too excited as they are usually devising deadly traps hoping to take your head off quite spectacularly given the opportunity.
Adding to the creepy atmosphere is the fantastically stylized graphics. The visuals are a palette of black, white and grey with a grainy cover that wouldn’t look out of place in a classic 1920′s movie. With this lack of color they make great creative use of the shadows, after you meet your first surprise you’ll never look at the shaded areas in the same way again. It makes for a harrowing experience, having to rely majorly upon what you hear as you tiptoe forward revealing what lies beyond the edge of the screen.
For gamers with a competitive streak, there is a leaderboard which tracks the percentage completed (scaling up to 112%, with the addition of a new hidden area for PS3/PC). It arguably could have benefitted from being a bit more detailed, like perhaps recording completion time and/or amount of deaths by various means. This would have increased the replay value, but as it stands it’s only really worth playing more than once for the sake of achievements/trophies, secret glowing egg collection and a hidden area.
This is not a game where you should expect any definitive answers – the ending is abrupt and only provides even more questions leaving the entire game open to interpretation. The game itself is short (around 5 hours) but it’s a deeply immersive and intriguing experience worth every bit of the price tag, which isn’t really that high. There is also a physical media special edition for MAC/PC and an XBLA Triple Pack for X360 containing two other hits; Splosion Man and Trials HD. To close, this is a game that really shouldn’t be missed. So what are you doing here? Get to it!
Miss; The leaderboards – could have been more detailed, and it’s just plain weird that it goes up to 112%.
Need; It would have been nice with a bit better warning of when the end was coming. I’m not asking for answers, but the ending is overly abrupt.