Written by Chris Price
02 Monday 02nd August 2010

Ever heard of Playdead Studios? No? Well until a few months ago, neither had any else. But the release of their debut title Limbo has placed them on the radar of some of the biggest game developers in the world. Limbo has been in development for more than two years – the product of a core team of eight programmers led by PlayDead's game director Arnt Jensen, and is spearheading the independent gaming resurgence.

Restraint used to be a pretty rare commodity a decade ago. Money was thrown at failing movie franchises to retain licenses, egos were stroked and flights of fancy were financed at the drop of a hat. Now, every release need to be careful play-tested, marketed and monetized for all its worth, just to turn a profit.
At the same time, there has been the resurgence in the independent production sector. Small houses, even individuals, crafting simple games, to be sold at a low price on any manner of portable handset device, be it phone, console or other. For every Assassins Creed, there is an Angry Birds. For each Call of Duty, there’s a Plants vs. Zombies. Titles developed by a small team of designers with a clear vision, unburdened by meticulous redesign due to focus groups.
It’s a natural fact of being human that we perceive time as linear. The way we see life, things start and end, and progress along a certain path. We learn to use objects to conduct tasks, and once these become familiar with can utilize them in combination with other familiar items to aid us in achievement – leading to personal enrichment for ourselves, guiding us towards a distant goal.
Limbo is a journey in the most honest way imaginable. You are a nameless boy, waking up in an eerie monochrome forest, looking for your way out. This is the start. And as the old adage goes, you learn from your mistakes. Trial and error in the context of Limbo is life and death, in a world where neither exist.
Limbo is a very basic platform game. You can move left, right, jump, climb, push and pull. Your goal is to get from A to B, navigating pitfalls. The tenable kinetics of the character are reminiscent of Mario in Super Mario World, yet the pin-point run/jump/climb/hang approach segues into the Delphine catalogue (Flashback/Another World).
Death in Limbo is a little removed from your average platform title, and quickly becomes an integral aspect of the game. Death is no longer a punishment – it serves to urge you to either concentrate, listen or look more carefully than you just did. Everything flows utilising a realistic physics engine, guiding the movement of objects. Each task gives you a problem, and the tools to solve it. You just need to think about how they work together to overcome each obstacle. The game contains a fairly brief four or five hours of gameplay, but it’s no pushover.
Visually, the game is unique. A film grain covers the whole world, that flickers and glows like an ancient silent movie. Distant creatures and specters guide your path as silhouettes in the fog. The dark grayscale palette serves to emphasize a lost time. The few signs of life are the protagonists glowing peepers as he ambles around a misty twilight world, filled with danger at every turn. Incidental sound and no music further add to the ambience. The minimal use of sound creates a plateau wherever unfamiliar noise becomes either a guide or a clue to aid moving onwards.
It’s also a game that provokes human emotions as well as pinpoint reactions, through its reward of perseverance. The subtle reference to the space between life and death forms a bleak backdrop. It’s a personal journey shared by yourself and the little silhouette of a chap on the screen. He is your anchor, and the glowing eyes are beacons in the dark. He's your sole guide in the game, yet you control his destiny. This can be attributed to any number of games, I can't recall one where the relationship is more accessible or poignant.
Limbo is a modern Fairy Tale. An interactive story of intrigue and adventure where peril is faced at every corner and miscalculation can lead to a violent demise.  The package presented is a uniquely beautiful gothic comic tale that will appeal to precise platform fans as well as artists – but the increasingly intense, yet the logical problem solving will also appeal to those who want to give their grey matter a work out (having just been playing the updated Secret of Monkey Island, I could immediately see a parallel with the puzzle structures). It’s a simple, short and sweet experience. But it’s an affirming and innovative exercise in restraint, and a very modern piece of craftsmanship – one that all Xbox owners should have in their collection.
Limbo gets four nearly dead children out of a possible five, it’s available for the XBOX 360 only via the Xbox Live Market Place for 1200 points.


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