It takes a lot for a game to scare someone from a non-first person perspective. It’s easy to immerse yourself in a first person game, as you can quite easily imagine that the zombie is about to eat your face rather than the person you’re controlling. Of course, you’ll still need the right atmosphere, mechanical elements and storyline, but it’s the first person view point that is most likely to result in you being a little too creeped out to carry on.[drop]For a side-scrolling game like Limbo it’s considerably more difficult to pull off that feeling of sheer terror. You’re more disconnected from the character in a way you wouldn’t be in, say, Amnesia, so the game has to work extra hard to evoke the same panicky feelings. It’s quite a testament to the minds behind Limbo that the game even comes close. The oppressively bleak, nightmarish environment and the graphical style in which it is presented absolutely makes Limbo what it is.
Set in a grainy world of blacks and greys, you take control of an apparently nameless boy and work your way through an environment filled with traps, monsters and people, all of which are hell bent on seeing the life fade from your eyes. Or, perhaps more likely, to see your limbs torn from your body.
Throughout the course of the game you will be impaled, torn apart, drowned, crushed, and a whole selection of other grizzly deaths you probably won’t quite expect. There is very little (if anything) in the game that isn’t trying to kill you, from giant spiders to other people.
This hostility isn’t really explained, either. You just wake up in a clearing and the game starts – no exposition, no explanation, not even a tutorial. This serves to further heighten the unease you’ll continue to feel throughout the rest of the game.
Coming upon something that you just know is a trap but you can’t quite tell exactly what it does is an excellent feeling, being tricked by something very similar to a previous trap but works slightly differently is even better, and genuinely made me smile – that’s fantastic design. The puzzles themselves are usually physics-based and often result in head-scratching, and sometimes head removal.[drop2]Of course, the problem with this is that getting through them can involve, well, dying. As mentioned earlier, you will die a lot in Limbo as a lot of figuring out how to progress can involve trial and error. The checkpoints are well placed so you never really lose much time, but it can grate on your nerves after a while.
Perhaps worse is that the trial and error nature of the game often interferes with the atmosphere. Your first encounter with a giant spider is likely to make you panic a little bit, but after a few deaths the panic is replaced with just wanting to figure it out and carry on so you can soak up yet more of the wonderfully tense atmosphere.
If you can stomach a little little trial and error and fancy some eerie puzzle-solving, Limbo is most certainly for you. Even if you’re not really into the puzzles, it may be worth it just to experience the atmosphere. It’s not perfect, but at £7 on Steam it’s easily worth the price of admission.
Through some happy coincidence Limbo is currently the Midweek Madness deal on Steam, which means it’s 60% off (£2.79) and an absolute steal. The deal ends on the 1st June so you’d better go and pick it up before then.