Thursday, July 22, 2010

Limbo - a game Gordon Lish could get behind

Doing more with less. Pare it down. The hand that erases writes the true thing. All of this has been applied to literature, painting, and film long before Hitchcock poured Hershey syrup down a shower drain. One of my rules in writing is “always use what’s in the room”, meaning never add anything to a scene or situation – be it an object or new character – unless it is absolutely necessary. Always use what is already there. This principle seems to work well.

Limbo, a new puzzle/adventure game for the xBox 360 by Play Dead Games, does something similar. There’s no color. There’s no exposition. You’re just a little boy in a very dark forest overcoming rather creepy obstacles.

Set up as a traditional side-scroller, your character walks from left to right. Silhouettes of trees and rocks obscure your already hazy vision. And the effect is powerful. It’s close to the eeriness of Fallout 3 when you’re inching through pitch-black train tunnels with the mutated population of DC desperate to suck out your eye sockets.

The play controls are simple. You can jump and grab, slide and hang. Of course, the physics are sophisticated enough to make well-timed jumping part of the strategy as you narrowly escape a giant spider. And when this spider captures you, some people in the room will definitely turn their heads. Limbo relies on finely crafted sound effects to achieve a subtle naturalism. When boulders roll at you, they sound the way they should. Fire and water sound realistic enough, transcending the cartoon graphics into something much more.

Best of all, Limbo keeps you guessing. Things are not what they seem. It slowly becomes evident that someone or someone(s) are playing with you and their version of play is a wicked one. The developers understand that if the game is alluring enough, the less story you give the audience, the more they will crave it. It’s what you can’t see and what you don’t understand that makes this game so haunting and evil. The hand that erases…

I ultimately got stuck on a puzzle after two hours of playing. That’s normal. But what isn’t, for me at least, is that I’ve wanted to go back to that dark forest all day and figure out how to go deeper into it. There’s something I can’t see in that creepy space and I need to know what it is. Now that’s a compelling experience.

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1 comment:

Paul said...

Have you gotten to the hotel part? It looks like a photograph that I wish I took. The music at that part sounds like Tim Hecker's "Radio Amour". A really beautiful game.

The boy is just a little too cutesy though. I wish they would have made him look less like a cartoon. I love the eyes though.