Best Atmospheric Experience 2010 – Riddles

Limbo

Finally! Due credit can be given to this downloadable gem of a game. Mass Effect 2 and Heavy Rain both built dense, palpable atmospheres – but Limbo builds an atmosphere unlike anything seen before, through methods never used. It’s a game that truly stands in a class of its own, and it must be experienced firsthand.

With barely a backstory explaining it, Limbo throws you into a dark, uninviting wood, where you must search for your missing sister. Everything is black and white – the protagonist is a small, silhoutted boy with beady, glowing eyes – which always shine, even in the darkest surroundings. The pale white lighting flickers like a failing street sign, which adds a subtly bizarre atmospheric effect.

As you go forward, it becomes clear that this forest is the personification of a child’s nightmare. Night-shrouded woods, infested with bullies, gigantic spiders, and devious traps. In spite of its juvenile protagonist, Limbo has an unexpectedly brutal side to it – deaths are brutal and bloody, often involving beheadings or skewerings. Certain puzzles, even, display an unexpectedly macabre nature – at one point, you must drag the dead bodies of children to a lake, then use them as stepping stones.

Background and foreground layers fade and become more distinct to create different atmospheric effects. All the while, a minimalist sound design is utilized – Limbo has no musical score to speak of, and instead chooses to assault your ears largely with dead silence and footsteps. It works brilliantly.

I wish I could say more about Limbo, but I must remember that I’m here only to discuss its atmospheric merits. Limbo is unlike anything I’d played before it, and it’s easily the best atmospheric experience I had in 2010.

Runner Up: Heavy Rain

Well, anything I say here will sound a little tepid in comparison to Lameish’s recent gushing article explaining the game’s atmospheric merit. Oh well. Heavy Rain is a game that builds its atmosphere not through bizarre and fantastical fantasy worlds or heavily stylized aesthetics, but rather, through the gritty realism that permeates its world, characters, dialog, and graphical presentation. It’s well-written, well-acted interactive thrillride, but it’s real life –  and it’s impressive to see a game build such palpable atmosphere through such meager conventions.

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