Platform: PlayStation 4
Review Date: 10/16/16
Playdead's follow-up to "Limbo" (2010) is stunningly beautiful and deeply disturbing. Much like "Limbo," the game begins with a helpless young boy alone in a forest, with no clue as to what's going on. It quickly becomes apparent that you are in hiding and that everyone is out to get you. You witness truckloads of innocent people being rounded up and shipped out by armed guards, and if you're spotted, you get shot down and/or chased by vicious dogs. You follow the prisoners to a processing facility that reeks of death and decay, and discover that people are being turned into mindless zombies and mysterious parasites might be involved. Things become even stranger the deeper you go, as gravity inverts and you gain the ability to breathe underwater. At the very end, the game goes completely bonkers and you become a hideous monstrosity who desperately seeks to escape.
As previously mentioned, the graphics are amazing and extremely emotive. Derelict architecture, thick haze, bright lights, and deep shadows create a menacing world that's full of danger. The main character is a mute and faceless boy, but his body language tells you all you need to know. Music is nearly non-existent, but when it does show up, it's quite moving. The puzzle design is extremely good, and provides an adequate challenge without being too easy or overly difficult. There were only two places where I got stuck, but that was due to me not paying enough attention. (that, and the mermaids really freaked me out) It's an improvement over "Limbo" in the fact that critical items and areas are clearly lit as opposed to completely hidden in darkness. In the event that you die (and you WILL die), a liberal checkpoint system immediately sends you back to the beginning of the last puzzle, so that you can quickly try again. There's no dialog and no on-screen interface, which makes the experience extremely immersive. And like "Limbo," the death scenes are gruesome and horrifying.
While the game does an excellent job of creating a horrific atmosphere, there's no clear narrative. Themes and ideas are introduced and quickly tossed away, and the environment becomes increasingly more illogical and insane as the game wears on. The vague and ambiguous nature of the story simply boils down to raw emotion and a basic desire to survive, no matter what the circumstances are. The game thrives on fear, oppression, and paranoia, which leaves you with only one course of action: to get out! It's unclear what the game is trying to say, but it's definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of spooky psychological horror. It's a relatively short game and can be finished in 3-4 hours. Replay value is added in the form of secret items and an alternate ending, if you're into that kind of thing.