Review by Mat C
Developer PlayDead Studios
Publisher Microsoft Game Studios
Released 21 July 2010
Available for Xbox 360 Live Arcade
Time Played Finished
“Limbo is, however, more than the sum of its parts. To wrap it up and put it in a neat and cliched package entitled “puzzle platformer” or the like would be to miss the wider point. This is a rich and engaging story where isolation, death and self-discovery are the main themes, underpinned by an eerie and haunting atmosphere that will keep you emotionally invested in this silhouetted, bright eyed little boy from start to finish”
Every once in a while, something comes along that surprises you. Something that changes things. Something that creates talking points and has you thinking about it long after you’ve reached its conclusion.
Limbo has achieved all of these things over the past week. Limbo is beautiful yet dark and lifeless. It is subtle and understated yet powerful and thought provoking. It has no narrative but tells a charming and harrowing tale. It’s an indie title that asks for fifteen of your hard earned dollars in exchange for between 3 and 5 hours play time, sparking an all-new industry wide debate on the merits of cost vs value.
You play a boy in search of his sister. Without a single word spoken or so much as a pre-rendered intro sequence to fall back on, you know this only because you assume a reviewer on a video game blog is telling you the truth. The game sets you off on your path with no tutorials, no hand holding easy rides through a convenient set path and without a clue of who you are or what you’re doing. All you know is that you have awoken in the middle of a dark and rather depressing looking forest, and as the boy’s head rises slowly above the undergrowth, your adventure begins.
It’s easy to strike an instant rapport with the boy. His name is unknown and his character is shrouded by a darkness that renders him little more than a silhouette. Glowing as bright as the stars themselves amongst a night sky, the boys eyes serve as his only notable features, offering a subtle but important connection between himself and the player. He is endearing, curious and as emotive as any other video game character you may care to name. He is yours, and he will die. Lots. Over the course of the next three to five hours, the boy will be skewered, crushed, sliced, diced and shot. He will plummet to his death and be torn to pieces, and it will always be your fault. When those cute little stary eyes flicker and burn out, you will care about how and why it happened, or at least which of the game’s three buttons you didn’t press in time.
Instantly recognisable by one of the most gorgeously original visual styles you’ll see anywhere this generation, Limbo is a marvel to look at; a piece of art which you’ll want to admire. Such a striking aesthetic is also aided by a perfectly suited audio score, comprising of little more than the sound of blowing wind or your own footsteps. Quiet and eerie, greyscale and colourless, this is a hauntingly beautiful world, but one which poses many hidden threats. Allow yourself to become too enamored with your surroundings and you may find the first you know of that hidden bear trap is when it severs you in half, sending an ink like spray of blood into the air. Let yourself become too comfortable in this dark and mysterious place and the boy will pay the price with his short and innocent life.
Often the best way to overcome Limbo’s challenges is to remove yourself from the game’s desolate beauty. Every puzzle in Limbo offers a unique challenge and the difficulty will rise and fall depending on your own ability to overcome each one. Although some puzzles may appear obvious, others will require a little more thought, while some may simply be achieved through trial and error. How quickly you overcome such puzzles will largely determine how long it takes you to finish the game. As someone who usually becomes frustrated by games of this nature and therefore rarely gets too involved, I became stuck on several occasions, but Limbo always seems fair. Rather than feeling cheated at any point by a particularly awkward solution, my failings in Limbo were often down more to my lapses in concentration. Instead of just fixing your eyes on the screen, sometimes stopping to take pause and really look at it, dissecting each section of the area for an otherwise hidden lever or clue, is often the best way to progress.
Limbo is, however, more than the sum of its parts. To wrap it up and put it in a neat and cliched package entitled “puzzle platformer” or the like would be to miss the wider point. This is a rich and engaging story where isolation, death and self discovery are the main themes, underpinned by an eerie and haunting atmosphere that will keep you emotionally invested in this silhouetted, bright eyed little boy from start to finish. In a world where human contact of any sort of is reserved almost exclusively for the dead and the forest’s natural inhabitants are as strange as they are terrifying, you’ll cherish the safety of this simple little character every step of the way along his simple adventure. An adventure no more complex than any other 2D side scrolling platformer you’ve ever played, but at the same time as engrossing and challenging as even the most aggressive of 3D AAA blockbusters.
A must play then, in any sense of the term. I have paid twice as much for games twice as long that I’ve not enjoyed even half as much in the past. Limbo is an indie title that asks for fifteen of your hard earned dollars in exchange for between 3 and 5 hours of some of the best game time you’re likely to experience in 2010, and come the years end I suspect this will be competing for honors amongst many Game of the Year competitions. My only regret about Limbo is that I can’t rewind the clock and pay another $15 to experience it for the first time again.
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