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.
Email the author of this post at firstname.lastname@example.org
I still don’t understand the “Time played: Finished” thing. Souldn’t it say how much time the reviewer played, thus giving an idea of the length of the game?
Hanamigi, the “time played” is more of an indication of how much of the game we played before reviewing it. Mat’s review mentions a length of 3-5 hours several times.
Mat, Lovely review and all, but what I really want to know is if it’s all spiders all the time. You all know about my distaste of said critters.
Toger, the spider bit lasts for about 10 minutes very early on in the game. It is horrifying– for arachnophobes like ourselves– to say the least, but once the worst is over (yes, you actually utilize parts of its body to complete a puzzle) you are spider free. It would be tragic to miss this awe inspiring game for fear of only that.
I should have added: a very fine review, Mat. And within a week of release! Take that, Metacritic.
I played and beat the game, found most of the egg’s and had a lot of fun. The one problem I found with the game is that there really seem’s to be a cool story somewhere in the game but from all the people I’v talked to no one knows what it is. I heard something about the boy and has family getting into a car crash in the woods?
I remember Reading somewhere that PlayDead left the games plot open to interpretation by design. The basic premise is there – or at least becomes vaguely distinguishable as you go through – but I think the bigger picture is left unclear on purpose. Who you really are or where/what this place even is is all left unexplained.
I actually like it. I think the basic “story” is intriguing considering how it’s never really “told” in a conventional way, but there are also enough aspects of it to keep you guessing. I think it works incedibly well, personally.
Agreed, Mat. The ambiguity serves Limbo more than hinders it.
I finished the game last night and while I won’t talk about the end in detail so as not to spoil for others, I did love how it ended. How it kind of slows down for just a moment to prepare you for something…yeah, I really, really enjoyed it.
Limbo is in a class of its own; all it vaguely reminds me of is Ico because they were both shrouded in mystery and shadows (literally in both cases: the Boy is a silhouette, and the phantoms that Ico faces). It’s among the list of video game experiences I will not forget.
I’ve downloaded it but only spent a few minutes playing. Based on all this I must get back into it!
Totally agree about the ending, Max. I have a long running hatred of video gaming endings on account of the fact that they’re almost exclusively rubbish (at least, in my experience!) but I thought the ending to Limbo was fantastic. It made me just sit back and smile.
Like the rest of the game, it was subtle, thought provoking and totally up to interpretation. But we should probably say no more than that!
I know it’s been said before but Limbo reminds me a lot of Eric Chahi’s Heart of Darkness with its death magnet of a protagonist. Thanks for the review Mat, I look forward to this er, hopefully coming to the PC or PSN soon!
Did many/any of you play Braid by the way? I don’t hear it mentioned much round these parts considering how great (and beautiful) it is.
I played Braid, Gregg. It’s probably my single favorite game on the 360, close with Fallout 3 and Bioshock.
Is this Heart of Darkness game you mentioned based on the novel? That is by far the strangest and most difficult read I ever endured.
If it’s not, what a great game that would make!
It’s not no and although I haven’t read the book I believe Apocalypse Now is based on it? If so then that’s a weird film as well, one that I really ought to watch again now I’m older and (hopefully) wiser.
This is Heart of Darkness and you can witness the many, and rather strangely, beautiful deaths here.
I just watched the death video for HoD. How the hell did that game get an E rating. I’ve never seen a child killed in so many ways in such a short time.
Also, I played Braid, and thought it a great game. I’m not crazy about platformers, and even less so of puzzle games, but between the beautiful art, and the way which the time mechanism was evolved into so many different types of puzzles was really enjoyable.
I’d get stuck on one, trying it for half an hour or so before I’d give up and go do something else. Then come back later in the day and try it again only to see a simple but brilliant solution I’d missed earlier.
The ending and eventual revelation about what was happening with the story really added a whole extra layer of depth to a game that could have likely stood its ground even without a story.
Felt bad for the protagonist..
I should play it again sometime.. been a while.
Braid is incredible even if you ignore the story. Me and my girlfriend played it together and it was a lot of fun trying to work out how to do the various puzzles. It helped that the game’s aesthetic and soundtrack were so soothing too. I wasn’t a big fan of the secret star hunt because a lot of them were in really stupid random places and very few were hinted at.
The last part of the game is the highlight for me because it’s where the game mechanics actually tell the story. It’s a very clever moment and one I didn’t entirely grasp at first! It’s the only game that has had me thinking about it for a couple of days after finishing it. Amazing.
I’m with you though Armand, I really ought to play it again sometime…
Yeah, it was fine and dandy enough that the gameplay of Braid was excellent, but then the ending had to go and be bloody mind-blowing.
I hope I never have to live in a world where independent games don’t exist. And that’s all I have to say about that!
Is Limbo going to get released on the PC at some point? I’d like to play it, but it could be awhile before I pick up an xbox360. I always seem to be one generation (or more) behind when it comes to console games, heh. I’m still playing through my library of games from the xbox/PS1/PS2 days! I worry though that if I wait too long in buying a PS3 or xbox360, some of these great download only titles that are available right now won’t be available anymore as everybody has moved on to the PS4 and xbox720 except for moi.
I bet we’ll see Limbo on PC, Lakerz. It’s received so much positive press.
Of course, I’d have bet the same thing about Shadow Complex and that never happened.
exactly! I want to play Shadow Complex also, but thus far no luck unless you have an xbox360. Hopefully the game can still be downloaded several years from now…
In case anyone missed this…