Limbo Review

limbo

After you push start at the title screen, Limbo just starts with no introduction. It would appear Limbo is too cool for an introduction. Apparently, you’re a little boy, blinking awake in a foresty area. Who you are, and why you’re there, you don’t know. In fact, the only way to find out anything about the story, is to read official documentation online. Which I did. So, you’re this little boy, and you’re looking for your sister. That’s it. Simple enough.

Limbo (XBox 360 [Reviewed])
Developer: Playdead
Publisher: Playdead
Released: July 21, 2010
MSRP: $14.99

You can run, jump and interact with objects. When you get used to the game‘s minimal mechanics, what takes shape is a 2D puzzle game with platforming elements. Generally speaking, you’ll need to manipulate objects in order to progress to new areas. At first, the game is very simple: you’ll push boxes, swing on ropes, trigger levers, and so on. As you progress, though, the difficulty ramps WAY up. Your brain will need to do things with timing and momentum that may hurt it. You’ll trip machines in mid-air that reverse gravity, and let you walk on the ceiling. You’ll hop around whilst wrapped in a giant spider’s web, and have to escape. You’ll get this worm thing stuck on top of your head that gives you a mini siezure, and forces you to only walk in one direction. You’ll slide down hillsides and catapult yourself onto impossible landings. It’s all very challenging, and rewarding. Especially when you’ve been stumped for a while. And you will be. And another thing. You’ll DIE A LOT.

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The deaths in Limbo are shockingly violent. Your little guy will get decapitated, mamed, electrocuted, crushed, and other bad stuff. He’ll get impaled on spikes even. It’s a gruesome, dark game in this area. There is no penalty for death, though, and the load times are extremely fast. The save points are wonderfully forgiving, too, putting you right back at the beginning of the puzzle that killed your ass. This is good, since some of the tougher puzzles will have you trying different solutions until you get it right.

This would all make for a fun puzzle game, but the most striking thing about Limbo is the way it creates a beautiful, and yet unsettling atmosphere. The game world is a blend of opposites: lush outdoor areas like forests and swamps, jutted against crude machines and derelict factories. The art direction here is just plain bad ass. It has a “foregin film” coolness to it, resembling a tasty black-and-white concoction of Where the Wild Things Are, Dr. Suess and Tim Burton. Though the game is 2D, environmental objects in the fore- and background (trees, dangling ropes, distant factories, etc.) add depth and make Limbo seem big, and empty. The sountrack adds to this sense of loneliness by barely doing anything, and yet doing it wonderfully. Most of the time all you’ll hear are the boy’s footsteps, and wind through grass or machinery. When the music does kick in, it comes in deep, steady, eerie pulses of sound. It’s almost like something you’d hear on a Silent Hill soundtrack, in one of the quieter moments.

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You’re not entirely alone in Limbo, though. There are these other little boys, these little bastards lurking around ocassionally. They set traps that try and kill you, and then they run. Other than that, every once in a long while you’ll get a glimpse of a young girl, fussing around in the grass. Could that be your sister…? But then you’re pulled away, and have to trudge on.

You won’t trudge on for every long at all, though. Limbo is short. I completed the game in about five hours, and I died a lot. After you complete the game, you’re given the ability to replay any of the game’s 24 “Chapters.” On your initial playthrough, the game plays out like one super long level, but apparently there are segments there. Your motivation for going back and playing through Chapters would be to unlock the game’s Achievements. They mostly require you to collect these little egg-shaped objects, which are very well hidden. This is nice, but almost too hard since you’re given barely any information about the locations of these items–just a cryptic riddle for each Achievement. It would have made a lot of sense for the game to at least tell you what chapter to look in.

Anyway, play Limbo. If you like a challenge, and you like pretty games that are also creepy, you’ll like Limbo. It would have been nice if the game were longer, and perhaps offered more narrative structure (Maybe levels, or even boss fights, something like that)–but Limbo is a fun, rare game.

Pros:
Wonderful atmosphere
Challenging puzzles
Understated, well done soundtrack

Cons:
Story is TOO subtle. Not enough narrative.
Much too short

Overall Score: 90/100

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