Indie Review: Limbo
Originally an Xbox Live Arcade exclusive indie title, Limbo has now been released on both PC and PS3, and we've had a taste of it on all platforms. Playdead once again deserve a massive round of applause, for delivering its stunningly unique and incredibly atmoshpheric game to the rest who have been craving it since its exclusive XBLA release. It's a game that shouldn't be missed.
- Worth The Time?Yes, definitely
- Things LovedThe incredible visual design and art direction, the absolutely brilliant and compelling atmosphere, the eerie and ambient sound, the creepy and disturbing nature of the game, the simple yet flawless gameplay concept, the vague story idea, the originality, the great variety in puzzles, the checkpoint and chapter system.
- Things HatedThe very short length of the game despite the high price tag and lack of replay value.
- RecommendationIf you can get over the price tag, Limbo is a definite must-play, and there's really no reason why it shouldn't be enjoyed by everyone now that it's on all platforms.
- Name: Limbo
- Genre: Puzzle-Platformer
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC (Steam), PS3 (PSN), Xbox360 (XBLA)
- Developer: Playdead
- Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios, Playdead
- Price: $9.99 PC, $14.99 (PS3), 1200 MS Points (XBLA)
- Reviewed On: PC
Limbo first released back in July of 2010, exclusive to Xbox Live Arcade. It gained widespread recognition and global praise for its thrilling atmosphere, fantastic art direction and originality, and achieved a great many awards and nominations in addition to critical acclaim. Now, one year later, Playdead has finally brought the game to PC and PlayStation 3 as well, via Steam and PSN, and personally I wasted no time in getting my hands on it. Despite lasting me only a few hours, every minute of this game was thoroughly enjoyable, and it’s truly an inspiring title that shouldn’t be missed.
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The premise of the game is simple and actually very vague, but this was done purposefully and the result is something to be admired. You play as a nameless boy who awakens in the middle of a forest on the “edge of hell”, and right from the start you’ll get an idea of how uninviting and cold the place you’re in really is. In Limbo, you know nothing about your character or the world you’re trapped in. All you know is that this boy is searching for his missing sister, both of them alone in a frightening place. You’d think that knowing so little about your environment and character would cause you to detach emotionally, but Limbo instead completely draws you in and uses its dark ambiguity to deliver a powerful experience that has you caring for a character you neither know nor understand.
That said it’s quite difficult to say, by the time you reach the game’s rather abrupt conclusion, whether you should be resenting the lack of story depth or welcoming it. There’s just so little to be understood about the game world and characters, and there’s really no explanation given for how the boy lost his sister or how he got to be in this place. On the one hand, I feel that this lack of understanding really adds to the atmosphere and how dark and creepy it is, while on the other hand my burning curiousity to know what exactly all this is about left me admittedly wanting more at the end. However, despite the extremely vague story element and the game’s very short lifespan, it easily manages to be an incredibly compelling game that is absorbing and thoroughly satisfying, which is definitely remarkable.
The gameplay is simple. You control the boy with the directional keys, and you’re able to move left and right, jump and interact with objects in the environment. That’s really all there is to it, and it’s truly admirable how such simple gameplay ended up being so compelling in this game, where a great deal of credit for that goes to the phenomenal art direction and fantastically designed world and puzzles. You’ll advance through the games’ many short chapters in linear fashion, solving puzzles, interacting with the environment, platforming and trying to avoid seriously disturbing and painful deaths along the way. The game is designed around a trial and error system, one that actually works surprisingly well in this context. But that isn’t the only approach you’ll be taking in the game. In fact, many of Limbo’s cleverly designed puzzles require you to think pretty hard on how to move forward. And, make no mistake, due to the game’s system you’ll die. A lot. But it’s necessary to learn how to progress. However, contrary to what it sounds like, it’s not in any way frustrating to meet constant gruesome deaths head-on thanks to the checkpoint system, which instantly throws you right back within a few seconds of where you were.
There are all kinds of horrors, deathtraps and puzzles waiting for you in each new chapter. The atmosphere is incredibly realised, creating an eerie, haunted world through its dark, grey-scale visual design and ambient sound, making Limbo feel cold, uninviting and terrifying. There is a brilliant sense of loneliness and vulnerability to the game, and it really feels like everyone and everything is out to get you in a world where danger is always present. Through its haunting atmosphere and your lack of understanding of the game world and what’s in it, things are made infinitely more mysterious and unpredictable. Truly, Limbo is creepy and disturbing as hell, and it’s incredible. It honestly presents itself so well that you’ll be constantly fearing what comes next just as much as you’ll be looking forward to it. There’s just no limit to the amount of praise that can be given to the game’s outstanding atmosphere, sound and visuals, and they’re more than enough reason to play this game already.
Puzzles are presented to you in great variety, starting out pretty simple and getting increasingly more challenging as the game progresses, eventually becoming chaotic towards the end. You’ll need to be constantly aware of your surroundings and how you could use them, because quick thinking and action often saves your life. There are traditional puzzles involving physics and object interaction, and more advanced ones that are multi-teared and require backtracking and environmental awareness. You’ll even encounter parts of the game that require you to listen to sounds in the background in order to progress. Limbo’s strength in this regard lies in its great originality and unique presentation of its satisfying variety of puzzles, priding itself on the unexpected. And if you thought that the amazing visual direction was just for appearance, then you thought wrong. The dark shadows more often than not hide traps, environmental hazards and monsters, requiring you to always be alert if you want to live.
Despite the colour scheme, charming look and little boy protagonist, Limbo is a very violent and disturbing game, yet it’s not overbearing in any way. On the contrary, the intense ways in which you can die actually provide a large incentive to want to avoid death, especially due to the fact that you’re in control of, what appears to be, no more than a child. The game certainly doesn’t hold back, and its brutality often leads to your character dying in some pretty hectic ways, involving decapitation, getting impaled by spikes, electrocuted, crushed or even ripped apart. But Limbo manages to expertly pull off everything it does, and it really doesn’t feel like the visceral deaths are there for the sake of it, but rather there to add to the cruel nature of the game and almost plead with the player to be cautious.
Limbo at best will probably last you only a few hours, but even so you’ll enjoy every minute it has to offer and it will definitely remain with you after you’ve finished it. Naturally, there’s not much to come back to once you’ve completed the game and know how to solve all of the puzzles, unless you’re trying to find the hidden collectables or you’re chasing achievements. This lack of replay value, together with the short game length and high price, may put off potential buyers, but despite these issues, which in truth are the only things actually wrong with the game, it’s really difficult not to recommend Limbo to everyone, purely because it’s just so damn good, original and exciting. For an indie game, it’s both inspirational and highly admirable, and you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to experience it.
Limbo is a stunningly unique and incredibly atmospheric game that is as brilliant as it is deeply compelling. The only issue here is that the game doesn’t last very long, despite its high cost and lack of replay value. However, few games deliver such an original and powerful experience and, considering the length and genre of this title, that’s an outstanding achievement. Limbo is an absolute masterpiece.