Limbo (XBLA) Review
A Breath Taking And Unforgettable Symphony of Gameplay And Atmosphere
As technology has grown, so have video games. No longer composed of simple pixels and chip sounds, games have become multimillion dollar ordeals that are grander on every scale. Limbo, on the other hand, is a black and white 2D puzzle platformer that manages to not only create a haunting and unforgettable atmosphere, but also blends audio with visual qualities into a near perfect symphony of gameplay… and it does all this without a single line of dialog or text – something a multimillion dollar game cannot do.
In all honesty, gameplay really could not be simpler. Using nothing more than the analog stick for movement along with an action button and jump button, Limbo can be played by anyone and is immediately recognizable.
You play a young boy who wakes up in a wooded area with no idea who you are, what you are supposed to do, or where to go. In fact, the only way to initially understand the game’s plot is to read the one line of text in the XBLA menu screen before you boot up the game; as it turns out, you are looking for your sister while trapped in this disturbing dream world. As you set out to look for your sister, you will quickly find out that the world you are trapped in is quite dangerous, terrifying and bizarre. Being hunted by a massive spider or getting crushed by a bear trap are scenes that will be etched into your mind. Presentation-wise, Limbo hits the nail on the head by creating an atmosphere unlike any other, in part due to the complete absence of loading screens, no level structure (the game is basically one continuous level) and a forgiving death system.
The game starts off small, so the player can learn how the boy is controlled, but will eventually become more challenging as you move towards the end of the 5 hour quest. This game would not be as successful as it is without the heavy emphasis on real world gravity. In order to progress, crates must be pushed, boulders must roll, levers must be pulled, chains must be swung from, and environments must be rotated. The way that things move and fall play a large part in every instance of gameplay. Sure, all of these puzzle elements have been done a million times before, but Limbo’s approach to these brain teasers really creates constant memorable moments. Once you start playing, you will not be able to stop until you see the credits screen. At one point during my time with the game, my text message ring tone from my cell phone startled me, but not because the game is Silent Hill or Resident Evil spooky, but rather, broke my full concentration and dedication to the game. The game constantly throws something new at the player, which is no small feat considering the game only uses two buttons.
If there is one thing that happens in Limbo, you will die… a lot. But even though I died dozens upon dozens of times, I was never once frustrated. The game basically uses a die-and-learn approach from reaching Point A to Point B: I didn’t move quick enough to jump over that spinning blade so I will have to run faster next time. I could not reach that chain to swing over the gap so I will have to wait for it to swing closer to me next time. I could not reach that ledge so I will be sure to drag that crate with me next time. Sure, you die a lot, but you are supposed to. Dying is a tool to help you solve puzzles.
The death in this game essentially takes on a life of its own. Adding to the game’s already dark atmosphere, watching a little boy get torn apart by a spinning blade, drowning after his last breath in a deep pool, or getting impaled through the head by the talon of a spider is disturbing to say the least. And again, this is only amplified thanks to the game’s detailed and realistic gravity engine. Seeing the boy’s body parts get chopped up and flung realistically from a spinning blade or witnessing the ragdoll physics of a lifeless dangling body that has been stabbed with a spider leg will remain with you long after the game is turned off.
As if the game’s black and white visual aesthetic was not unique enough, the audio department is the icing on the cake. The game just would not be what it is without its lasting soundtrack…or actually I should say, lack there of. The game doesn’t actually have music. The ambient noise of the boy’s footsteps, the jarring buzz sound effect of the stalking spider, and sounds of the forest’s rustling leaving and the waterfall’s rapids are the only musical elements that will accompany on your journey. And boy, do they make a lasting impression. Limbo’s deep atmospheric sense of desolation and danger is something every gamer should experience.
To make things a little more interesting, small glowing orbs can be collected if the player manages to outsmart the game’s puzzles. Often tucked away in forgotten corners of each major segment of the game, these small glowing beacons will unlock most of the game’s Achievements. It provides just enough incentive to take the game’s puzzle solving to a higher level.
I guess my only real complaint about the game is how the Leaderboards were handled. Only the completed percentage of the game gets posted. Not displaying how many deaths, along with the time it took to complete the journey, seems like a missed opportunity.
Simply put, Limbo is a remarkable gaming achievement, and stands out as this year’s Braid. But unlike the sharply spiking difficulty of Braid’s platforming puzzle solving, Limbo removes frustration and generates a single player experience that will not be forgotten. Reaching the game’s abrupt ending also fits its overall theme and compliments the mind-exhausting journey through this disturbing land. Very few titles possess gaming brilliance like Limbo and it is one of the best games I’ve played all year.
More Memorable Than: a crazy fever dream
Better Than: Braid
Also Try: Shadow of The Colossus
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