Review – Limbo
You’ve probably already read reviews from other sites. Critical acclaim all around for Playdead’s Limbo, the little XBLA title that could. Much like Braid before it, Limbo is a simplistic, easy-to-play but hard to master game, but this time with a very dark atmosphere. So where has all the fanfare come from? Why is RoH reviewing it? Read on and find out.
Limbo has a way of getting into your mind in places where you don’t want it to. Almost like a bad dream. And as someone who’s had two bad dreams this week so far, I think I’m about due for a little break here. You can first see Limbo working its magic in the Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade XMB. The Boy makes his way through the different panels, looking around, staring with those little white eyes. And that’s where it begins.
But luckily, it doesn’t last too long.
One of the first things you’ll notice playing Limbo is that it is extremely simplistic–almost to the point of being barebones. One might think that this could do particularly well as a Flash game. Limbo doesn’t feature elaborate cutscenes or even simplistic dialogue. It’s up to the player to really form their own opinion on what’s going on, why The Boy is there. Really, the only reason we know that The Boy is even looking for his sister is that we were told ahead of time. Because the game actually plays rather simplistically, there’s no need for lengthy explanations on what to do, and anything of the sort would seem out of place.
Even though the game is only in black and white, there’s still an incredible amount of detail here.
The next thing you’ll notice is that Limbo is devoid of anything that’s colour. Much like a film-noir style, everything is in black and white. There’s really not much to say about that, other than when the boy goes into dark areas, it can be tricky to see, and that it’s hard to distinguish traps from grass in the foreground or background. There’s no red for blood, like in Madworld for The Wii–yes, this entire game makes you have a real appreciation for the full spectrum of colours that you’ll see when hit the Xbox button. It’s a refreshing look, and really suits the theme of the game well.
One of the other things that you’ll notice immediately is that there’s no real soundtrack to the game. Most of the game is relatively quiet…unless something major is happening, but this usually happens once you get further into the game. The ‘music’ if you could call it that, that plays is hard to describe. Almost reminiscent of Silent Hill, where there’s usually pounding noises. It’s drab and eerie…and really fitting for the theme of the game as well! When the music isn’t playing, you can hear the sound of the boy’s footsteps, perhaps the light pitter-patter of rain, or the sound of an enemy or the crack of electricity, but little else. Yes, Limbo’s kind of a depressing place, just in case you didn’t already know.
Limbo plays like a regular platformer here. You jump, you evade traps, you move from left to right, sometimes up and down. The only way through a lot of the puzzles is trial and error. Try something, if it doesn’t work, you generally die, then try again. Most of the puzzles fit the theme of the game well, there are a few instances where some puzzles feel very out of place (read on for more on that). The only real enemies present in the game are in the first few areas, in the Forest section.
One of the major flaws that this reviewer found with the game was the change from a natural environment to a more urban, industrial environment. The forest environment was very unsettling, there were actual enemies here. The enemies consist of the things straight out of a little boy’s nightmares (or in this case, a grown woman’s nightmares): gigantic spiders ready to impale you with their forelegs, large flies and other flying insects, even sadistic little kids pitted against The Boy, ready to kill him. In the industrial environment, the enemies are gone and you’re left really only with environmental factors to battle against (read: electricity and being crushed to death). This is a major switch in the feel and atmosphere of the game. However we’ll concede that there is a certain charm to abandoned industrial facilities.
If I had to choose how I wanted to go, it definitely wouldn’t be like this…
However, quite possibly the worst part is where anti-gravity puzzles kick in. They feel totally out of place in Limbo, but in a game whose tagline is “Explore the Unknown” then I guess you have to be ready for anything.
Another factor working against it is that Limbo can be quite a challenge at times. The trial-and-error design of the puzzles, the sometimes cheap deaths can all equate to one hell of an aggravating experience. However, while we concede that the challenge of the game might turn some people off, Limbo isn’t overly difficult. There are a few times where we found ourselves stuck at a specific point, but like most platformers, enough time and a ‘trial and error’ method of approach will get you through.
Sadly, the end of the game doesn’t give you much closure. It’s either as happy or sad as you want it to be–because like the rest of the story, you’re on your own as to what happened. If there’s one thing working both for and against the game, is its simplicity. You can either call it an act by the creators of the game to make you think, or you can call it cheap–it’s kind of both. This will leave a few people out there feeling a little gypped.
You might be asking yourself why RoH is reviewing a title like Limbo. The game has an incredibly dark atmosphere. Just look at the title–we’re not talking about the party game, here. Limbo is a place Well Limbo does have its little scares. A rather slow-burn of scares that are relatively minor. Just because it’s not in colour, that doesn’t mean that the game isn’t gory, or shocking. The deaths that await The Boy are quick and brutal–a really unnerving event. For example, steer The Boy into an animal trap that’s so large it decapitates him, or run him into a gigantic table saw (WHY IS THIS HERE?!), have him become impaled by a gigantic spider–one wonders who came up with such a horrible fate for a little boy.
Also, there’s brain slugs.
If you find it a little too much for you then you can turn these things off in the Options menu. But that begs the question…why are you reading this at RoH?
- Unique appearance and sound
- Excellent platformer complete with challenging sections
- Simplistic design makes it a ‘pick up and play’ style game
- Pretty eerie at some points in the game
- Achievements add to the replay value
- Fairly short in length
- Sometimes cheap deaths
- Simplicity can sometimes dampen the experience
- It’s not really that scary
Overall Score: 8/10
It’s easy to praise Limbo because it’s so unique. Indeed, it’s quite different from what’s out there on the market today. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s not necessarily bad. If you’re looking for a nice game to eat up a couple of hours of your time, Limbo is a great buy. Its simplistic design make it a real ‘pick-up-and-play’ style of game that’s great when you’re in the mood for something dark. However that same simplicity might be disappointing for some. It’s kind of an artsy game, but unlike some others, much of it is really left up to your own interpretation.
Simplicity at its best.