Sunday, January 16, 2011

Game Review: LIMBO

10 days to go...

A phenomenal experience, LIMBO creeps me out more than any game I've played in years.
LIMBO is an independent game released last July, and is currently exclusively available on the XBox Live Arcade, by Danish game developers Playdead Studios, which consisted of 8 official people. As of the writing of this review they have only this game published. It's a puzzle game, but trust me, this isn't your everyday puzzle game.
Doing the bleep test in LIMBO is different than in school, you have two teachers and if you don't beat your old score you get "the stick".
In LIMBO, you play as this little boy, who's name you don't know, who is looking for his sister in a place named LIMBO, which in Catholic terms, is on the edge of Hell. You don't know why he is looking for his sister, but that he is. The game is set in monochromatic black and white tones; there are no other colours in the game. The only things you can do are move, jump, and pull, push, and turn on switches. But that's all you need to do, the game mechanics work a treat with the setup.

Before I move any further, this game is an 18+ game, it truly is, not because it's gory, it's not, but it is graphic. The little unnamed boy, he dies, a lot. In many horrendous ways. It's arguably controversial, little boys don't die often in video games, especially the deaths available in this game. So if that freaks you out, then I'd not recommend you play it. However, if that doesn't bother you, let's move on.
George was the master of the one foot off the box stance in gym, he could even do it with birds pecking at him.
LIMBO is essentially a puzzle game, you must use the few options mentioned above to make your way through the playing field. The landscape changes as the game moves on, from a forest to a native village, to an industrial site. These landscapes are all fantastically detailed despite it being in black and white. Moving through this game is basically doing puzzle after puzzle, and the object of the puzzle is usually surviving the scenario. This can be something as simple as pulling a crate to a high up ledge for leverage, to jumping over large bear traps that will decapitate you. The puzzles get more and more complex, often depending on the critical timing of turning on a switch to using gravity or magnetic force fields. Don't worry about the deaths though; this sombre game is, quite depressingly, about dying. You almost have to die to understand what you have to do, and the game is gracious enough to place you very close to the scenario you tried to progress through. There is an XBox Live achievement for dying less than 5 times in one game, and trust me, that's difficult (I've not done it).

I mentioned the native village before, there are natives in this game, however, for an unexplained reason (nothing is explained in this game) they are out to kill you. They provide the unnamed boy with further difficulty in his quest to find his sister. Apart from the natives, the only other live species in the game are gigantic spiders, that are awfully creepy and lethal, small mind controlling worms, some birds, a wasp and some unnamed hamster-esque creatures. Apart from these it's you and your obstacles. It's a very lonely game but that doesn't mean it lacks for it. This is a game about survival and progression, and your thoughts and decisions will evolve around that.
Man, these spiders are just creepy. I can't even joke.
Speaking of loneliness, to emphasise this, there is no music. Nothing. All you hear in this game is the environment, which typically is usually your movements and what you're moving. As you progress, the natives don't speak, but the animals/creatures have their signature sounds. As you progress you will hear ambience, which further adds to the mood, but still no music. This makes the mood of the game even more prominent.

LIMBO does lack in a few things, but they are subtleties really. There has been criticism about the ending for LIMBO, without spoiling it, it's a very abrupt ending. You will just go, "oh, that's it?" My personal take on the ending, is that despite its abruptness, it's open for interpretation, much like the game itself, and makes you think about what happens. My main beef with LIMBO is that it's quite short, from start to finish it's a few hours long, you might on your first run take about 4 or 5 hours, which isn't too bad for a downloadable game, but once you know what to do in this game it dramatically shortens the game. You can finish this game in two hours, maybe even one, if you know what to do. The game depends on its first playthrough, which is disappointing as it does lack replayability in this instance.

That being said, it's that first playthrough that stands out. It's a fantastic puzzle game, a brilliant open-ended story, and one phenomenal experience. LIMBO creeps me out more than any game I've played in years. It's a truly magnificent piece of art, one I'd recommend anyone open to dark stories to play, or even watch. LIMBO is available for a relatively steep price of 1200 gamerpoints. Don't let the price sway you however; you will be counting every gamerpoint well spent after playing this game. Don't believe me? Download the free demo, you won't be disappointed.

Rating: ****1/4

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