Thursday, 12 July 2012

Game Review: Limbo

When I first started to play Limbo I wasn't sure what to expect. Reputed to be one of the best and most commercially successful indie games of all time, it had a lot to live up to. Vaguely aware of the game's art style due to stills on gaming websites, I loaded it up, but was completely unprepared for the game that came up before me. Because what stills of the game and reviews fail to encapsulate, is how much of the appeal and experience of Limbo lies in the atmosphere created by the animation and sound (or lack thereof). On the surface, Limbo is standard platformer, pretty much as simple as they come. There is nothing in the way of story within the game itself; Playdead only gave the game the tagline: Unsure of his sister’s fate, a boy enters the unknown. But it is this simplicity and ambiguity wherein lies the genius of Limbo.

On starting a new game the screen transitions from black to a dark forest in which the boy lies. The graphics are in greyscale, images in the forefront and background are out of focus, only the playable area is sharp. The screen flickers like an old black and white movie but nothing happens. I waited for my player to move, or for some indication that the game had begun, but until I pressed one of the arrow keys, the boy remained flat on his back. Upon hitting the key, the boy's eyes light up and he slowly got to his feet before waiting again for my command. This was the first indication that Limbo was not the usual spoon feeding game, that would offer instructions and hints in order to help the player solve a puzzle. The game required the player from the first instance to be proactive and learn how to control the boy themselves.

The boy's first challenge is climbing off of a tree trunk. It is completely simple, requiring only that he drops or jumps down close to the edge so he lands safely on the sloping ground below. From the top of the tree trunk it is impossible to see the ground and requires the boy to make a leap of faith. If the boy takes a running jump off of the trunk he will fall to his death, teaching the player early on in the game that being overly confident and taking action without thinking will get them nowhere. The player continues with care and trepidation, adding to the tense atmosphere instilled by the soundtrack.

It is difficult to underestimate how eerie a game without sound can be. The sound of footsteps, the rustle of trees, the crack of bones:  this is Limbo's soundtrack, at least in the earlier stages of the game. The distinct absence of sound in the initial stages, makes the louder sounds in the later levels all the more significant. The violent snap of the animal traps sent me flying about a foot in the air and shocked my system with adrenaline.

By now, the reader has probably sensed a strong sense of fear from this reviewer. This is due to the fact that (bear in mind I am a massive fan of the survival horror genre) Limbo is the most terrifying game I have ever played. The boy stumbles across dead bodies in cages, floating in pools of water and littered on the ground.  Seeing the spider creep silently behind you as you run away is far more affecting than any overproduced megaboss with frantic music of a Triple A title along the lines of the Legend of Zelda, Metroid and selected bosses of the Metal Gear series. The other boy figures who attack the player with dart guns and swinging traps make the outdoor area feel like Lord of the Flies without the cheery beginning, giving the game very sinister overtones.

The boy never gains any skills or power-ups, in this way the gameplay is very pure. Like other popular indie title Super Meat Boy, the difficulty of the game increases as new mechanics are introduced in each level. The boy must learn to time jumps, destroy body-possessing brain slugs and use anti-gravity switches in order to progress.  There are stages in which the whole level move and rotates (once in semi-darkness) which require great concentration on the players part, other levels which require different switches to be pressed quickly in order for the boy to reach the next level. The gameplay is innovative and the controls easy to use, with only two buttons: jump and action. Taking everything back to basics  allows Limbo to offer something original and atmospheric. The game doesn't last very long, you will finish it in a couple of hours, but if you are looking for something a little bit different and whole lot of dark I urge you to give Limbo a look.

Developer: Playdead
Publisher: Microsoft Studios, Playdead
Platforms: XBLA, PSN, Windows, Mac OSX, Linux
Release Date: 21st July 2010
Players: 1
Price: £6.99

By Emma-Lee Davidson


Limbo explains its mechanics at a very relaxed gait, but never directly. This is usually a risky move (something I'd dock points for); making a game out of learning how to play can leave players unable to play the actual game. I felt Limbo did this well enough not to blemish an otherwise excellent design.

Nice review ;)

Thank you! Yes, it was very well done. It's slow pace allowed players to work things out independently without becoming frustrated. And it's just so beautiful :)

*Its. And I mean the game was, not the review, haha!

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