- July 19, 2010 11:07 AM PT
LIMBO has been on our radar ever since we first got a glimpse of PlayDead Studio's strange, colorless world, and everytime we were given a demo or shown a new level, our interest grew. Now that the game is finally here, we're happy to see that it lives up to its immense potential. We wouldn't dare bring up the "are games art" discussion here, because we don't want to obscure the impact that LIMBO can have, but we will say this: no matter which side of the divide you stand on, there is no denying that LIMBO is one of the most memorable titles you will ever experience.
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There are a lot of words I can use to describe PlayDead Studios’ LIMBO– genius, eerie, and haunting, for instance—but the more I think about this incredibly crafted game, the more I realize that all those words simply don’t do enough to describe the essence and feel of this Independent Games Festival standout. More than anything else, LIMBO struck me as being wonderfully macabre. It seems almost obsessed with the idea of death, not as a punishment for failure, but as a necessary and inevitable tool I needed to inch forward through each difficult task. In one weekend, I’ve seen the nameless child hero of the game electrocuted, dismembered, ripped to shreds, drowned, and beaten to death, which would almost be funny if it weren’t so unsettling.
It takes a powerful game to cling to your emotions long after you’ve turned the console off and gone about your day-to-day life, and in that respect, LIMBO is indeed mighty. As I played through the game this weekend, I eventually realized that the dark, dreary monochrome world in which LIMBO takes place was actually depressing me. The entire world of LIMBO, and the darkness, violence, and silence it contains, helped make LIMBO a downright chilling experience.
That the world feels so alive despite being completely devoid of color is an incredible achievement. Light and shadow is used to tremendous effect in every section of the game, with backgrounds that merely hint at shapes rather than explicitly defining them. Although your in-game interactions deal exclusively with items and creatures in the world’s foreground, the layers and layers of scenery – trees covered in fog, the faint outline of old decaying buildings, and creaky, decrepit machinery – give a great sense of depth to what would otherwise be sparse environments. Every object in the game, from massive boulders to neon-lit signs to brittle twigs, benefits from an astounding physics engine that makes each action in LIMBO disturbingly life-like. Everything behaves realistically, but the game plays some really clever tricks that lead to some surprising moments (but I won’t spoil any of those here). Some truly brilliant sound editing also helps flesh out the world: tufts of grass crunch beneath the main character’s feet, metallic grinding can be heard from afar in industrial settings, and the music crescendos subtly whenever some appropriately life-threatening danger arises.
The game has a sad and morose feel to it, and will no doubt leave an impression.
And there is plenty of danger to be found in LIMBO. As you control this fragile boy on his quest to find his sister, there are a number of challenges to overcome. The world of LIMBO is fraught with various hazards including giant spiders, gunfire, sharp blades, and bone-crushing boulders, and the only tools you have to at your disposal are quick reflexes and even quicker thinking. LIMBO’s gameplay is almost entirely based on platforming, so every puzzle is solved by some variant of a well-timed jump, or a useful platform being dragged to the right place. LIMBO provides no hint system for helping you figure out how to cross seemingly impossible (and often booby trapped) caverns, but each section is wonderfully designed with visual and audible clues that give you all the tools you need. Each section is a “eureka” moment waiting to happen, and though some puzzles require a bit of experimentation—and as I mentioned above, a few sacrificial deaths—each solution makes “sense.”
Your character’s relative fragility also adds an interesting layer to the overall experience. Gamers have become accustomed to controlling overpowered heroes with overwhelming powers, but the main character in LIMBO can only jump, run, and pull objects; even simple obstacles like a few feet of water presents a life-and-death challenge. Everything in this world can easily kill you, and adds a real weight to your actions, and you will no doubt feel a sense of genuine trepidation as you line him up for one of the many leaps of faith the game requires.
As a gaming experience, LIMBO succeeds by combining cerebral puzzles with physical ‘twitch’ actions, but what makes it more than just a cool, artsy indie title is the incredible world that PlayDead Studios has created. The suffocating atmosphere brings to mind horror games like Dead Space and the early Silent Hill titles, and the sparse, desolate feel brings to mind Shadows of the Colossus. But LIMBO manages to have its own personality and soul, and that’s something you don’t often hear about a video game. If there’s anything absent from the game, it’s a sense of closure—LIMBO takes less than a few hours to complete, and there’s nothing left to see after the very ambiguous ending. I won’t ruin the ending by talking about it, but I did walk away feeling slightly unfulfilled.
Regardless, LIMBO is an excellent title that PlayDead Studios should be proud of. It’s a strong game that hopefully won’t be overlooked because it’s an “indie” project that doesn’t feature a lot of explosions or guns. It’s a title that, given half a chance, will both impress and disturb you.
PROS: Excellent physics, immersive atmosphere, amazing sound design. Puzzles are ingenious, memorable, and fairly challenging.
CONS: Somewhat short, not much replay value beyond Achievements. Plot doesn’t really provide a definite, satisfying conclusion.
We know its cliched to say that screenshots don't do this game justice, but it static images truly don't convey the same sense of atmosphere or eeriness as the actual game itself. (That's why we put that video up at the top for you.)