You open your eyes and see a muted blackness permeated by a fluid melody of grays. A morbid forest of sorts is displayed before you. No explanations are offered within the silence. Only your instinct and curiosity usher you forward as you move along. The shadows of the land are not so much around you, as they are land itself. A wrong step, a misplaced jump, and Death find’s you at the bottom of lake gasping for air, or upon the sharpened stakes of a death pit. You somehow rise again and take knowledge in the pain you experienced. Success fills you with pride as you trek further into the voided deepness of the woods. Suddenly, with a cold and hungry malice, you come across a most horrifying predator. Pairs of hairy, stinging limbs reach out to make your world darker. Death follows in droves yet again, but your pleasure beings to amp up, and you rise over and over again to meet the challenge and oblivion ahead.
That's the first 10 minutes of Limbo in a nutshell for me.
When I first started to review developer PlayDead's Limbo, I had already heard a great wealth of buzz going around for the console version. Everything from gameplay to artistic direction was praised in a plethora of positive lights. Now, I consider myself to be a “hardcore Gamer”, (even though the definition seems to change from time to time). Certain elements like tight platforming and out of the norm design are a given for me to enjoy, or at least appreciate.
So I told myself I would take a step back from this game and view it as the most casual of gamers would. Too see it in a different light.
The first thing I noticed about the game is that it wastes absolutely no time at all in getting you going. It relies on your intuition to just get in it and get gaming. The controls are silky smooth and quite responsive, with options for the keyboard or game pad support. You can move left or right and jump, and hold action to move objects. Not exactly the most challenging of setups, so a quick start is pretty easy. The game does not spend time with unnecessary clutter on screen, which seems to help the immersion of gameplay.
Graphics are the first thing many people judge when they start a game. With the robust amount of gore soaked shooters and sun soaked racing games out on the market, there is an abundant loving amount of high definition graphics flowing from screens like a bloody rainbow version of Niagara Falls. So to take all the color out of a game and rely on its appeal alone seems to be a bad decision eh?
Not so much.
The muted tones of Limbo's look not only seems to be an attempt at an interesting art choice, but feels like it's going further than that. The seeping darkness of the game sets a wonderful setting in which your focus stays intently with the character and the world around him. In part, the lack of brilliant colors in the game actually draws your attention deeper to the dangers abound. Just viewing this as a casual gamer I can see the appeal of the art. It's clean and fluid, and doesn't get in the way with bothersome info.
For myself, I felt like this is one the best candidates for the “games as art” debate. The character's journey through the game world feels like a wade through a nightmare for redemption or answers. While the character is looking for his sister, the game offers little to nothing on this. So if you didn't know about it, (which I didn't till near the end of the game), it still plays out well. The dream like qualities of the game carry a sort of Lovecraftian nature to them which adds well to the lack of information given to you, making it seem almost appropriate. The praise on Limbo's graphic display seems well deserved in my opinion.
The gameplay is a standard platforming adventure with a fair share of puzzles included. While the layout of the game world can be unforgiving at times, ending with often painful deaths, there is no penalty levied against you for failing. In fact, after death the game respawns you back a mere few seconds from where you were. No loading screen or waiting period. Got caught up in a massive spinning industrial buzz-saw, impaled by a stalking spider, or crushed under the weight of a boulder? No problem. By the time you stretch your finger your shadowy avatar is back for another run at the gauntlet. Limbo's physics seem to have a nice balance of weight and pull implemented, which makes for some very interesting puzzles….and equally interesting demises.
It may seem off to compare this game to Angry Birds, but it strikes me that many people love that game due to its quick pick up and play style. No feeling bad about failing, just pure game and action all through. Limbo hits that sweet spot with no issue. You can easily sink a lunch period into this game without much thought, but not to many. While the game is fun, it is short. Though for its price and aim, it's not exactly surprising. That said, this game offers you a lot in the experience for the asking price.
Final Score 9.5/10
While the game has a few shortcomings, like a lacking narrative of what's actually happening and its quick run through time. Overall, it was an amazing experience for me as a gamer and as “art fan”. This game is most definitely worth your time and money. Once I hit the end, I was asking for more story and much more game, (in a very good way). It really does feel like a true digital masterpiece of our day and age.
Here's hoping that we see a lot more from PlayDead and maybe even a continuation of the Limbo adventure.