Wednesday, 14 December 2011


Post-Launch Review
Developer: Playdead
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios (XBox), Playdead (PS3, Windows)
Released: July 21 2010 (XBox Live), July 19 2011 (PSN), August 2 2011 (Steam)

Limbo is a puzzle-platform black-and-white sidescroller about a boy searching for his sister. The graphics are fuzzy and moody, calling to mind film noir and early animation more than typical game graphics. The gameplay is of a style called “trial by death” by the developers — the player is expected to die at least once before solving most puzzles.

At Launch
Critics loved Limbo. According to Metacritic, it received not a single negative review, and only one average review. Its average score is 90%. Its graphics and sound were considered exceptional. Reviewers were pleasantly surprised with the surprising complexity of the puzzles compared to the simplicity of the game's controls. Reviewers were split on the lack of direct narrative: some loved the feeling of alienation and discovery, while others felt that the unexplained workings of the world and the player's motivations detracted from the experience. Professional critics cited the game's length-to-price ratio as poor; this stance was questioned by an indie uprising asking why such a ratio is brought up for games but not for other forms of media.

Post Launch
Limbo received a small patch to fix a bug and improve functionality. Post launch support mostly focused on publishing an XBox retail version, as well as PSN and Steam ports. The game earned a multitude of awards for its unique presentation and gameplay.
The Good
Art Direction
Limbo is minimalistic, fuzzy, monochromatic, and moody. The presentation is fantastic, with the filters and colour scheme calling to mind early animation and film noir. My screenshots look nice, but they don't do it justice — you have to see the game in motion to fully appreciate it.
Sound Design
There's almost no music in Limbo. Soft, atmospheric background audio contrasts with the sharper, clearer sounds of the player's movements and actions. The quiet wind and rustling of leaves are the only sounds in the forest, other than the player's footsteps. As the player progresses into an industrial area, booming mechanical sounds are used for some major events, which make the previously quiet natural game feel imposingly artificial.
The combination of the art style, sound design, and ambling pace make Limbo a surprisingly creepy, haunting game, made doubly so by corpses in the background and the shockingly brutal and visceral death animations and effects. I'd almost call it a horror game.
The puzzles are quite clever, and the “trial by death” approach is both amusing and disturbing (but in a good way). There's an achievement for playing all the way through the game in one sitting with five deaths or less, and I decided I'd earn it on my first playthrough. Was I ever wrong!
My favourite puzzle is actually a series of puzzles revolving around a giant spider early on in the game, which is a very creepy enemy. Actually, the spider reminds me of the giant bug scene in Peter Jackson's King Kong remake: the silence makes the scene way creepier than it ever would have been with music.

On the PC, arrow keys move the player, and Ctrl is to grab objects. That's it. Reminds me of old 8-bit stuff, in a good way.
The Neutral
Minimal Plot
I'm throwing this in neutral not because I found it a problem, but because you might. There is no direct narrative at all: not a single line of dialogue, not a single sentence of text, nary a cutscene. In fact, the bare-bones line “Uncertain of his sister's fate, a boy enters LIMBO” is not even presented to the player by the game, only by its product description.
I didn't have any problems with this. Personally I felt the game didn't need it, and may even have been weakened with more exposition or explanation. I am a little curious as to who or what the world's inhabitants are, and how the mysterious mechanisms function, but I don't think it's important to the experience.
Spoilers here, skip to the verdict if you want to avoid them!
I'd like to hear what other players thought of the ending. The boy breaks through a pane of glass out of the industrial area back into the forest, to find a girl. He approaches her, she seems startled. Credits roll. During the credits, we see the same scene, but the boy and girl are gone, replaced by clouds of flies. My interpretation of this is that they're both dead, but their spirits were reunited after a trip through limbo. Let me know what you think in the comments, and please throw a spoiler tag up there for the benefit of those who'd like to avoid them.
The Verdict
Recommendation: Absolutely play it.
Limbo is $10 on Steam. It may not be a long game but it's absolutely worth it. You may have noticed that there's no “The Bad” section in this review. That's because I didn't have any problems with any part of the game. I hesitate to call anything perfect, but I'm at a loss as to how Limbo could be improved. The presentation is top-notch, with a simple elegance that puts some AAA releases to shame. I was totally blown away by this game, and I'm definitely going to recommend it to all the gamers I know.

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