Normally, I can't stand artsy games because they're so self indulgent that they're not fun in the slightest. Sadly, that about sums up 80% of indie games out there, and I blame Braid for allowing this to happen. But if you're lucky to find any within the 20% that's actually got some *bleep*ing modesty, then you'll find yourself enjoying yourself. Limbo is a part of the 20%. Its art style may tell you otherwise, but it's a physics based puzzle platformer that doesn't have its head up its ass. Oh, and Limbo is pretty damn cool.
There isn't really a story - at least, not if you take it at face value. No cutscenes or dialogue is present. Just you, the environment and the visual style, which is meant to represent limbo (hence the name of the game). In fact, it's the visuals that tell the story. As pretentious as that might sound, it helps keep the game flowing at a smooth pace, and when complimented by the fact that it's like going through one big level, I think it helps greatly to not have cutscenes and shit interrupt the game. Anyway, from what I can tell, some kid has to go through a forest and the inside of a gigantic industrial building in limbo in order to rescue some girl, but that's probably the most basic interpretation of it - some people have linked it to heaven and hell, some have linked the girl to paradise and the environment to hell - it's open to interpretation, really.
At its core, it's a puzzle platformer, which means you'll either be using physics to your advantage or just pushing and pulling boxes to climb on so that you can reach something a touch too high for you to reach. Most of them aren't real brain busters, nor do they require any complex thought. Nope. This one requires some reflexes and good old trial and error, but before you get shitty, this is the GOOD kind of trial and error – you know, the one that feels rewarding after you finally solve a puzzle, not that crap leap of faith because the developers are talentless hacks and don't know what a legitamite challenge looks like kind. Each failure is mostly your fault for not figuring out the timing or where to go, although it's lame when you die because a boulder came out of nowhere. That's just cheap, but then again, you'll know for next time.
One thing that might get to you is jumping. While far from broken, it can feel a tad unnatural. It's realistic, meaning you'll only jump a modest height and can only cover some horizontal distance when you jump while running – but that's not the problem because that actually feels right. No, the problem is that if you hold up for even a couple of microseconds after landing, you'll jump. That can screw you over in some situations. Sometimes though, the jumping can feel a little delayed, like you jump a second after pressing jump. Not very good if you react just as you're about to fall off the edge – because it handles realistically, you may find yourself jumping a little too late.
Another noteworthy thing is the difficulty spike between the two halves. In the first half of the game, you'll find yourself getting through each segment with little to no issues, but once you get a bit into the factory, you'll find yourself dying at least twice on each puzzle that has something which can pose a threat. During the first half, you'll be pushing and pulling stuff and jumping over some things. In the second half, you'll be doing the same thing with somewhat trickier layouts... plus dealing with water and gravity, whether it's a rotating room or switches that manipulates your gravity – to put it simply, the first half is easy with maybe one kind of tricky puzzle, while the second hard throws the kitchen sink at you. It's not gamebreaking or even bad. In fact, if you like surprises, you'll love this. It just makes the first half seem a little... eh.
But on the flipside, the second half is better only in gameplay. Sure, that sounds like a great thing because that's all games are about, but the first half is where Limbo feels more... complete. In the first half, yeah, the puzzles are almost too simple and dying is rare, but the atmosphere in the first half is just *bleep*ing brilliant. Imagine a dark, desolate forest that's so dark, that all you can see is black and grey, all topped off with fog. The puzzles are simple enough to allow you to immerse yourself more into the atmosphere. Sure, the second half is just as dark and feels cold and mechanical (which makes sense as you're in a factory), but the atmosphere just isn't as strong, plus the puzzles are a bit too hard to allow you to get into it... but I guess if they were going for uninviting, they sure got it!
That's the thing with Limbo – it's a mostly atmospheric fare. The idea is to let these minimalistic graphics with naught but black silhouettes and grainy greys in the background to paint the picture that you may have stumbled into limbo. To say that it looks effective is like saying the grass is green – no *bleep*ing shit it's effective! It just draws you in, leaving you unsuspecting of what's going to happen next or what you're going to make happen next.
The sound also draws you in. At first, all you hear are footsteps and the echoing windy sound you'd usually hear in a hollow mansion hall. But then comes an abruptly loud sound – this wants you to know that shit's going down, like a boulder speeding towards you, or a spider chasing you. It wants you to know you just got impaled, carved up into little pieces or electrocuted because you screwed up a jump. That's what the sound design does here; it just draws you in, delivering this tense atmosphere, and then all of a sudden, BAM, something's coming and you may or may not know what to do!
Holy shit, this review wound up sounding pretentious, but that's what games like this do to me. But like I said, it's not completely self indulgent. Its attempt at artistry is not in an effort to look deep; it's in an attempt to create an atmosphere alongside the sound, with the gameplay build around it. That's the big thing that seperates this game from 80% of indie games – the gameplay is built AROUND the atmosphere, not just shoehorned because there's profit to be had.
It starts off basic enough with you just pushing blocks and jumping over some gaps, but then the second half introduces new elements. The first half goes well with the atmosphere, while the second half functions a lot better game-wise, although *bleep*, some of those puzzles are hard.
Simple enough, although jumping can be a little tricky dicky if you don't get enough of a run up or hold up on the keyboard after getting up, or if you just press it during the wrong frame of animation.
Although it's not told through cutscenes, the environment tells it all, which keeps the game flowing smoothly while telling the story.
It really does feel like you're in limbo - what, with all the whites, blacks and shades of grey, and everybody and everything is a silhouette, helping to create a melancholic, desolate purgatory-esque atmosphere.
To add to the atmosphere is your usual droning ambient noise, which serves as music. It keeps things tense, and when you hear something other than footsteps, you know something's coming.
It only lasts about 3 hours, but if you're going for all of the achievements... let's just say it might take a while to beat the entire game in less than 5 deaths.
It can seem a little too reliant on trial and error, but it's so satisfying when you get through tricky bits. Course, it's more satisfying if you do it on your own – no cheating with Youtube video walkthroughs. The only problem is when some of the hazards just come out of nowhere, but the respawn point is practically beside where you die.
Limbo *bleep*en rules. It has a great atmosphere and some rocking puzzles to boot. The jumping is a little off and some bits can come across as cheap, but other than that, this is a game you practically have to experience.
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