When style works with substance
With a title like Limbo, you'd expect a game that makes you think that you're in limbo, and once you start up the game... it's got you, and you're not leaving until you've finished this journey into the deep darkness. Through forest and factory, you will journey on to find out what you're looking for, or where you're going. Are you looking for paradise? Are you looking for your beloved girlfriend/sister? Is it worth going through all of this hell just to find an angel?
These are the questions I've asked myself while playing through this game, because this game doesn't tell the story in a traditional way. There are not cutscenes... or even text, for that matter. Instead, the story is told through the visuals. The art style and the environments you go through cooperate with one another to tell the tale of a boy going through purgatory to find something... I will admit that my interpretation of the events that transpire is very blunt compared to other peoples' interpretations, but to be fair, I would want you to draw your own conclusions from what you see and what your feel inside.
The visual style consists of thick black silhouettes - the kid, the tress, the objects, all black, except for his eyes, which are completely white. The backgrounds are all in different shades of white and grey, but they're all fuzzy. Alone, that's enough to make you believe that you're in a state of limbo or purgatory. The environments will ensure that you are there - the seemingly lush, calm forests, with traps and a giant killer spider awaiting your arrival, will keep you on your toes
But let's not forget the sound design, which immerses you even deeper into the darkness. For the most part, you'll be hearing an ominous wind, which is loud enough to exist, but quiet enough to not dominate everything. Alongside it are the kid's footsteps, which will hint you towards the fact that the key element of the sound design are the sound effects. Loud sounds will alert you of oncoming obstacles. Sometimes, a short but alarming song will play, which gives certain events much more oomph than a simple ominous wind and sound effect combo. It does everything in its power to draw you in, keeping you on your toes, and giving you the feeling that while you're alone in your quest and that everything is against you.
If the ambience of Limbo requires you to use your feelings, then the gameplay requiring you to use logic is a pretty neat combination. It starts off easy enough - push a block here, pull a trap there and jump over the occasional gap - and remains easy until you get a bit into the factory. Once inside, it throws the whole kitchen sink at you. Puzzles at this point will involve brain slugs forcing you to move in one direction that you must get off of you, jumps which require impeccable timing (and I might add that the controls are a bit too fidgety for that) and eventually, you'll need to use magnetic surfaces and gravity to clear rooms. Not to mention, a few rooms will require the usage of water... to get a platform to float up or to let a ball shoot up in the air (the kid can't swim, by the way - either that, or the water's been poisoned).
One thing that has always gotten to people is the length, and I can agree fully - it's only about 3 hours long, meaning this is a short experience. However, some have said that it can be remedied via achievements/trophies - absolutely not! Limbo is a fantastic game to play through the first time, but not the second, and that is because it no longer holds your attention in the same way. You have a good idea of how to solve each puzzle; you know what tricks they'll play on you; and most importantly, you just know, and once you strip that away, all you really have is a puzzle/platformer that, while competently made (some jumping control aside), isn't really... fun, and it makes finding all of the super secret collectibles a chore. I suppose you could say that it's a great example of style > substance and that I and many others are fools for accepting this, but honestly, this is one of those good style > substance kind of games; the sort where the style works with the substance to create an invigorating experience, as opposed to some lame over the top hack and slash with more blood than you can shake a stick at.
Limbo is not a mere game; it is an experience. One does not simply play Limbo for fun; they play it for the experience. The ambience, the way that the game is structured - you can't compare it to something like Mario or even Prototype because they're in different leagues, with different purposes. However, this does not save it from some control and length issues, especially when it's just not nearly as good the second time around. In saying that, the first playthrough is quite a treat and if you have a few hours to spare, you really, really need to get this game and go through it. Now!
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