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FTG Review: Limbo

Limbo is the first production release from Playdead Games an independent game developer from Copenhagen, Denmark.  Limbo releases on July 21st 2010 for the Xbox LIVE Arcade, as of right now Limbo is a Xbox 360 exclusive. Read on to find out if Limbo is for you.

This was a little tricky at first!

General

How do you describe Limbo in one word? This question is a tough one; there really is no one word that encapsulates all that Limbo is. In my play through of Limbo, several words come to mind: artsy, beautiful, dark, eerie, addicting, fun, original, familiar, and AWESOME. When the first screenshots and videos were released for Limbo, I was immediately curious for the game.  It did not have flashy graphics or fast paced gameplay, but there was something that drew me towards it. This coming from an avid first person shooter enthusiast who rarely steps from that mold to try anything new and definitely does not get hyped for downloadable games.

The message at the title screen made me curious when I saw it “This game contains some material that may be offensive”.  What can possibly be in this title to warrant such a warning and to make the game have an option to turn this material off (if you want to know, you need to buy the game; I will not ruin it)?

When the game first starts and that first scene opens to a black and white forest you are instantly drawn into the game, reminiscent of classic horror films with the flickering lights and deep spectrum of whites, blacks and grays, that is so different from what I usually see in my games that it amazed me more than the best graphics I have seen in any Call of Duty title. Then, your protagonist eerily opens his ominously glowing eyes, stands up…and this is where the fun begins.

Whats that sticking out of his head? Play the game find out!

Gameplay

I believe Limbo brings to gaming world what video games have been missing for a long time now: fun, and I mean pure fun. Limbo proves that you don’t need a $100 million dollar budget and a super realistic graphics engines to make a fun and impressive game. Limbo is a side-scrolling puzzle platformer reminiscent to the original Mario Brothers and Prince of Persia circa 1989. Limbo has a sharp but manageable learning curve; many of the puzzles will require multiple attempts to complete them, but this does not distract from the fun.  In fact, it causes the opposite effect, making you want to play so you can achieve the goal. I will admit on a few of the puzzles I found myself becoming  frustrated after a few failed attempts, but this made me feel like a genius when I finally found the procedure needed to pass the puzzle.

Strung out through your journey are traps, pit falls and other dangers (buy the game to find out what!) that will sneak up on you or seemingly appear out of nowhere, they tend to blend in with the scenery due to every thing being either black or a lighter shade of black; a spike will appear to be a tree branch and vice versa, so proceed with caution. Once you find a trap for the first time, you learn to recognize them…but then the developer gets creative on how they place the traps within the game world to keep you on your toes.

When the game starts, you realize there are no tutorials or explanation to what you are doing, who or where you are. After you stand up you gain control of your protagonist, you are not giving directions as to which way to go; just straight up trial and error. After trying one direction, I realized that this was a dead end, turned around and started the other way. Now that I was on the right track, I quickly came to the first of many puzzles. I soon realized that you can not play this game recklessly.  If you do there are consequences that usually result in a black screen and a respawn at the last auto save.

As you travel you need to not only be observant of your path ahead, but the space above and below and even behind you as some threats come from the rear. All the traps, pits, and puzzles you stumble upon have a relatively simple method of solving once you realize how to get past them (this is the hard part). No clues are given as to how to solve the puzzles you come across or on clearing an area; you just jump in and hope you succeed. The game plays out in different types of puzzles, all conected to one another, making one long map. There are no load times or breaks in the action…unless, of course, you die.

The controls are simple and easily learned.  You have your forwards, backwards, climb, and lift up movements controlled with the left analogue stick. You are also given two jump buttons and two grab buttons, reminiscent of an old school Nintendo Entertainment System set up (i.e. A for jump and B for grab or you can use Y for jump and X for grab).

How the hell do you get past this?

Graphics and Sound

The graphics of Limbo are simple but at the same time complex. They are simple in the respect that they are basic 2D side scrolling graphics with no color. The entire game is in black and white with the occasional presence of glowing mushrooms and blobs of glowing liquid. The most eerie aspect of the game to me was the glow of your eyes against the black of your body and the scenery. All depth and contrast is accomplished by using different shades of black, gray, and white, which gives the game an eerily beautiful look that sucks you into the game world. The complexity of the graphics comes from the way that a 3D feel is brought to the game world by bringing objects to the foreground and recessing items in the background by utilizing different shades and brightness of the grayscale. It is an awesome feeling when you pass behind a tree and your character completely disappears and you have no way of knowing if there is a trap or pit fall behind that tree.

The sounds of Limbo will draw you into the environment and make you feel like you are in the world watching this young boy traverse the landscape. There is no back ground music or soundtrack. The sounds you here are birds chirping, flies buzzing around, running water and weather sounds like rain, and all the sounds are well done and lifelike to the point you think the flies or birds are in your house. If you pay attention to the sounds, they will give clues to what is ahead and in a way direct your path. A couple of the times, certain sounds went off and actually made me jump because I was so intently focused on the game…not to mention the fact I was playing in a dark room with my surround sound turned up (which in my opinion is the best way to play).

One thing I think other game developers should pay attention to is that Playdead applied to Limbo is a completely clean game screen. No heads-up display, no achievement pop-ups, and no tutorial blurbs.  Just a clean screen used for playing the game.

Where do you go now?

Overall

My final impression of Limbo can not be put into a written review or properly conveyed by me telling you (even though I tried). To get the true feel of Limbo, one must play this title. Limbo is in a class of its own, with the simplistic nature of the game play, to the eerie feeling you get inside the game world, and the brain busting puzzles; all these aspects come together to make an extremely fun and original game experience. Limbo is easy enough for a casual gamer to pick it up and have fun, while also being a great experience for the most hardcore gamer. I encourage everyone to pick this title up, you will not be disappointed. Do not be turned off by the lack of color and 3D modeling this game is a true work of art (someone should show Ebert) that every gamer should experience.

I will not even break down the score on this game I will just go ahead and say it’s a 10. Yeah, that’s right I think this game is a 10.

FINAL SCORE: 10/10

(EDITOR’S NOTE: JATOSIN received a review copy of the title from Playdead Games and played the game through to completion.)

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