Limbo Review

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Limbo Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Playdead

Platform: Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360

"Uncertain of his sister's fate, a boy enters Limbo." That's all the plot synopsis there is for Limbo, and even that seems strange and irrelevant after playing Limbo. In truth, Limbo is a horrifying place where life is separated from a gruesome death by a mere shuffling step, and even death isn't enough to escape from horrifying machines, weapons of war, giant arachnids and lucifugous brain parasites.

Kyle Ackerman

Limbo is a fabulously stylistic hardcore platformer that takes players on a brief journey through a horrifying, yet calm world. In Limbo, everything looks like a dark paper cut-out against a grey background, with fuzzy filters making everything seem like an old film or a particularly dreary hallucination. It matches those visuals with a stylized gore that makes each gotcha-style execution of the protagonist both dreadful and somehow beautiful.

In Limbo, you will die... often... and horribly. Looking past the game's stylized visuals, Limbo is a straightforward platformer with tons of gotcha moments. After falling prey to an unexpected doom, you have the opportunity to replay that brief moment over and over again until you pass that obstacle, only to face the next challenge as many times as may be necessary. This turns Limbo into a long string of puzzles. The puzzles are clever, but every challenge is a show-stopper if you can't figure it out, because of the linearity of the platforming scheme.

Ultimately, Limbo could be completed in three hours, but it's more likely to take twice that. One puzzle involving a giant mosquito left me asking for help, just to confirm that my plan (that I'd tried over and over and over) was correct, if poorly executed. The story is irrelevant, and the game's theme is, at best, nihilistic. It's really just a collection of themed puzzles, starting with a swamp theme laden with bear traps, venturing through a spider's lair (I hate spiders!), leaping around a flooding industrial setting, avoiding electrified surfaces and ultimately facing shifting gravity and rotating rooms.

Developer Playdead did a marvelous job of gradually introducing puzzle elements so that by the time I reached the most complex challenges in a zone, I was well-prepared. But that doesn't make the puzzles intuitive. The game is brilliantly clever in a hardcore fashion, but it's far from a casual experience. Constant gruesome deaths and puzzles that rely on minimal visual and auditory cues are exciting for an experienced gamer, but aren't going to draw in new gamers. Survival is its own reward in Limbo. There are no fancy cut-scenes, just a dim, flickering image and a chance to try another deathtrap for each success.

At $15 and a bit over three hours (everything more is frustration and repetition), Limbo is a clever game whose visuals and inspired puzzles make the horrifying deaths more than worthwhile. But what did I learn from this game that others have dubbed a "masterpiece" or "hauntingly beautiful"? That the world is a dreary and deadly place, and that the boy protagonist loves ripping the limbs from insects.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on August 2, 2010 8:50 PM.

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