Sunday, 8 July 2012

Monday Review: Limbo

If you are looking for a puzzle-platformer about an unidentified boy lost in a mysterious forest for unknown reasons, look no further than LIMBO. Without text, speech, and music, this game kept me enthralled for hours. The designers of Limbo focused on refining game play and aesthetics rather than creating context. The people at Playdead games created something that made me want to play from start to finish. Limbo is more of an experience than anything else.

I was interested in Limbo since I first saw it's trailer. It's approach to death was new and intriguing to me. There is no punishment for death; you simply respawn back at conveniently placed checkpoints. Trust me, you're going to respawn often - at least I did. It's much easier to dive head first into each puzzle and learn how the world is trying to kill you, as opposed to sizing up the situation from afar. I learned early on that cautiously approaching anything led to unkind dupes - and ultimately entertaining deaths. In Limbo, death is a learning tool. 

I explored the carefully constructed world of Limbo for hours. I had never imagined a game could be so stunningly beautiful. The atmosphere is somewhere between a disturbing nightmare and a terrifying nightmare. The black and white silhouettes are smooth and effective. The lighting is halfway between fuzzy and hazy; objects drop in and out of focus seamlessly. Throughout the game you travel between a forest, factory and cityscape, each more mindbogglingly unsettling. Everything is accentuated by an impressive soundscape. It's obvious that sound in Limbo serves a purpose to isolate and disturb. Ambient tones build upon important moments of the game. However, most of the time, the only thing you can hear is the the sound of your footsteps coupled with the whistle of the forest or the humming of a factory. If you're anything like me, you will feel some chills while playing this game.

What's a puzzle-platformer without puzzles to solve and platforms to traverse? Limbo exceeds in both these aspects. The puzzles in particular are refreshingly difficult. There's no tutorial in this quirky horror. The designers of the game encourage you to experiment with the environment. Early on in the game, I jumped, pushed boxes and swung on ropes to avoid pitfalls and bear traps. It wasn't before long that I had to overcome giant spiders, electricity and even gravity to survive. There's no real 'trick' to each puzzle. All the tools are out in the open; you just have to use them to keep moving forward. Despite that fact, it took me an embarrassingly long time to solve more than a few puzzles.

Limbo didn't hold my hand when it came to platforming either. I needed quick reflexes and precision timing to survive most of the puzzles later into the game. Some moments took me back to the days of Crash Bandicoot - those were tough days. Limbo definitely kept me on my toes; at one point I had to dodge buzz saws and boulders while the factory around me turned upside down. 

Limbo isn't without shortcomings. I still don't know what it was trying to achieve. It obviously wasn't trying to tell a narrative. While the environment changes atmosphere fluidly, I feel as though it would be more effective if it had tried to achieve one specific tone. The beginning of the game felt uniquely morbid; I was a little bit impressed when I used a child's corpse to solve a puzzle. However, that was the weirdest thing I had to do in the game. That moment was so early on I thought that the game's only option was to build from there. I was disappointed when all the puzzles became familiar factory mind-benders. You'll find the usual giant gears, conveyer belts, floor buttons and electrified surfaces like in other puzzle games.

I seriously recommend that you just ignore the last paragraph and buy this game. 

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