Xbox 360’s Summer of Arcade doesn’t start with a bang but more of a low pitch rumble, drawing your attention to something special. In this case, it’s Playdead Games’ LIMBO. With childlike whimsy, the game feeds you a sense of comfort and a little confusion then all of a sudden, falls into a darker tone where you realise it’s a fight for survival. In this review, I’ll do my best not to spoil any of the treats that await you in LIMBO and try not to sound like I have shares in the game. I don’t. I just really enjoyed it.
First off I’d say when downloading LIMBO, try not to read the description on Xbox Live Marketplace. It completely spoils the narrative and I’m unsure why anything was written there. Microsoft could have simply put that LIMBO is a puzzling platformer with a unique and atmospheric presentation. Made as if some kind of twisted diorama, the world is only black, white and shades of grey, with the darkest objects being those in the foreground. This is where the boy you control is laying when the game begins. He awakes in a forest with little else known about him. Why is he there? And why must he explore the world? You find out in some form at the end but it’s also left up to your own imagination as to what exactly went on.
Artistically, LIMBO is nothing short of brilliance. For roughly the first third of the game, music is absent and only the eerie sound effects of the environment can be heard. Occasionally there’ll be a burst of sound to build tension or to signify an event is happening off screen that you should be aware of. The animations are charming but also quite creepy, especially if you’re less than comfortable with spiders. Early on the boy is continuously hounded by a giant arachnid but does eventually get his own back in slightly gruesome manner. The boy himself shows little emotion as he and the few other lifeforms in LIMBO are mostly a silhouette. Only the boy’s eyes glow whereas the others do not. The lack of animated emotion actually makes everything feel all the more real as it allows you to decide what the mood of the world is. You quickly discover that something isn’t quite right however as if you’re being lured into traps and objects are placed in peculiar ways, sending curiosity through the roof and driving your exploration forward.
Controls are very simple. The right stick moves you either left or right, A is jump and B is either grab or activate. Most of the time you’ll be pushing or pulling objects like boxes or climbing ropes and manipulating the surroundings, all so you can solve the puzzle of how to continue your journey. As you progress through the game, the world seamlessly advances in technology around you. You start off with giant spiders and a woodland setting, right through to laser guided machine guns and anti-gravity panels. Such a constant evolution of scenery keeps the levels and puzzles from feeling like your revisiting similar concepts. These puzzles are a definite challenge and just when it seems like there’s a theme to the solutions, Playdead cleverly and quickly change the rules. However, with challenge comes frustration and LIMBO has a few moments that will test your patience. One puzzle in particular seemed as if it could never be solved until I consulted with fellow games enthusiast Lauren Wainwright (check out her review here) who showed the error of my ways. But those 30 minutes of utter confusion I experienced soured my feelings ever so slightly. It’s lucky then that LIMBO rewards determination with its fantastic art-style and a joyful satisfaction when a tough puzzle is cracked. Check points are generously marked every few minutes because Playdead want you to get accustomed to the trial and error nature of gameplay. If it looks as if you can reach an area not directly on your path, go for it as this is generally where the achievements and Avatar Awards are found.
LIMBO will last you around four hours and chapters can be replayed once finished. A few instances shocked me and the end was an endearing conclusion – or at least I chose to believe it was. The puzzling element was approachable to all kinds of gamer and the presentation oozed charm that bigger budget studios should take notice of. For 1,200 MS Points (£10.28/€14.40/$15) you’ll be getting a great game and a wonderful experience that is missed once completed. I can’t recommend it enough, buy it, you’ll love it.
An outstanding experience that goes above and beyond expectations.