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PLATFORM: Xbox Live Arcade
PRICE: 1200 Points ($15)
ESRB RATING: T (Teen)
DEVELOPER: Playdead Games
PUBLISHER: Xbox LIVE Arcade
This boy will be shot, dismembered, hacked to pieces, stabbed, electrified, bludgeoned, drowned… and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
Well, you can try. But chances are you’ll be doing a lot of dying while playing through this haunting, unique game.
The press notes tell us that the story is about a boy who’s looking for his sister in some sort of strange otherworldly limbo but there’s no story given to us at all during the game. In fact, there’s no opening cinematic, no dialogue, nothing except a boy trying to traverse an incredibly dangerous world, looking for a shadowy girl who seems constantly beyond his reach.
What makes up for lack of an overt plot is the mood and atmosphere, which the game just absolutely seeps. This is a dark, shadowy, frightening world, one that you’ll love exploring.
Limbo is basically a sidescrolling puzzler, somewhat similar to 2008’s hit Braid but nowhere near as pretentious or laden with excruciating poetry. Controls that consists of an analog stick and two buttons (for running and interacting) mean that it’s simple enough for anyone to pick up and play What makes the game unique (besides its shadowy setting) is the fact that you’re never given the slightest inkling of what to do or how to proceed. It’s refreshing in this age of hour-long tutorials, of being held by the hand at every point and told exactly what button to press and when to press it. Older gamers will find it very reminiscent of the genre’s forefathers like Out of This World, Flashback and Heart of Darkness, games that just throw you into a violent world and question how long you can survive in it.
The answer usually is- not long. Pretty much everything in the game is a danger to you and you’ll frequently see your poor little guy get splattered into pieces. But it’s all about the trial and error, learning from your mistakes and figuring your way through the world. It’s the puzzles that make the game shine- they’re never so difficult as to impede your progress for too long, but they change up with enough frequency to constantly be trying new tactics. It’s just incredibly satisfying to figure out how to get past the next headscratcher- all by yourself without any help from the game!- without seeing your guy become a puddle of gore.
The stunning lightning, the shadows drifting across your vision, your character’s piercing, glowing eyes… these screenshots really do nothing to show you how great the game looks in motion. Check the trailer for a better idea, and then imagine it on your nice HDTV.
As great as the graphics are, so is the sound design. Limbo is mostly a silent affair, with your footsteps usually being the sole source of sound. But when enemies or obstacles appear they do so with jarring sounds, seemingly intended to rattle you and certainly achieving its goal. The few tracks of music that play at key moments are similarly effective.
The length of the game might be the one factor that keeps people afraid of picking it up, because at around three to four hours it’s really a short game. At 15 bucks for the game, it’s a bit rough, but hell, you’ll spend 17 bucks to see a 3d movie right? It’s all about the experience here, and this one is top notch.
Besides, there are lots of hidden achievements that will make you go back and try through the game again, very clever ones that are cryptically described and pretty hard to find. It does encourage repeat playthroughs, and this is the kind of game you’ll want to shove in your friends’ hands when they come over just to show it off.
An incredibly beautiful and well-designed game, the kind we could definitely do with a few more of. Playdead has done a tremendous job here, and their four years (!) of development on this specific title has certainly paid off, showing more polish and innovation than from studios ten times its size.
Limbo is the first of this year’s Xbox360 “Summer of Arcade” titles, and it will be very surprising if it manages to get topped.