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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: Limbo (XBLA)

Given the awesome news that Limbo will be heading to PSN, it was about time we ran a review of one of the greatest XBLA downloadable games.

Somewhere between the balance of life and death lies Limbo. A frightening realm where there is only light and darkness tangled together fighting for dominance, completely devoid of any true colour. Here is where we meet our unnamed character – a dark silhouette of a gentle young boy that’s easily distinguished by his glowing white eyes. But, why is he here in Limbo? Where this place and what lies in wait before him? There is only one way to find out and that it is to take the first step forward – deeper into uncertainty; Limbo.


The artistic direction of this game is breathtaking


A 2D platform/npuzzle hybrid isn’t anything new in the indie gaming world, but Limbo sets itself apart with a fantastic art style and creative gameplay. Instantly noticeable is that the game is designed in nothing but black and white colours, but don’t be weary of this unique art style because Limbo features some of the best lighting effects we’ve yet seen in a videogame. There are times where the game is dark and creepy, and at other times bright streams of sunlight fill the screen and push away the darkness, drastically changing the mood of the game in extraordinary ways that a game featuring a full colour palate likely couldn’t. Lamp lights tear through the darkness with stunning visual effects, colourless water still somehow reacts like water, and the silhouettes of the varied environments all react all react in a lifelike manner when interacted with, and these are but a few examples how this unique visual style astonishingly brings the world of Limbo to life.

With Limbo being the games title, it’s quite obvious that our young nameless friend will encounter many dangers, but upon taking the first few steps that just isn’t the case at all. Superb character animations like the boys hair flowing upon each step, and his limited jump ability seem lifelike to his size, and the word ‘cute’ came rushing to the forefront of our minds, but the rapid encounter of a bear trap lying in wait on the ground and a mistimed jump resulted in one of the most shocking deaths we’ve experienced yet in a game. The trap sprung onto the boy and instantly dismembered the fragile boy into several pieces, sending black blood flying from his many pieces, and what we had just witnessed had us gasping for air in pure shock. While the gore can be turned off is so desired, it instantly became clear that this isn’t a child’s game; this game is one of survival.

This is not a game for the feint-of-heart. It can be downright brutal on the soul

While there are only a few limited abilities that the nameless boy can perform, the many environmental puzzles are perfectly designed to fit these abilities without ever becoming frustrating – also thanks to frequent save points – but, requires the job of thinking outside of the box to figure most of them out. The lighting allows only what needs to be seen visible, and where pushing boxes to climb ledges starts things off easy, puzzles eventually become intensely though provoking. In one particular instance, a switch activated an object that we needed to get past, but when the switch was activated by a rolling a cart down a hill to activate it, we still didn’t have enough time to get where we needed. We eventually figured out that pushing the cart uphill would allow for a few more seconds for the cart to lose momentum, stop and then start its downhill travel to the switch, and would allow enough time for us to accomplish what we needed to do. It’s this thinking outside of the box that makes Limbo so much fun. Sitting at around 4-5 hours for the first play through, the game brings fresh ideas and puzzles constantly and the only complaint we can find with the game is this; we want more!

There is only one way we can recommend playing Limbo, and that is in the dark with the sound way up. This brings the lighting to life in full effect as the minimal ambient sounds and dark tones fill the room as the games moves from is freakishly dark settings to its brief lighter moods. One memorable moment had a giant spider in deadly pursuit, and with no weapons available to attack, all you can do is run for your life. The long silhouette legs of the spider tear through the bright white backgrounds appearing onscreen brilliantly, and a frightening sense of urgency kicks into play as survival becomes paramount. Most of the time the only sounds that can be heard are the boys footsteps and minimal environmental sounds, but once something like the giant spider comes onscreen, dark tones fill the speakers and knowing that instant death is lurking merely seconds behind becomes an instantaneous realization, as it should because if the spider does indeed catch our fleeing boy, his untimely death from impalement through his entire body, starting with his head, will have many gamers sitting wide-eyed, jaws dropped in shock, but as with every in-game death, it only becomes one step closer to finding out what lies in wait at journeys end; into Limbo.

Safe in the water? I think not

Limbo not only sits in the top tier of games on XBLA, but in our opinion, Limbo is a top-tier game regardless of the platform. The unique art-style and gameplay alone would make the game a success, but the games ability to alter gamers' mood, amazing lighting effects and superb use of minimal sounds set this game above and beyond other 2D platform/puzzle hybrids we’ve played before. It would be easy to write another 800 words on this game, but there isn’t a reason because if you own an Xbox 360 and haven’t downloaded Limbo yet, then go do so now. Limbo is one of the best reasons to currently own an Xbox 360 and we recently reported that Limbo could possibly come to multiple platforms soon as well, but regardless of the platform Limbo is played on, missing out on this game means missing out on one of the most creative games of our time. 

- Christopher Ingram




Review: Limbo (XBLA)
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