I'd like to introduce you to the newest member of the DG writing team, Jeremy Konsbruck. He's always had an interest in writing and gaming so I asked him to write up a review for me so that I could share it with our DG readers. Jeremy downloaded and reviewed LIMBO the black and white adventure that hit XBL recently. I enjoyed reading this so I hope you will too. Leave your comments at the end.
- Chris Jones, Editor
With Limbo now only 600 points on the Game Marketplace, it seems like a perfect time to revisit a little gem which, prior to Minecraft, was one of the killer apps for Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade.
Limbo is a 2D-side scrolling platformer with a very simple setup. You play a boy who has to cross Limbo to rescue his sister. This simplicity extends to the control system, which requires just the thumbstick to travel left and right and two buttons: one to jump and one to activate items in the world. This setup works with remarkable ease and is so well implemented that almost anyone can pick up a pad and get into the game in seconds.
This may conjure up an image of cutsie Mario-lite game, but Limbo is anything but twee. This game wants to kill you, and will constantly find devious and ingenious ways to catch the unwary. You can see where Dark Souls got some inspiration from. The game throws you into its world and sets you loose with no idea of what lies ahead. Within about 30 seconds you are likely to have been chopped in half by a trap that you never spotted amidst the undergrowth, and things get progressively worse as the game goes on. It also has a wicked streak, lulling the player into a false sense of security with similar puzzle mechanics before killing them with the same items or switches that, two seconds previously, were used to escape a difficult section.
Rarely on the Xbox does a game make you feel clever for beating it. Yet Limbo’s greatness lies in the fact that while its puzzles are built on simple foundations - usually pushing items around or timing jumps to perfection - the threat of ever-present death and the dark, shadowy world that regularly hides the answers to tricky puzzles creates a risk-reward system that is incredibly satisfying. An early section involving a giant spider which must be taunted before it gives chase is a classic example of this. If you’re anything like me you will spend the first five minutes of this segment panic-screaming “Shit, shit, shit!” at the television, until the tables are turned and you are able to dispatch the hideous beast in a manner that will leave you punching the air as though you had hit your first prestige level in Call of Duty.
Graphically, Limbo is one of the most distinctive games on the platform and one that has left a strong influence on recent releases, most notably Tequila Works’ Deadlight. Everything is seen as a shadow, with the player character marked out by two blinking white eyes that leach life whenever they are killed. This is overlain with a grain effect which makes the whole thing seem dreamlike. Add the extremely detailed environments and backgrounds; whether a dark Alan Wake-esque forest, a rain-soaked town or grim industrial wastelands, and Limbo is quite simply beautiful to look at. It’s an unrelentingly grim world, however, and the graphics add to the sense that this is not a place you want to linger, a world where everything and everyone is designed for death and you are very much alone. The death animations in particular are varied and oftentimes hilarious. Flinging the boy accidently into a chainsaw, for example, will send limbs and blood spattering all over the screen, while boulders and rocks flatten him with sickening bone-splintering crunches. It’s never extreme, but it’s gruesome enough to add constant tension to every segment of the game.
Where Limbo falters is in the latter segments, where the ingenious traps and puzzles give way to repetitive fetch tasks and areas where jumps and triggers must be hit with pixel-perfect perfection. This isn’t helped by the fact that the jumping system is not always perfect to match, with the boy often unable to catch onto areas that he could two seconds previously. These puzzles also seem to be signposted with increasing obviousness, which means I spent the last few segments of the game sighing with each new challenge, eager to get to the end or at least do something a bit more interesting. This is a shame, as Limbo does not hand-hold its players and leaves them to work out how to escape, a refreshing change in the modern era, but evidently Playdead decided to pad things out a little to increase the otherwise slim playtime. Most gamers will get to the end within about four hours. There is some element of replayability with secret areas and an achievement for reaching the end having died a maximum of five times – surely the hardest achievement since Modern Warfare’s “Mile High Club!”. Anyone with this badge on their gamercard is worthy of immense respect. Yet, for most players this is likely to be a one-playthrough deal, and it’s a shame that there wasn't some element of multiplayer added, which could have led to even more challenging puzzles.
These quibbles are comparatively minor, however. Overall, Limbo is an accomplished, unique experience filled with standout moments, more than enough to go head-to-head with the big boys of 360 gaming. With it now available for around a fiver, there’s no excuse not to head to the Game Marketplace and take a trip to a dreamworld where death lurks around every corner.
Available via: Xbox Live Arcade/Game Marketplace
Price: As of 8/9/2012, 600 MS Points (approx £5) – normal price 1200 MS Points (£9.99)
Requirements: Xbox Live GOLD subscription required to download.