A Combination of Breathtaking Visuals and well Designed Puzzles
Over the last few years we have learnt that downloadable titles or just independent games in general are no longer to be sniffed at by the general populace. Playdead’s ‘Limbo’ has earned its place among games like Braid and Flower, due to its unique monochrome colour scheme, and it’s striking use of multiple layers used in a unusual way to create depth.
Yes you heard me, Limbo does not have any colour, the whole game is rendered in various shades of gray, black and white. There is so much grey in this game that it is actually pleasing to see the bright white beams streaming through the cracks in the cave. There is also barely any music in this game, for the most part you will be hearing the quite pitter-patter of the boy who you control, as you jump, run and push your way to find your sister, who is lost someone in this strange oddity of a forest.
The visuals in this game are different but quite simplistic in nature; the game looks very similar to the cinematic works of the 1920s or a shadow puppet show. Simplicity is a good thing, in the case of Limbo, as this is a difficult physics based puzzle game and you want it to be as simple as possible.
Limbo somehow manages to generate a sinister tone while having some comical elements (primarily the death animations). As I mentioned before you play as a small, big-headed boy who can only push, pull and jump. The only feature which is visible is his eyes, which are pure white and also glow in the dark, damp caves of this godforsaken land.
As with the visual design of the game, the controls are also very simple, you use the ‘A’ button the jump, the ‘B’ button to interact (grabbing boxes or other objects is the main use of this button) and the left analogue stick is used for movement. You are given no friendly tooltips, notifications or helpful hints in Limbo, you learn the ropes of this game by just experiencing it for yourself.
You will also die, a lot in this game. You are not expected to succeed the first time you encounter an obstacle, you are expected to fail the first couple of times. This was a frustrating design choice in my opinion, as some puzzles have very abstract solutions and result in be banging my head against a wall for a hour or so before finally completing the puzzle. This game is not for the weak, you will need to have good brain, a lot of persistence and quick reflexes to finish this game.
The game also has these sections where a white worm will burrow into your head, while this worm is planted in the boy’s body you will only be able to walk in one direction until, you reach a strong source of light, in which you will only be able to walk in the opposite direction. This turns the level into something more complex than it would have been, if you had full control over which direction you are able to walk. This forces you to think in a different way and really mixes the game up.
Parts of the game can just be downright depressing, getting hunted by the primitive locals of this strange place or getting chased by a bloodthirsty huge hairy spider, this kid goes through a lot of bad experiences throughout the game, and you can’t but feel sympathetic for the boy as he is put through such pain.
Thankfully, if you are smart you shouldn’t go through too much frustration while playing through Limbo, as the game has a very comprehensive checkpointing system. Limbo does what I wish every difficult game did, it has checkpoints before each puzzle (and sometimes more often with the more drawn out puzzles) and a quick death animation, then you are right back into it. No ‘Press Start To Continue’ bullshit, Limbo just gets you right back in there.
Even with these ‘anti-frustration’ measures in place, I still found myself frustrated while playing this game. This is because I am just not that good at playing Limbo, I watched others skyrocket through the game, as I would be getting stuck on every 3 puzzle. Which is why I found myself dreading the next puzzle and really enjoying the parts where you would just walk, and observe the diverse landscapes of the game. With that being said the puzzle design is stellar, but I am just not the best at solving problems.
I’m not sure if I have a good understanding of the narrative in the game, but the great atmosphere that the game creates and the themes of 'alienation' and the 'discovery of the unknown' is well established. This game is goddamn hard, and had me screaming at my television on multiple occasions but was equally satisfying when I finally conquered this game to completion. So if you consider yourself someone who is pretty good at solving the type of puzzles that you would find in Braid then I would recommend that you should buy this game. Otherwise, try the demo on the Xbox Live Marketplace, and see what you think of it for yourself.