Fuck, I dunno.
You know, Limbo is exactly the kind of game that should appeal to me. It's a 2D platformer, already big points there, with a very unique atmospheric setting and visual style. I mean, this is the kind of shit my dreams are made of. The being said, after completing the game in a very intense single sitting I can say without regret: "meh."
Look it's not that Limbo is a bad game, It's just a very uneven experience. The first few sections of the game are fucking fantastic by anyone's standards. You encounter interesting puzzles integrated into the organic environment while interacting with hostile beasties of all shapes and sizes while feverishly trying to navigate right through this nightmarish cluster fuck of forest. Without a doubt almost the entire first half of Limbo is gaming excellence at it's finest. It's arty without being pretentious, it's simple without being contrived. There is mystery lining in the air, and it grabs you by the throat and dares you to take another step forward.
Sadly, however, that perfection does not maintain through the span of the product. That is surprising, to say the least, considering how short Limbo is. Limbo should have been the textbook cult classic indie game, a short playtime bookmarking a finely crafted experience. We've seen it in Braid, World of Goo, and countless other indie titles. Perhaps I've been spoiled by such gems, but I feel as though there is really no excuse for the game taking such a sharp decline in its final hour. Limbo is such a short, short game, and it I find it somewhat disturbing that it is unable to maintain that quality through its full run.
The lush, foreboding woods soon come to be replaced with metal girders, and the girders come to be taken hostage by black masses of unidentifiable matter. The feeling of danger lurking just over the next jump soon becomes basic puzzle solving coupled with trial and error that is increasingly more about precise timing and less about surprising and grisly death animations. As the puzzles get more complex the environments that encompass them seem to become sedated, almost as if the ever more complicated cerebral elements were slowly syphoning away all the creativity.
Then there is the ending. I won't spoil it here, but I will say that it did leave quite a bitter taste in my mouth. Not only does it come after one of the easier puzzles in the game which, for the record, seems like it was ripped straight out of VVVVVV, but it adds almost nothing to the experience. Does it explain anything? No. Does it make you think? No. Only after excessive and, at times, incredibly loose interpretations have I seen people take anything away from this game, and even then it isn't much. If PlayDead wanted to tell a simple story I really wouldn't have a problem with it, but the first act of the game almost seems to be pounding the silent narrative into your head through its stunningly beautiful exposition. You don't just start playing, you wake up. You encounter numerous shadowy figures with clearly antagonistic goals in mind and decaying wooden villages containing helpless prisoners and mechanical death traps.They say so much within the first few scenes that's it's almost indescribable in words; it's cinematic in it's scope. It seems they dug themselves into a narrative hole, however, as I can come up with a few words to describe their conclusion, and they are "cop out."
Now that isn't to say that Limbo isn't worth while, in fact it is one of the better games available on Xbox Live Arcade right now. The puzzles aren't anywhere near the level of Braid or even P.B. Winterbottom, but in exchange Limbo does offer a better integration of its platforming elements. Limbo is a platformer at heart, and almost all the puzzles involve jumping or item placement. In this aspect Limo is masterful throughout. The controls feel fluid, and only during one occurrence did I feel as though the game's mechanics were keeping me from completing a puzzle. For an arcade title it is very impressive, even more so for an inde game. Had they stuck to the gameplay and left out the more abstract elements this review may have been more positive, but they took a shot and ultimately failed in that department, though I suppose there is no use in crying over spilt milk.
In the final analysis, Limbo is far from being a bad game. Hell, it is far from being an average game. Limbo is a great game, but it is also very unbalanced. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to try something a bit different on the 360 or tooany platforming or puzzle fans in general, but don't come in expecting the next Braid. Limbo is not a Braid in any way shape or form, and maybe it is better off that way.
Ultimately I suppose I am not upset with Limbo as much as I am disappointed. There is a lot of wasted potential here that just seems to go neglected as more and more uninteresting puzzle elements are introduced. Gravity, magnetism, and electricity are not startlingly original gameplay concepts, and it somewhat baffles me as to why they seem to take priority over the simply incredible mechanics found throughout the first half of the game.
All I can say is that I would like each and every one of you reading this review to buy your own digital copy of Limbo. PlayDead deserves another shot at this, and I think the whole gaming industry could benefit from seeing a more complete version of their vision.