Giant Bomb Review

138 Comments

Limbo Review

5
  • XBGS

Stark, gruesome, and gorgeous, this indie puzzle platformer will stick in your mind long after you've seen it to the end.


 You will die, a lot.
Limbo is a game some people will shortly be referring to as not just a great game but an accomplishment. And it is. The story of this grim, gorgeous puzzle platformer's meteoric rise from Independent Games Fest honoree to triumph of the downloadable format is one I think people will talk about for a while. At least I hope they do; the razor-like precision of the design and starkly minimalist visual style create a short but indelible experience that deserves to appear before a lot of eyes. I know I had a hard time putting it out of my head for a while after I finished it.

In the simplest terms, Limbo is a side-scrolling action game featuring a little boy looking for his sister in the big spooky forest. I only know that from reading a descriptive blurb somewhere; beyond the menus, the game itself uses no words (written or spoken) to communicate any sort of story. It doesn't even have real music, just a sublimely rendered ambient soundscape. And it doesn't need any of that stuff. You wake up in the woods, and off you go into an increasingly weird, oppressive, sinister dream world. Your sole occupation is to run left to right and try to avoid all the myriad ways this awful wilderness is trying to kill you, and the game focuses all of its efforts on enabling that single objective.

You won't manage to avoid most of those dangers the first time, because so much of Limbo's action centers on brutally immediate, unforgiving environmental hazards. A blade might come swinging out of nowhere and slice you in half, or a gigantic spider could impale you on a wickedly sharp leg almost before you realize it's there. There's really never a moment when you're not in danger of meeting some grisly end or other, and most of those ends you will not see coming. Note however that the timing and triggers in each scenario are the same every time, so getting through the game requires a lot of trial and error, dying to some unforeseen menace two, three, four times before you work out exactly what you need to do and how fast you need to do it to keep yourself alive and continue on.

 Playing this is way more taxing than you might suspect.    
There are plenty of puzzles that don't require any deft controller work out of you but will tax the hell out of your problem-solving. So you won't necessarily die to these, but you might be totally, maddeningly baffled by a few of the tougher ones until you hit on solutions that are so abstract in a few cases they felt like they rivaled anything in Braid. The game steadily introduces new environmental mechanics like water, gravity, and magnetism through the end of the game, so you never feel like you're doing the exact same thing twice. Every puzzle is keyed to the unique environment it's taking place in, almost like an adventure game. It's evident one or more people put a ton of thought into every single thing you do in this game. It constantly challenges and rewards you.

In case it's not clear already, Limbo is a really hard game, probably too hard for casual players to make it through. But the extreme difficulty is bearable because everything in the game behaves in a very measured, deliberate way, especially the boy himself. He runs, jumps, climbs, and moves objects at a steady and predictable rate that feels really natural when you control him. That makes it easy to gauge timing and distance for your jumps and other moves. And everything in the game obeys a fairly realistic physics model that gives the gameplay a weird sort of tactile feel. Also, there's a checkpoint about every five feet, so you can almost instantly go from dying to retrying the thing you died on. Death is no burden here, just a means to further exploring each obstacle. Taken purely by volume this isn't a long game, but you'll feel like you've gotten plenty out of it by the time you've worked out every puzzle and survived every challenge.

 I can't think of a way this game could look any better than it does.
The game is a joy to behold in every aspect. There are no colors, just black, white, and shades of grey, but it gets an astonishing amount of mileage out of this limited visual economy. Everything--characters, objects, background elements--is seen only in silhouette, which must have saved a ton of work on the art side. It also has the peripheral benefit of giving the game a wonderfully stark, striking appearance that, coupled with super animation and a grain effect, gives the game a sort of silent-film quality. Actually, a lot of things about Limbo seem cinematically influenced, even little elements like the way it jump cuts back to gameplay when you die. Similar to the art style, the sound design is subtle and reserved, but it perfectly serves to bring your surroundings to life. It would be a great game no matter what it looked like, but the the sublime production values make this a transcendent experience.

Limbo has a transportive quality that's hard to articulate. It so expertly realizes both its internal gameplay logic and its prevailing aesthetic that it almost creates a sort of reverie as you play, fully removing you from your physical environment and plopping you into this cold, mesmerizing other land. Though you'll find it's a tough place to survive, it might also be one you're in no hurry to leave behind. The game is a masterpiece. Brad Shoemaker on Google+
138 Comments
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Posted by kitsune_conundrum

2010's braid?

Posted by Metroid545

Nice review, i'm definitely looking forward to this

Posted by TheLawnWrangler

yay!

Posted by ZmillA

well, guess im getting this

Posted by Jais

Cannot wait to play this game. I have already bought some Microsoft points so I can buy this asap on Wednesday. 

Posted by rjayb89

Of course you'd like it Brad, guy who liked flower a bunch.

Online
Posted by wonderhare

One more reason for me to go buy an xbox, I suppose!

Edited by DrPockets000

So.  excited. 
 
EDIT: Alan Wake is my game of the year so far, and if that only got 4 stars from you Brad, I think I might die of happiness when I play this.

Posted by BabaORiely

Oh man, Brad, that sounds amazing.  I can't wait til Wednesday.

Posted by FunExplosions

Makes my mouth water. I'm just gonna have to wait and see for a Steam release, with my broke ass.

Posted by JessicaBoo

i wants me this game! looks amazing, but 1 thing, i dont like spiders!
Posted by RagingLion

Well written review Brad.  I so so want to play this.  I'm hoping that PC version will come eventually just as it did for Braid.
 
I'm intrigued by the absence of any real talk about the story.  I was thinking that it might be a game where that was a really huge thing but maybe it isn't in this case - just the atmosphere and the experience.

Posted by Blair

Will buy.  Thanks Brad.

Posted by Rhaknar

this is out this week correct? cant wait

Posted by Brutik

So excited for this!
Posted by lordbazuco

This might be the only summer of arcade game I'm really excited for. I can't wait

Posted by PrioritySeven

Very excited to get a hold of this.  Good review, Brad.

Posted by granderojo

Perfect game for me to barrel through right before the abyss that will be starcraft 2.

Posted by President_Evil

WOW.  Now I'm even MORE excited than before.  Wednesday can't come quickly enough!  Great review, Brad.

Posted by RobotHamster

Day 1 buy!!!!

Edited by ChemEngPaul

Except this is an actual game compared to flower. But it is unfortunate that despite how good it is, it's probably not going to be able to pull a shadow complex and win best xbox 360 game this year in the eyes of the judges, which is a shame because, to me, it easily beats Mass Effect 2 and Alan Wake and the rest of the exclusives for this year.

Posted by Tebbit

Roll on Braid-esque multi-platform release.

Posted by Pimparooni

How long did it take you to complete it? I don't want a 3 hours long 15$ game :/

Posted by Kovski

I'm not sure if hard as in trial-and-error hard is a good thing. I like hard games, but only if they are hard because i'm not good enough and have to learn to master the game, not replaying the same thing until i know what's coming up. 
 
With that said I'm quite interested in Limbo, but I don't think it's 2010's Braid, cause where Braid set a new standard for downloadable games Limbo does not from what I've seen and read. 
 
Btw, the 1200 point price i find a bit to hefty, 800 points would be more okay I would find, but I guess i'm just too cheap for my own good.

Posted by Legend

Why is this only available on XBLA? WHYYYY?

Posted by GunnBjorn

This review somewhat quelled my worries that you would leave Giant Bomb. The rumours were so persistent! But with such a beautiful place (the bar!), how could you leave?! Great review, btw! ;)
Posted by natetodamax

Can't wait to play this, although I probably won't get it on launch day. Great review as always.

Posted by MjHealy
@Jais said:
" Cannot wait to play this game. I have already bought some Microsoft points so I can buy this asap on Wednesday.  "
Same here. Can't wait to pick this up.
 
I never played Braid so maybe this will finally encourage me to buy it.
Posted by Meltac

I can't believe this is finally coming out. Been waiting since '06.

Posted by FakePlasticTree

Wow. I thought this game would be pretty good, but I was not expecting that much praise in the review(s). Looking forward to Wednesday!

Posted by Mayu_Zane
@Legend: Same here, wish it came out for the PC on Steam, like Braid
Posted by EnduranceFun

Is that a reference to Until We Win in the caption there? Awesome. 

Posted by jledesma

I'm so stoked about this game!

Posted by zudthespud

Well it sucks that it isn't on steam.

Posted by VWGTI

I think I'll pass. I'm good on indie puzzle platformers for now.

Posted by MrGarcia

PC version please!!

Posted by ValiantGrizzly

This needs a PSN version, so very very badly.

Posted by Peacemaker

Nice review there.  I was already probably getting it day one.  Now I know I definitely am.

Posted by koolaid39

Good stuff. Looking forward to this.

Posted by Sedasys

Two days. Just two more days. 
Oh well, Alien Swarm's out in a few hours, that should keep me busy.

Posted by Milkman
@GunnBjorn said:
" This review somewhat quelled my worries that you would leave Giant Bomb. The rumours were so persistent! But with such a beautiful place (the bar!), how could you leave?! Great review, btw! ;) "
Umm...where did you hear that?
Posted by Zoidberg

wish this was on ps3 D:

Posted by CitizenKane

I wish I had the money right now to buy this game.  =(

Posted by puercoperro335

Can't wait for this game, just 2 more days, 2 long days.

Posted by Tireyo

I had a feeling that this was going to be good!! Get good reviews and such. Very much a shame that I do not own a 360.

Posted by doejonathan

 Everything--characters, objects, background elements--is seen only in silhouette, which must have saved a ton of work on the art side.    

I generally hold your reviews in high regard, but this particular sentence seems a bit odd to me. Is saving work a good thing? A bad thing? When congratulating a game for it's visual prowess isn't it a bit of a jab towards whomever the artist(s) is, to point out it must have been time saving? Just because it's minimalistic, you can't just assume it was an easy job.  
 
Other than that nitpick, reading this and looking at the QL again, I'm tempted more than ever to get an Xbox. Nice going there Playdead.
Posted by psdeuce

I might have to actually turn on my 360 for this title.

Posted by cordialsnail

Seems kind of in the vein of the first two Oddworld games or Heart of Darkness.  Only game I've looked forward to this year so far.

Posted by Sephirdorf

awesome score for limbo, hoped it would be well recieved since it was announced :D 
just wish it was on more platforms
Posted by fozzyozzy

I'm excited to hear that it's a challenge and a half.  Wnterbottom was the last puzzle platformer I bought and that one was a bit...solutions were either too easy or too esoteric to understand.  Your descriptions of the deaths here, kinda sound "Out of This World"ish, a good thing in my mind. 

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