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Review

Review: Limbo

It's finally here - so how does it play?

Your first tentative steps in Limbo will be ones of bewilderment and awe – this looks like no other game, its monochromatic graphics distinctive and powerful and the animation, from the boy himself to everything else around him, is stunning.  The Xbox 360 has played host to some great looking games in the past, but nothing on the console comes close to the wonderful visual style on offer here with this new downloadable Arcade game.

Limbo is without plot, voice or narrative – especially if you ignore the hokum introductory one-liner and interpret the game how you wish – the only driving force the desire for the player to see what lies around the corner.  Stripped down to first principles, this is a side scrolling, two dimensional platformer but to pigeonhole it so specifically is to do Limbo a considerable disservice – it’s much more than the sum of its parts and certainly isn’t something to be taken lightly.

With just two buttons in use – jump and an ‘action’ button, used for pulling and pushing, mainly – Limbo starts off gently enough.  The first area of the game, a twisting, multi-layered forest setting isn’t just the most endearing in terms of graphics, it’s also where the game’s most intriguing puzzles lie, peppered with a real sense of innocence and discovery. Once past the relatively open surroundings of the first section the game starts to bring in a more industrial setting that slightly spoils the otherwise beautiful, ethereal setting that greets the player at the beginning.

Technology and humanity often jars with nature in games like this, and for good reason – Flower made a point of doing exactly that in its closing level, for example – but whilst Limbo’s locations are considerably more diverse than the evergreen PlayStation 3 title, it’s the early presence of metal, energy and electricity in this game that marks the game’s change from nature to desperate and worrying tales of humanoid tragedy rather abruptly. Conversely, it’s worth pointing out, a brief section atop a huge, flickering ‘hotel’ sign was a particular highlight for me.

Still, by the half way point, when trees, logs and water have made way for cogs, lifts and buzzsaws, you’ll be more than familiar with what the game is expecting from you as it introduces each new challenge.  From one puzzle to the next, each more difficult than the last, the boy at the centre of this story must face grizzly set pieces and some undeniably scary situations – it’s gory too, excessively so, and although there’s an option to dial down the death sequences that doesn’t skip over the various nasty puzzles – this isn’t a game for kids on all kinds of levels.

Limbo isn’t shy about representing death as both throwaway and poetic, often on the same screen, and whilst the traps that halt the player’s progress can often feel a little cheap and under-signposted (be prepared for some trial and error) there’s plenty of areas in the game that require delicate thought and a sensitive approach to those poor souls that weren’t so lucky in this strange world.  Using a downed ally as a floating stepping stone over continuously dangerous water is another particularly powerful stand out moment for all the right reasons.

Limbo’s also very clever about playing its cards close to its chest, constantly pushing the boundaries in terms of gameplay ideas, always inventive with its puzzles and still somehow saving the best concepts until the finale.  For example, the first major enemy you’ll face, a giant spider, is both terrifying and deliciously resilient to injury (forming the centrepiece of a good few sections) but a clever twist moments later will have you giggling to yourself with glee.  The presence of other humanoid inhabitants keeps the tension up, too, especially when trying to halt your progress or scurrying away in the background working on new traps.

But the game’s killer mechanic has to be the possession segments, where you’re unavoidably infected with a parasitic bug and thus forced to walk in a single (predetermined) direction until you’re reversed by a strong light and, ultimately, freed from your zombie-like trance by a hungry bird, ready to peck out whatever it is that’s burrowed into your brain.  Couple this new restriction with flooding water and other time-based, physics-enabled puzzles and you’re onto a winner, changing what would have been dull backtracking into thoughtful and exciting top-tier platforming.

It’s good, then, really good.  The graphics are to die for and the audio, an understated soundtrack and some excellently produced sound effects, is just as evocative.  Limbo might only last a few hours but what’s here is, for the main, gaming gold.  Titles like Limbo don’t come around often enough, but this will be remembered for years to come – an amazing experience and one that every gamer should ensure they play through.  Undoubtedly the best game on the Xbox Live Marketplace, and thoroughly knocks Braid into touch.

Pros:

  • Incredible graphics and sound
  • Perfect controls

Cons:

  • It’s over too soon
  • Limited replayability

Limbo’s a stunning game.  It’s haunting, powerful and – mostly – pitch perfect in terms of pacing and difficulty.  Sure, it loses its way a tiny bit towards the end, resorting to tired videogame tropes that risk spoiling the overall experience, outstaying their welcome just a little bit; but Limbo shouldn’t be missed by anyone, it’s an utterly compelling ride and despite the 1200 Points price tag it’s well worth the money.  This is gaming as it should be: refined and precise, but with a real tale to tell.  What you read into that story is part of the fun.

Score: 9/10

Limbo is out today on Xbox 360 Live Arcade.

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59 Comments
  1. Nauraph
    Member
    Since: Jan 2010

    This looks great.. too bad I don’t own a 360, I’d really like to play this.

    Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 09:05.
    • Person678
      BOOM! Headshot!
      Since: Jan 2009

      It’s on it it’s way to PS3 later, if ERSB is to be believed.

      Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 09:12.
      • MadBoJangles
        Member
        Since: Nov 2009

        Hoping ur right, looks amazing.
        Great review too :D

        Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 09:13.
      • Erroneus
        Wanted "Trophy Hunter" but was too late.
        Since: May 2009

        No this was dismissed by the dev. It was sadly an error on ERSB and thy had it removed.

        I’m guessing one day we will see it for PSN and Steam, but right now they properly have a time limited exclusive deal with MS.

        Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 09:21.
      • scavenga
        Member
        Since: Jul 2009

        Oh, darn. Me wantee!

        Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 09:38.
      • ericzap
        Member
        Since: Apr 2010

        ESRB… Made an error?

        Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 10:42.
      • Erroneus
        Wanted "Trophy Hunter" but was too late.
        Since: May 2009

        Playdead’s Dino Patti said, “We are only launching the title on XBLA. You won’t see a PS3 or PC version this time around, sorry.” He also noted that they have asked the ESRB to change the listing and that they aren’t sure where the confusion came from.

        Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 11:34.
      • hairfreax
        Member
        Since: Jun 2009

        Thanks for dashing my hopes Erroneus

        Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 11:54.
    • PhilipJWitow
      Member
      Since: Jan 2010

      Yeah, it’s crazy it’s not out on PC either. I was all excited (I just built my new rig) to play a bunch a games and they seem to be mostly exclusive to Xbox360 or PS3. :(

      Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 12:12.
      • TJ
        Member
        Since: Jan 2010

        Helpful reply: buy a 360, there’s definitely enough exclusives to justify it, especially now they have (finally) integrated Wi-Fi and made it quieter.

        Comment posted on 26/07/2010 at 12:34.
  2. gnipper
    Member
    Since: May 2009

    oooh. Gonna buy it. Quality stuff

    Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 09:11.
  3. Foxhound_Solid
    Is a smart cookie.
    Since: Dec 2009

    Looks oool, reminds me of a style of puppeteering, you know the cut out on a stick, back lit stuff. Very cool indeed, hope to see this on the PSN.

    Good review too…

    Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 09:42.
    • STILLCANTTHINKOFAGOODPSNNAME
      Member
      Since: Mar 2010

      shadow puppets o_O

      Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 11:18.
      • Foxhound_Solid
        Is a smart cookie.
        Since: Dec 2009

        Erm…yes…Shadow Puppets..

        *Hangs head in shame*

        Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 11:44.
  4. Severn2j
    Member
    Since: Aug 2008

    Great stuff, but a question. Can XBL Silver users still get this, or do I need to get a Gold account? I found I didnt use the online stuff enough to justify a gold account and downgraded it.. But I want this game.

    Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 09:42.
    • nofi
      One for all.
      Since: Forever

      Yes, you can buy and play with a Silver account. There’s no online apart from some leaderboards.

      Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 09:48.
  5. Severn2j
    Member
    Since: Aug 2008

    Sweet.. Will be getting this then.

    Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 09:50.
  6. bunimomike
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Great review, nofi. I hadn’t known about this game until this very moment. Consider it purchased over the coming days. Damn, that art-style is stellar! Brooding and very film noir in places.

    Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 10:18.
  7. TSBonyman
    Member
    Since: Dec 2009

    saw a vid for this last night, makes me wish it was on ps3

    Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 10:18.
    • STILLCANTTHINKOFAGOODPSNNAME
      Member
      Since: Mar 2010

      played LBP much there has got to be over a 1000 lvls identical to this

      Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 11:22.
  8. Tuffcub
    On the naughty step.
    Since: Dec 2008

    Not for me I’m afraid, not a big fan of twee platformers.

    Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 11:15.
  9. Porcupine_I
    Member
    Since: Aug 2009

    i hate this game, it is ugly and boring, i will not buy this piece of c**p, that is my opinion and i stand by it until it releases on PS3, then i will praise it like the second coming of Christ :-D

    Comment posted on 21/07/2010 at 11:19.

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