“ Developer: Play Dead / Type: Action & Adventure „
On its release, Limbo was one of those games that had everyone talking. Released on the Playstation Network by an independent developer, it showed that there was still a market for smaller software studios to release their own stuff and that games did not have to be a sequel to be successful.
A young boy wakes up alone in a forest, separated from his sister. This is not a good forest to be lost in, because it's full of danger. Can you successfully guide him to safety and help him find his sister?
Each level takes place on a single screen (or series of screens) where you must work out how to escape from the traps and dangers which lurk in that area. This is a lot harder than it sounds because death comes often and violently in Limbo. There are traps that will decapitate you, holes with spikes in waiting to impale you, spiders that are after your blood and unfriendly natives who are not happy to see you. Essentially, anything and everything in Limbo can and will kill you. Frequently and messily.
In some ways, dodging these various dangers can be an exercise in frustration and the game can feel a little unfair. Although threats are not hidden, they are rather sneaky . You have to progress with great care and even then, the first time you come across a new type of trap, the chances are it will catch you out. Some leaps also require pixel perfect positioning or timing and it can take a few goes before you suss things out. This should be very annoying: and yet somehow as a game mechanic, it works.
The reason it works is because in Limbo you learn through failure. Yes, the game will catch you out first time around, but the old adage once bitten, twice shy applies here. Once you have been caught out, you sit back and think about what you need to do to survive... and the next time you come across a similar trap, you will be more cautious because of your previous experiences. The frustration of dying is also slightly mitigated by the fact that when you do, you re-spawn at the same point, so you don't lose all progress to date, but can gradually inch your way through the game.
Some puzzles can be frustrating to work out (particularly if they rely on split second timing), but there are very few that will have you stumped completely. The secret to the game is to explore around the screen you are on - the answer is there somewhere. It's not an illogical game, and when you finally work out the solution, you'll smack your head and wonder how you could have been so stupid. To give you some idea of the level, I only had to refer to a walk-through guide once in the entire game, and that was early on when I hadn't quite got my head around the game's logic.
This trial and error gameplay can be divisive and some see the frequent deaths as making Limbo too annoying to be fun. One thing that almost everyone agrees on, though, is that it looks incredible. Although the game is monochrome throughout, it looks superb and is incredibly atmospheric. The grey mist that shrouds the background and the dark foreboding shadows that form the landscape make for a genuinely chilling atmosphere and the giant spiders that inhabit the forest are really scary as they lumber along towards you. Even your on screen avatar, although only ever seen in silhouette oozes character and is wonderfully animated as he runs, leaps and climbs his way around.
OK, so occasionally the black and white graphics can make it a little tricky to spot traps and it's a bit easy to run into hazards you've not seen. However, the minimalist, monochrome graphics make for such an unsettling atmosphere that you are prepared to forgive this. It might be an overused cliché, but Limbo really is like playing a cartoon.
Bear in mind, though, that Limbo is bloody, very bloody. During the game, your character will get impaled by spikes, sliced by saws, electrocuted, eaten and so on. All played out in front of your very eyes. Even though the game's monochrome graphics mitigate the worst of the violence, if you are slightly squeamish, you will find Limbo unpleasant, and that 18 Certificate is there for a reason.
Sound is similarly minimalistic, but equally effective. There is no in-game tune and no constant sound effects other than the patter of your feet as you run along. Other sound effects come and go as the game demands and add to the eerie atmosphere. There's nothing more scary than hearing a giant spider slowly stomping its way towards you before you can see it, and not knowing where it is going to come from!
Like the rest of the game, controls are limited and therefore very easy to pick up. The left stick controls movement, whilst the X button is used for a whole variety of different functions, depending on context. Using these simple controls, your character can climb, run, jump, drag or push objects to help him negotiate each stage. If you can't control this character, then you really have no business playing computer games!
Levels are imaginatively designed and, despite the fact that they pretty much boils down to moving left and right and avoiding hazards, traps and nasties., it is addictive stuff. You want to make sure the little boy is safely reunited with his sister and so will do everything in your power to make that happen. The game becomes curiously addictive and each time you fail, rather than switch your PS3 off in frustration, you sigh, pick yourself up and have another go.
The real downside comes with the game's longevity: there's no disguising the fact that Limbo is short. Very short. Whilst there are 24 different chapters, most of these are only a couple of screens long and only take a minutes to play through once you've worked out what to do. I'm not the world's greatest gamer, but I was able to work my way through from start to finish in just a few hours. There are additional trophies for you to discover on different levels, but to be honest, the pull was not there to go back and play all the levels again in order to find them and I've not returned to the game since. This is one of those titles that you very much play, finish and then discard.
Due to its trial and nature gameplay and frequent deaths, Limbo is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. For this reason, I'd recommend downloading the trial version from the Playstation Network before deciding. This will give you the chance to try out a few screens and if you like what you see, you can download the full version for £9.99. It's not that cheap, but if you enjoy the puzzle solving, trial and error nature of the gameplay, then this imaginative little title is well worth adding to your collection.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2013
Many big games these days just seem to be all extremely similar, with the same type of game play, just behind a different back drop. However, just a small look into smaller games can see how creative video gaming can really be. Limbo is one of those games. The story of Limbo is extremely simple, with you taking control of a nameless boy, who is searching for his sister. The story itself may as well be non-existant, as it is not really needed at all to enjoy the game.
The design of the game is very interesting. Limbo is done in a monochrome black and white style, and everything seems to be as if it is in shadow (The boy, for example, is a completely black silhouette except for two white eyes). Each puzzle is challenging, and one false move will more often than not result in the death of the boy. However, in Limbo dying almost seems inevitable. There is no real penalty for dying, so all it boils down to really is trial and error, but at no point does failing take away from the enjoyment of the game. The game forces you to think about the options that you take, which is a nice change to most games that try and hold your hand all the way through.
There are very few other characters in the game, and nearly all the ones that appear will either be hostile to you, or already dead. This really helps add to the atmosphere. Seeing a lone character walking through a dark forest, past characters that are hanging from devices or drowned in the water gives the whole game an eerie vibe.
The only real downside to the game is its length. The game is not very long, and can be completed within a couple of hours. This can also take away from the replay value, as the puzzles will never change, so could be easily remembered.
Most modern games are insubstantial shit. Take sand-box adventures for instance. Fun for all of a few seconds until you recognise playing pool is way more fun with real people, in a real bar, with real beer. Meaningless side-games only exist to detract from the fact that mindlessly running over people in stolen vehicles is dull and tedious in the long-term. The Sims; fun for all of a few seconds until you realise that earning real money, buying your own house and kitting it out with your own stuff is way more fun. Modern Warfare; amazing graphics that simply mask the bland, tedious level design suggesting most gamers are idiots that would somehow prefer style over substance. Oh!
I could go on.
Of course, I say most modern games. There is the odd occasion where a title sneaks out thinking it is still sometime between 1984 and 1998 and that words like 'challenging', 'unique' and 'tough as mittens' remain in common gaming parlance. So, if Portal 2 is the Head Over Heels of the modern age that would make Danish developers Playdead's latest title 'Limbo' the natural successor to Delphine Software's rather spectacular (at the time) Another World. Well, kind of the same, just more macabre, less colourful and with a silhouetted protagonist that you kind of end up caring for rather than a goofy, ginger-haired scientist tossbag.
Limbo's plot is quite simple: small boy wakes up in a somewhat haunting and bleak forest with his sister missing. He has to find her whilst navigating a surreal monochrome landscape and the deadly, brutal traps lurking within its dark underbelly. That's pretty much it. Playing very much like a horizontal scrolling platform adventure, Limbo's roots are aligned with old school retro-gaming conventions. Instant deaths and immaculate timing are routine and hark back to bastard hard single-life Spectrum games like Treasure Island Dizzy. Yet the touch of the modern ensures it's not insanely frustrating as was the case with games of yonder. The puzzles have been logically and lovingly crafted with the difficulty level spot on, meaning that even the short attention spans of most modern gamers will revel in the challenge (instead of immediately searching for an online walkthrough).
The mechanics behind the instant deaths, for example, are actually a quirky design necessity, rather than an infuriating bollock ache, to aid the player in game progression. So, stepping on an unseen pressure pad usually ends with the protagonist getting squashed into mangled little pieces. You've now learned not to tread on said pressure pad again. When confronted with blow-dart wielding humanoid figures further on, back-tracking and leaping across the pressure pads leads to their mucky end instead. Simples! Likewise, the punishment for making a simple error in judgement when leaping over a circular saw is much more restrained than in the pixel perfect days of Dizzy. After the protagonist's body is mangled and shredded in an impeccable display of quality gore, you are simply returned to the beginning of that puzzle to try again. Dizzy would have required you to begin all over...
Added to these design mechanics is the games unique style. This, if anything, is what makes Limbo a highly memorable gaming experience. It's not just a game; Limbo is art! The visuals are utterly compelling in both conveying the surreal dream-like quality of the nightmarish environment and, in the absence of a more elongated plot, generating the emotional high-points that make you care for the little boys plight. The lack of colour, the foregrounds in shadow tempered by the greys and whites of the parallax scrolling backgrounds, ensures the hazy macabre reality is an unsettling, yet awe-inspiring experience for the eyes. As soon as the protagonist wakes and begins his journey, you're thrown into a feverish night-terror straight out of a graphic novel. The accompanying silence and minimal sound throughout simply enhances this atmosphere. As do the few segments of lively action that take on a film like quality, especially the sequences involving a giant fecking spider. Running away from that behemoth, whilst applying pin-point timing to every leap, certainly makes for a welcome change of pace to the more plodding puzzling aspects of Limbo.
Then there's the little boy; a shadowy, silent silhouette with two piercing bright eyes who is animated superbly to convince this is just a little boy. It's simply remarkable that such a diminutive avatar can create the much needed pathos the longevity of the game relies upon. Of course the range of deaths in store and the discombobulation of his body parts at these junctures kind of helps. Every time he is impaled on sharp spikes, falls long distances before breaking his neck (or legs, depending on which way up he lands), carved into little pieces by circular saws or mashed against the ceiling by hydraulics is one more time you regret your latest action. After all, this is a lost little boy, in a nightmare world, looking to find a way out, whom you've just killed because of your complete ineptitude. The lack of a driving plot may irk some, but the conditioning Limbo works on the player to see the little boy through to sanctuary at the end of the game (his forlorn, piercing eyes are incredibly affecting) is a compelling driving force throughout. Indeed, Limbo works, in many ways, due to the care and attention afforded to its style, which ultimately complements the substance. Just looking at the game has much reward!
Sure, there are complaints. Gradually, the oppressive forest environment is replaced by a detritus strewn, lifeless industrialised shitscape - Limbo starts to lose its way around this point. The puzzles seem less enjoyable and limp without gigantic spiders, brain slugs and shadowy humanoid figures perpetuating the lurking danger. The static puzzles that seemingly frequent the last third just seem like more of a chore. And once you do reach the end the ambivalent finale is likely to leave some gamers with an unsatisfied taste in the mouth (although for my money the symmetry and minimalist explanation of the conclusion makes Limbo wonderfully thought-provoking, not underwhelming).
It's also a relatively short game and should only take four to five hours for most competent gamers to complete, which brings into question longevity. Although for seven quid you can't really complain. Like Portal beforehand, the length of the game is moot when taking into consideration the unique appeal that Limbo provides. In a medium of never-ending first person shooters, Limbo is a refreshing change to the norm. In addition, there is one Steam achievement (complete the game losing only five lives throughout) which is an old school hardcore gaming convention. This certainly adds further scope for play, it's just a shame that Playdead did not think to include this in Limbo from the outset - that would really have sorted the men from the muppets.
But these are fairly inconsequential points. Limbo remains a highly impressive title and certainly much more than you would expect from an independent developer. Its artistry is beautiful despite the depressing bleakness. The puzzles are challenging and superbly crafted without the unnecessary frustration. The simple 2-D platforms are retro enough to give older gamers a refreshing tingle, yet it's world away from Mario. Witness the traps that are of the skull-crushing until you're mashed to a pulp variety. Vastly different to dodging Goombas and getting smashed on mushrooms. Limbo is, therefore, the perfect blend of old and new; perhaps that's why it plays so damn well!
Overall - Probably one of the best games of 2011. A beautiful nightmare and a real treat for retro and modern gamers alike.
Hardware requirements - Should run on most half-decent PCs (2 Hhz processor) with a five year old graphics card. Only takes up 150MB of hard disk space .
Where to buy - Download it from Steam for just £6.99. Bargain! Limbo is also available on the PS3 and X-Box 360 with no real differences in each conversion.
© clownfoot, January 2012.
LIMBO began life in 2010 as a title on the Xbox Live Marketplace and was a massive success, becoming one of the best-selling games on Xbox Live and receiving extremely positive reviews from critics. Many PS3 owners were missing out on a lot, so it was brilliant when it came out on the PlayStation Store at the beginning of July this year. Is it the excellence that people claimed it was, or a huge disappointment? Unsurprisingly, it's the former. LIMBO is one of the best games available on the Store right now and can compete with other downloadable games such as Flower and Outland. It may be short, but you won't feel short-changed at all. If you haven't already got it, get online and buy it!
You are a small boy, waking up in the middle of a dark forest, beginning the search to find your lost sister. This is a dangerous journey which will bring you to a factory full of deathtraps like spinning blades and electrical surfaces, and you will come across others who don't exactly give a warm welcome. Sadly, LIMBO's story is too simple so it seems like nothing more than an afterthought. Maybe the developers thought that it would give the game an emotional edge - could your sister possibly be alive with all these deadly traps? - but you'll be more focused on the gameplay. However, no text and dialogue through the course of the game adds somewhat adds tension to the game.
LIMBO is a 2D Puzzle Platformer, mixing classic retro gaming with elements from modern titles, resulting in absolutely outstanding gameplay. Not one loading screen interrupts your time with the game and the controls are very basic, making the most immersive and gripping experience possible. But what does the game actually involve? It's a straight walk through a one-layered world with various puzzles preventing you from progressing. Now I'll give an example of the kind of puzzles you will come across in the world of LIMBO.
An electrical wheel nearby is needed to progress, but you need to find a way to power it before you can do anything else. A small animal hides in an alcove and its food is stuck to the bottom of the ledge above you. So, you climb the ledge and jump on it several times until the food falls to the floor. The animal will come out for the food, so you quickly jump down and chase after it. You are blocking this strange creature's path to its original hiding place, so it runs into the wheel. The animal runs at full speed, making the wheel spin with it. When it is spinning fast enough, you finally pull a lever above it to turn on the power.
Many other puzzles involve careful timing to complete but some rely on trial and error. In one section, there are two traps. Both traps have one button. Until you try, you won't know whether to press the button or not to stay alive. Normally in a game, you would feel cheated and frustrated by this, but LIMBO doesn't punish you - it just drops you off at the last checkpoint, and in this game checkpoints are quite frequent. I have no doubt some people won't have the same opinion, though.
Puzzles may be the main gameplay element, but they don't make up the whole game. The game keeps you on your toes by using different gameplay types at different times. You might complete a puzzle and then walk into an enemy encounter, or get past a deathtrap sequence and then have to do a puzzle. Playdead have done a good job of making sure that you have no idea of what's coming.
One of the reasons LIMBO is so great is the graphical style. Black and white are the only colours used, providing an eerie and tense feeling. This may mean that there may be no detail on you and the objects that surround you, but this doesn't matter because the black and white style, which was compared to film noir by critics, is so unique. It suitably makes the game's setting seem more like hell.
The game doesn't really have a soundtrack, but the 'music' that can be heard, particularly the main theme, is very creepy. It's very quiet and helps LIMBO feel even tenser. The sound effects also add to the already strong atmosphere. There is no voice acting in the game, however.
LIMBO has had fairly mixed age ratings across the world. It received a BBFC 12 rating and a T (Teen) from the ESRB in America, while the PEGI gave it 18 and it received D from CERO, which is equivalent to a low 18+ rating. But which of these ratings does the game really deserve? It is quite a bloody game. When you are killed blood splatters and sometimes your body parts separate but the blood, like the rest of the game, is in black and white. I think the main reason it has some high ratings is the fact that this is a small boy being dismembered. In my opinion, the game is suitable for anyone over 12.
The only real drawback for LIMBO is the story which is far too simple. A more minor issue is that it doesn't really have much replay value, but there are over ten trophies.
This is essential for any PS3 owner. The gameplay is fantastic - there are loads of excellently designed puzzles, and there are various gameplay elements so you never know what's coming. The graphics are also great, with a unique style that makes the game so special and the audio add to the game's atmosphere. It may be short, but it's definitely worth it in the end.
Value for Money: 9/10
This review is also posted on Ciao, under my name YoshiCheesePuff.