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Posted on Jul 25th 2010 at 01:11:24 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Limbo, general, gaming, value, 360

It has been compared favorably and otherwise to everything from Braid to Ico.  In truth, Limbo is a sum of several familiar gameplay components, wrapped in a dark, morbid, and mysteriously surreal narrative.  What it is not, is for the faint of heart.  Or wallet.


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Gameplay consists of platforming, with only a jump and a contextual interaction button adding to the standard left and right movement.  The sensitivity of the left analog stick determines walking, running, or creeping along, and that's it. No ducking, looking around, or direct combat.  This streamline approach, rather than confining the experience, focuses the player on the two biggest features of Limbo:  the environmental puzzles and the atmosphere.  Oh, the atmosphere.

Limbo's palette is black, white, and grays, and nothing else.  Instead of using this refined spectrum to construct high resolution and detail, the designers use the opposite extreme to grand effect.  The visual filters and muted shades paint a dreamlike visual experience that is unique and immersing.  Background and foregrounds are at a constant haze.  Environments feature sparse lines and sharp angles that just barely convey a sense of open woods, labyrinthian underground tunnels, and complex industrial areas.  Indeed, the world of Limbo only roughly sketches its home, then hands the pencil to the player's mind to draw the rest of the details.  Where this could be easily viewed as pretentious or even lazy on the developer's part, the design is definitely purposeful, as the rest of the tools are clearly in the iron grasp of talent.

The animation is top notch, with subtle particle effects and little details emphasizing every action.  Many clues are given for gameplay as well as narrative in the smallest of touches.  The audio wisely follows the consistency of the visual design; sparse, light overtones occasionally punctuated by dramatic flair, and effects that will make the player much more squeamish than the persistent visual violence.  I began playing with two friends watching, but before the hour mark I was alone.  This brings me to an important point:

Limbo's content is not for everyone.

There is implied murder, torture, gore, drowning, dismemberment, and very dark themes.  Without giving away spoilers, some actions will likely stun you in their graphic nature.  This is not Mario.  It is not Braid.  It is a game designed around a certain theme, and that theme is played out fully.  In the same manner that South Park may appear to target a young audience but is designed for adults, the same could be said for Limbo.   

Though I personally feel games should always be based on their own merit, and there are flavorful and unique elements to the experience that is Limbo, everyone will compare titles.  As mentioned before, Limbo imbues a desolate and lonely aura likened to the PS2 classics Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, comparative indie vibes to Braid (also an 'artsy' title criticized as derivative and overpriced), along with gameplay similarities to PC/PSX's Heart of Darkness.

And if the biggest sell for Limbo is the original atmosphere (and it most certainly is), the other is gameplay.  Physics based puzzles and platforming challenges make up the bulk of the experience, with exploration and attentive observation yielding literal eggs for completion and achievements.  A chapter select allows for easy access, and the game respawns the character only moments before each mistake, again putting the emphasis on puzzle solving and atmosphere.  Some of the timing elements of the game are, true to the genre, mostly trial and error, and the designers were wise to avoid any life count or continuing limitations, allowing the player to simply keep at it until done.

Which brings out Limbo's only real 'fault' making the rounds of the critic circles at large.  At fifteen bucks, is a game that can be completed in only a few hours worth such a premium?  Limbo would certainly not survive the current expectations of boxed retail, and as a Live arcade download only title it is expected to compete with cheaper games containing more longevity.  The almighty Castle Crashers, Braid, and even Ikaruga have fielded the same complaints, and review scores are bashed in light of perceived value.

I intend to write an article on the perception of entertainment value later.  As for now, it comes down to this:

Limbo is original.  Limbo is exceptionally well made.  Limbo is, for a certain audience, wonderful.  Limbo is fairly short, even abrupt by today's gaming standards.  If you are interested, play the demo.  It will tell you all you want to know: do I want more of this?  Will the experience be worth the money to me, individually?  Will I feel at a loss for paying this much for a few hours?

I know I, personally, have no regrets about purchasing Limbo.  Indeed, I consider it a gaming experience to rival my top ten.  But if you play the demo and are still not sure, Limbo probably is not for you, fifteen bucks or otherwise.

As an end note, I feel that the narrative played out in Limbo is terrifically realized, despite forum debates passed to and fro over the subjective nature of the story and its details.  I thought it was rather clear in its intentions, and if it is not painfully obvious by now, I also feel it was a masterfully well done experience.  If you are curious about my thoughts on the particulars of the story, feel free to PM me: I don't want to ruin or cheapen the experience for the curious by posting said thoughts in a forum. 


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
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