By Duncan Voice
Almost a year ago, my very first review for AMO was for the terrific ‘Splosion Man, one of the highlights of last year’s Xbox Live Summer of Arcade. Kicking off proceedings this year is another puzzle game with a difference, the intriguing, monochromatic platformer Limbo.
Limbo is the first production from the Danish Playdead Studios and has already garnered critical acclaim, as well as winning two Independent Games Festival awards. There are easy comparisons to make to other indie platformers, but Limbo is a unique, sombre, eerie adventure that feels wholly unique.
‘Uncertain of his Sister’s Fate, a Boy enters LIMBO’, is the only storyline available, tucked away on the XBLA marketplace. It perhaps shares more in common with recent cinematic masterpiece Inception than other games of its type, and not just because of the title representing an inescapable dreamscape. The entire game is open to interpretation, and whilst it is never going to reach the feverish discussions of said film, self-drawn conclusions are the only way to have any inkling of what the game represents.
The striking monochrome visuals are as beautiful as they are haunting, and wouldn’t look out of place in an art gallery. Coupled with effective sound design, I found myself more immersed in the world than I have done exploring the vistas of many full price titles. The arachnid close to the beginning of the game absolutely terrified me, a reaction I’m positive wouldn’t have occurred had I been able to see its finer details. Intimidating sound effects gives weight to the atmosphere, making forests feel haunting and eerie and industrial zones overwhelming and lonely. Considering you know nothing about this mysterious Boy, you certainly begin to feel sorry for him.
Puzzles are seamlessly integrated into the environment and require a healthy blend of logic and patience, particularly when momentum and gravity are introduced into the mix. Although not quite as mind-bending as Braid, a sense of trial and error can lead to feelings of frustration. The developers certainly had this in mind, replacing ‘error’ with ‘death’.
There are a few instances where pixel perfect jumps are required and the controls don’t feel quite tight enough, which can lead to a few unnecessary restarts. A short load time of 1-2 seconds between attempts does begin to grate, especially when compared to the instant restart times of ‘Splosion Man and Trials HD, although the gory deaths go a long way towards abating this.
Limbo has unfairly been accused of being too short, clocking in at around four hours for 1,200 MS points. Yet when compared to full price games and their length, you soon realise that these criticisms are unfounded. An achievement for clearing the game in one sitting with five deaths or less acts almost as a pre-emptive response. If you manage to earn this achievement, you are my gaming idol.
Difficult to fault, Limbo deserves all its plaudits. It’s exciting to see the quality that independent developers are producing, particularly for debut games as in Playdead’s case. If the Summer of Arcade is starting off this brightly, then let’s hope for a long, hot month.
9 OUT OF 10