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Clearing The Backlog – Limbo

January 24, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

So, like many gamers, I have a terrible tendency of buying up tons of brand new games, only to then leave them sitting on a shelf gathering dust. But no longer. I aim to get through as much of my unfinished backlog, and I am going to share my thoughts on each game I finish, offering my opinion on how enjoyable the experience was.

For this first edition, I’ll be taking a look at Limbo, the critically acclaimed indie game from Danish developer, PlayDead. Originally developed as a timed exclusive for the Xbox Live Arcade in 2010, it eventually received releases on PSN and Steam a year later, and it’s this latter version that I own and recently played through.

What is Limbo? It’s a 2D platform-puzzle game set in a strange monochromatic world. The main character is a nameless boy who wanders this strange landscape attempting to avoid the numerous traps in his way. Apparently he’s searching for his sister, but the limited narrative doesn’t explicitly state this, and this objective seems to be based more on fan interpretation.

After all, the game is very minimalistic, with its story told in-game with no dialogue and no captions. The game is vague on its premise, offering us just its title, its visuals and its sparse soundscape, and then leaving us to fill in the blanks. It’s my own personal opinion that this is some kind of nightmare simulator, or indeed, a representation of a state of limbo that must be passed through to reach some kind of salvation. Exactly why is unknown, and I guess this is the point, leaving each player to construct their own reasons.

Graphically, practically everything in the game is black shapes against a grey backdrop, gameplay is limited to moving, jumping and pushing/pulling specific objects, and the score is mostly atmospheric noise. It very easily could have been a recipe for disaster if not executed properly, since it could have been a very boring experience, but fortunately this is far from the case.

Coming across as a strange mixture of LittleBigPlanet and the Oddworld series, the game presents a series of fiendish and ever-changing puzzles, ranging from escaping a giant spider to dodging spinning blades in a rotating environment. The puzzles are generally trial-and-error, and it’s very difficult to get through the game without dying copious amounts of times trying to figure out what the hell you’re doing. There’s even an achievement for not dying, for those masochistic enough to try it out.

Normally, frustration would be a negative thing for a game to cause, but in this case, the frustration is somewhat addictive, compelling you to move forward through very tricky scenarios. Making progress feels satisfactory, since there’s a sense of elation that comes from finally nailing a tricky jump or solving a particularly difficult puzzle. This, really, is the game’s appeal, beyond its excellent atmosphere.

Limbo does walk the fine line between interactive art piece and actual video game, and it’s one of few that manage to do it well. The comparisons to Oddworld and the prospect of hidden secrets make it feel like something that can be mastered and replayed several times, but its very linear nature does make it feel a little limited. Puzzles only have one solution, so much of the gameplay is second-guessing the developer rather than really developing your own strategy.

Sadly, as much as I enjoyed the atmosphere of Limbo, there were times when the gameplay could get a little too frustrating and there were occasions where the atmosphere would be lost to this frustration. One particularly frustrating puzzle involved attempting to use a gravity altering switch to fling a box over a wall, which became tricky to consistently get right due to the very floaty physics that would sometimes leave the box just on the edge of the ledge I was supposed to get it over.

In addition to this frustration, I don’t really see myself returning to the game anytime soon since, despite all the hidden stuff, I feel like I’ve already been through the experience of it, and there’s little to encourage me back.

But Limbo is certainly a decent piece of work that doesn’t outstay its welcome, just a shame that it isn’t likely to be a game that gets revisited often.

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