Limbo Xbox 360 Review

August 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

Publisher – Playdead – Developer – Playdead – Genre – Platformer/Puzzle – Players – 1 – Age Rating – 18+ – Other console/handheld formats – N/A

‘Bleak’ isn’t a term that you can attach to too many video games. While just about every other form of entertainment is packed to the brim with downright depressing examples of absolute desolation, the gaming world has mainly erred towards its early beginnings as blips and bleeps and bright blobs of colour reign supreme.

While we might find ourselves scared witless by the plights of those in the early Resident Evil titles, or the pant wettingly terrifying Project Zero games, you couldn’t truly describe them as bleak. The Fallout series perhaps, with its despairing take on a society destroyed by nuclear warfare. Maybe even the early Silent Hill titles, particularly the second. But other high profile examples are few and incredibly far between.

Limbo takes the idea of bleakness and transforms it into one of the most distressingly enthralling titles created.

Just looking at a screen of Limbo can bring about depression.

An early foe, for example, once overcome multiple times in a variety of death defying ways, suddenly makes yet another appearance in its final seconds of life. The normal video game custom of its body slowly dissolving into nothing doesn’t show its face within Limbo. Nor does the body flap around as you walk over it like in so many titles ridden with ‘realistic physics’. In Limbo you witness the creatures death just as you stumble across a problem as to how to get across the gaping spike ridden chasm in front of you. So in such a situation you do the only thing you can possibly think of to somehow progress through this nightmare. You tear off your former enemies final limb, and slowly roll its still warm carcass towards the breach. It plummets, planting itself on the spikes below. Now thoroughly impaled, you can utilise this new platform to progress.

You presume that this relatively early glimpse of horror, mutilating a corpse for your own desire, is one that will stand tall as the main example of absolute despair within Limbo’s short lifespan. But you’d be terribly wrong. Throughout the three hours of gaming time that a single play through can muster, you’ll constantly find yourself shocked and awed by the absolute desolation on offer.

Maybe to help the user to cope with all these horrifying moments is a style of control that manages to be a perfect combination of style and ease. With just two buttons to utilise – one to initiate a jump, and another to grab – the method in which you’ll control your tiny protagonist is an absolute joy. It’s incredibly simple, yet feels to pack as much depth as could ever be required to make your way through this two dimensional platforming puzzler.

The visuals, of course, go a long way to induce the kind of atmosphere that Limbo is obviously gearing towards. The varying degrees of black and grey help create a world that’s obviously built for despair. The beauty of the animation of not only your main character, but the world surrounding him is of the highest quality, and goes a long way to prove that the latest graphical clarity isn’t required to instigate a stunning visual experience.

Is this art? Can games even be art? Let's just stop there.

The tale Limbo tells isn’t one for us to tell. The young boy you control, and the multiple deaths you’ll suffer from as you help him travel through this nightmarish world, help embellish a tale that the developers obviously didn’t wish to signpost. And as you reach the games’ conclusion, you’ll no doubt conjure up yet another theory to add to the gathering number already floating around the internet.

The substance of Limbo is of just as high quality as the rest of the package on offer. The platforming and level design is nigh on perfect, and the puzzles become increasingly wicked as time progresses. But yet, none of it ever feels unfair. Undoubtedly you’ll stumble into sections where you’ll perish a good dozen times before you time your jump correctly/flick the right switches in order, but at no point does it feel like the game is punishing you for failing to get everything right at the very first attempt. Admittedly the latter puzzles do tend to focus on physics and timing rather than brain puzzling, but although some perhaps aren’t as memorable as earlier in the game, they’re still way ahead of most examples of gaming wares.

As the ‘games as art’ debate continues – and undoubtedly forever will – Limbo can proudly jump right into the category of creations used to argue the case. But forget all the pretension. Limbo not only has a powerful story to tell, but manages it in such an accomplished manner that belies its meager price point. This years Summer of Arcade is a desolate nightmare. And we are delighted.