Limbo is a curious game. While the aesthetics create a deep gamut of imagery and atmospheric foreboding, the game itself is let down by an almost fundamental contradiction between thematics & mechanics. Read on for the full review of the Limbo video game on Xbox LIVE Arcade.
Limbo: Video Game Review
Microsoft’s “Summer of Arcade" is over, leaving behind a trail of independent games with varying degrees of quality and enjoyment.
One of the breakout titles from this promotion is Limbo the game. Being released on Xbox LIVE Arcade for 1200 Microsoft Points, the Limbo video game presents a monochromatic interpretation of a boys journey through the “edge of hell". This review will look further into Limbo the game and try to conclude whether its deserving of the hype, drawing parallels to Braid & Sleep Is Death, or is unabashedly overrated in the same vein as other independent luminaries like Shank or even Flower.
Setting of Limbo The Game
Set in a vast forest-like expanse, seemingly referred to as limbo (the game taking its title from this concept), the player takes on the role of an unnamed boy as he traverses the black/white abyss trying to seek out his lost sister. The game showcases plenty of nightmarish set-pieces and other landscape specific ploys in order to represent the ominous dread that the boy is supposedly feeling. Almost all encounters with other animals or humans being antagonistic helps to further enforce the idea of a harsh, barren world that the boy is walking through.
Although the game is by no means long, some have even voiced concerns over its length, it provides enough game time to understand the setting and themes put forth by the developers. A problem may lie in the fact they do little to expediate the storytelling or give any hint at a higher philosophical or sophisticated message, often leaving the player feeling no sense of any deeper meaning while playing the game.
This is a problem as, in the same manner as a game for empowerment’s sake, Limbo the game lacks any conviction with its storytelling and leaves the player almost braindead while playing it. Although this lack of thought could be acceptable; if not for the overt and deliberate cliff-hangers and stone-walling tactics the game uses to encourage the player to continue. Effectively adding a layer of depth to something that isn’t there in the narrative.
Aesthetics of Limbo The Game
A defining characteristic of the Limbo video game is in its aesthetics and overall visuals. Limbo the game is one which hangs a great deal on its aesthetic hanger as it were; using such a washed out monochromatic colour scheme to great effect. The blurred backdrop gently teases players with the solid foreground complementing this dynamic. The boy is animated with aplomb and the delicate touches of layering & specific brush strokes make for a stark and shamelessly brilliant look.
The forest of the demo & early game come crashing down before the player about half way through the experience, beseeching the cramped aesthetic in favour of industrial ruin, changing up the landscape but remaining focused on the foreboding visual style. Even if the style remains, the industrial areas of the latter-game tend to contrast the early forests in a deflated sense, with puzzles replacing a pressing predicament.
This minimalist thematic style is further represented through the ambient sound-track. The “music" chronicles the nigh-storyboard nature of the game’s puzzles or set-pieces with an eclectic mix of ambient sounds and deep drones or hums. This arrangement brings merit to each and every piece of Limbo’s gameplay, with the stark and contextually sensitive musicality providing further depth, at least to the foreboding and ominous landscape presented.
Gameplay of The Limbo Video Game
The mechanics of Limbo are never too strenuous for any experienced or even casual gamer. With traversal and movement bringing a surprising fidelity and weight to itself. Throughout the campaign, players will be tasked with solving various puzzles, each with its own unique principals and often solutions. This puzzling adventure gametype is helped immensely by the friction, inertia and overall physics engine, creating a weighty feel that is often missing from games using similar physics based situations.
A distinct problem of this inherent system comes from the need to die or repeat the puzzles/obstacles in order to overcome them. While the idea of overcoming a recurring problem through thoughtful planning and intelligent gaming can be a positive, instead the Limbo video game throws out insta-kills and constant death, almost completely killing the built up tension created by the aesthetics and atmosphere.
To consistently kill the main player as part of the gameplay, going against the games own thematic design, seems like a glaring contradiction. It also doesn’t help the puzzling elements of the game when some of them require a few deaths in order to navigate the inner workings therein. It essentially feels great while you’re playing the game; but the contradiction of terms and lacking dynamical intelligence in the mechanics is a glaring hole in Limbo’s design when looked at posthumously.
Overall Opinion of The Limbo Video Game
Its funny. Games like Axel & Pixel, Noby Noby Boy or Light’s End so firmly reinforce their own themes through their gameplay that its almost an expected design feature in smaller, niche-market releases. Limbo changes that paradigm however and often loses sight of its own thematic legwork; using some pretty contradictory mechanics to put a separate point across. Almost de-constructing itself with the constant killing of its main character, instead of building up the tension of its atmospheric foreboding, is detrimental insofar as a whole experience.
This is still forgivable when looking at the package in a more focused manner. The visuals are stunning, the soundtrack is highly attuned to the atmosphere the game expounds, while the fidelity shown through the actual gameplay and presentation works well. Unfortunately, no real meaning is derived from any of this, in an almost perfunctory manner.
A player could easily play through Limbo the game and think it was a great little independent game, but after looking for something deeper behind the paper-thin and abrupt narrative, it falls completely flat. There is no overriding meaning to any of the game aside from its own befuddling contradictory conflict between death and tension. While that may be acceptable to some, its own deliberately constructed & open-ended storytelling is paltry at best, providing no redeeming reasons to play through this game ever again. When the narrative is so lacking, its never in your interest to leave it to the interpretation of players, especially when much of it contradicts the aesthetics and overall style.