Thursday, July 22, 2010

LIMBO Review

Score: 8.75/10


Developer: Play Dead Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: July 21, 2010

Cost: 1200 MS Points / $15

Pros: Gorgeous and stylish look, stunning presentation and overall atmosphere, Intuitive physics puzzles that really make you think, forgiving checkpoints for trail and error situations

Cons: Short - clocking in at about 3-5 hours for the average player, Wait that was a platform?, Sopranos inspired ending

It had been some time since I last purchased an arcade title from the Xbox live Marketplace, with Shadow Complex being the last truly entertaining download. I had been hearing incredible things about Play Dead's latest platformer, LIMBO. Taking a break from playing catch-up on games I missed out on, I thought I would give it a try.

As soon as you launch the game you realize that this is far from the typical side scrolling platformer. This is due to the fact that there is no real story to LIMBO besides what you piece together. It is much like Portal, in that you awaken in a strange place and the game slowly unfolds before you. No text giving an objective, no voiceover discussing a long journey and a destiny; just a boy waking up in a strange forest pushing forward towards some goal.

As far as presentation goes, this is a memorable experience. There is no true soundtrack to the game at all, with only an occasional quiet melody chiming in on key moments. As crazy as it may sound, it matches the game well. The only sounds that accompany you are the wind blowing, downpour of rain, and many other soft tones that add to the desolate setting of the game. The overall atmosphere and smooth transition from puzzle to puzzle really pulls you into the game. It does not seem like one of those games where the developer decided, "This is the factory level!" or "This is the water level!". It feels like one streaming journey through an empty, and haunting world. With only black and white colors, the game sure looks a lot better than most arcade games out there. It certainly plays on the color tone, offering bright and shiny segments with pitch black caves where all that can guide you are the blinking eyes of the boy.

As far as gameplay is concerned, the game functions much like a physics platformer. What starts simple enough with boulder and lever physics soon becomes a complex game that really makes you think when faced with changing gravity direction and rotating rooms. Where at the start a puzzle could take about five minutes to figure out, the latter rooms had me running around for a good twenty minutes before I figured out what I was suppose to do. Don't expect just box pushing and gap jumping, as the game is littered with hazardous bear traps, live electric platforms, giant spiders, and even mind controlling worms that force you to walk in a certain direction. It did not help that every time I died I felt a little terrible, as the image of a small child, even a shadowy faceless figure, being decapitated by a bear trap or impaled on a spike really sticks with you.

While gorgeous and inviting, the game did have a few drawbacks. The main problem seems to be the length of the game and sudden ending. While I was able to breeze through in little over 3 hours, most are clocking in around 3-5 depending on how adept you are at figuring the puzzles out in a timely manner. The time spent was quite enjoyable, but the sudden ending left a little to be desired. Before you shrug this title off because of the length, there are a handful of achievements and hidden items that keep you motivated to continue playing for a least a little longer. This includes one achievement in which you must complete the game in one sitting without anymore than five deaths; no easy task considering a majority of the puzzles require key timing.

Another issue I was having had to do with the art direction. While the black and white shades of the game produce a beautiful and unique look, it can be a pain sometimes in platforming. Placing an all black trap on an all black ground just invites random deaths. Though the speedy checkpoints did alleviate this problem, falling into the water because you are unsure what is a platform and what is simply background art can become irritating after a few deaths. Expect many instances of trial and error.

Despite the few drawbacks, this remains one of the more impressive Arcade titles I have downloaded. Nothing else approaches the overall feel and look of this game. Though short, the 3-5 hours you experience with the game will stick with you well after playing. It's fun, challenging, and a joy to watch as you go from puzzle to puzzle.

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