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Game Impressions: LIMBO

July 22, 2010

Introduction

Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade kicked of this week with the highly anticipated black-and-white puzzle platformer LIMBO. Yes, it’s spelled with all caps… I have no idea why. And having no idea why sums up a lot about this game.

Story

What can I say about the story?  Well, not much.  The word “minimalist” has been thrown around to describe the gameplay, but it applies equally well to the story as well.  You play a boy, or at least what looks like a boy from the outline onscreen, and you walk to the right until you get to the end.  Along the way, you are presented with a series of puzzling obstacles, from mechanical elements to spear throwing boys to giant spiders.  The official story of LIMBO is that you are a little boy trying to find his sister, but you wouldn’t know it.

Most of the time, your primary purpose seems to be to just get the hell out of there.  The moody atmospheric lighting and ambient sound convey that, as well as the tiny slices of horror.  You walk past other people hanging from nooses.  A pack of boys tries to kill you ala Lord of the Flies.  At one point you even use the floating dead body of another boy to cross over water.  And the myriad ways you die (and you will die) are brief but creepy.  It reminds me a bit of games like Flower on the PS3, in that mood and presentation win out over story, and each player may take something different from it.

Gameplay

LIMBO’s minimalism applies to the game controls.  You play the entire game with just two buttons: one for jumping and the other for pushing, pulling and activating things.  But the variety that the developers squeezed out of those few actions is impressive.  The game plays as a 2D puzzle platformer, and involved a lot of running, jumping, flipping switches, dragging crates around, riding on moving objects, and generally trying not to die.

Much of the game is trial and error, or trial and death as the developers say.  But you usually learn a little something with each death that helps you figure out the next puzzle.  I lost count of how many times I died, and the game doesn’t track it (a missed opportunity for the leaderboards), but I never felt so frustrated by any one area that I wanted to quit playing or throw the controller across the room.  And figuring out some of the more challenging puzzles was quite satisfying.

Extras

As an XBLA game, LIMBO has 12 achievements worth 200 points.  Most of them involve finding little white blobs in out of the way places.  I didn’t realize this until I was a third to halfway through the game, even though I got one pretty early on (hint: go left).  Once I did I started looking for them, and found quite a few.  There are also two avatar awards: a t-shirt for unlocking an achievement, and a little creature for completing the game.

Conclusion

I enjoyed the first half of LIMBO more than the second half, because the locations seemed a little more unique and the atmosphere a little more eerie.  The game moves you from forest to city to factory, and by the time you hit the cogs and buzzsaws and guns of the factory area, the game loses a bit of the odd nightmare quality you felt in the earlier areas. But it kept my attention, and I finished the entire game in roughly 3 hours.  I got 8 of 12 achievements for 165 of 200 achievement points.

It’s at times grim, depressing, spooky, and frustrating.  But in the end, it’s brilliant.  Fans of games like Oddword: Abe’s Oddysee or Braid will like LIMBO.  Its weakest point is its price, at $15.  I’m sure it’s bound to put people off, and though I don’t at all regret buying it, I think it would sell better for $10.  But there are a few other Summer of Arcade titles coming, and you can get points back for buying multiple titles (400 points for 3 titles, 1200 for all 5 titles), so if you need to justify the price to yourself, think of it as the title you got a discount on.  Its worth playing at whatever price you feel comfortable with.

Wanna see my thoughts on other games?
Check out my other Game Impressions.

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