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01 December 2013 @ 09:17 pm
Game Review: Limbo  
Yeah, I'm mostly late to the party when it comes to video gaming.

I just beat Limbo literally seconds ago, after playing it over the last two days. As people told me, it's not that long at all--my time played on Steam is three hours, and that includes some time I had it alt-tabbed while I was doing something else at the time. The actual time necessary to beat the game is maybe 2/3rds of that, since I spent a lot of time dead, dying, or respawning.

That's my major complaint about the game--it is entirely based on trial and error. The developers even call it a "trial and death" game, which as good a capsule summary as I've ever seen. Typically there's no warning at all for when your next horrific death will occur, and you have to run over unstable ground and pull unknown switches and jump into pits without knowing what's below in the knowledge that at least Limbo has an extensive checkpoint system and you'll never be further back than one puzzle. Despite being occasionally annoyed with the next sudden death out of nowhere, there was only one section that I was annoyed at the place where I respawned, and it was just because there was a particular puzzle I didn't like.

I guess in that aspect, it's a lot like Super Meat Boy. The levels in Limbo are longer, but the distance between each individual checkpoint is about the same as the distance covered in a single Super Meat Boy level. On the other hand, Super Meat Boy demands a lot more on-point precision than Limbo does. The number of puzzles where you have to get everything right to the fraction of a second is very low and all of them are concentrated in the second half of the game. Usually, the pace is pretty leisurely, and I was lulled into a false sense of what the game was actually going to be about while I wandered through a shadowed forest until I stepped on a bear trap and my poor pre-teen shadow boy was mutilated to death. That clued me in to how the game worked real quick.

Speaking of the forest, Limbo is gorgeous:

That's one of my pictures. The one a couple paragraphs above is from the Internet, and if you like those a Google search will turn up plenty more. The entire game is cast in light and shadow, with most of the background in soft focus, leading to a kind of odd dreamlike feel. Which is just as well, because when you think too hard about it, you realize that you're getting a pre-teen shadow boy killed in dozens of hideous ways over the course of the game. The name of the game kind of implies the plot--your character died, and woke up in Limbo and now has to get out, or at least get somewhere else--but there's no dialogue and nothing is ever explained. There are a few hints that one can discover through the other characters in the game, if they can be called characters when they show up briefly and never say anything, and the setting. The first half is a forest, there's a brief primitive village in the middle, and the second half is more of an industrial/factory setting with spinning gears and levers and electricity.

I liked the first half a lot more than the second half. I think the art style complimented the forest setting a lot more than the factory, since soft focus and hazy background details fit better when you're surrounded by trees that are filtering out some of the light than when you see neon signs or unknown structures in the distance. The first half, with the pools and half-abandoned villages and shadowy figures barely seen and the giant spider, is far more sinister to me than the lonely factory. Even though I know it's all metaphorical, I still run into the same problem I run into with dungeons in RPGs, where I wonder who built this thing and why it's full of so many traps that anyone who actually lived there would die half a dozen times on the way to the bathroom in the morning. The main reason I didn't like the factory as much is just the loneliness, though. Shadowy half-seen figures are more interesting than spinning blades and falling crates. It wasn't enough to actively made the game bad, because the basic gameplay doesn't change. You're just dodging electric floors instead of thrown spears.

If the trial-and-error gameplay doesn't bother you, Limbo is a great puzzle platformer. Definitely recommended.
 
 
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