Limbo PC review

July 12, 2012

/ by Tin Salamunic

Developer(s): Playdead
Publisher(s): Microsoft Game Studios (XBLA), Playdead (PSN, Windows, Mac)
Platfrom(s): Xbox 360 (XBLA), Playstation Network, Mac OS X, Linux, Cloud (OnLive), Windows
Release Date: July 21, 2010

Fans of horror games are no strangers to gory deaths.  Whether you’re used to being eaten by zombies or trapped on a ship with murderous aliens, death after horrible death is commonplace in the horror genre.  Arnt Jensen’s puzzler, Limbo, will show you every gruesome way to die imaginable, and then some.  Limbo is practically a genre to itself—a side scrolling, simple-yet-complex brainteaser, imbued with a sense of fear that rivals even the biggest titles in the industry.  While there's a complete lack of apparent story and the controls can be oftentimes clunky, the game is in a class by itself - an experience no gamer should miss.

The Good
- A surprisingly complex experience 
- Easy to learn, difficult to master
- Satisfying puzzles

The Bad
- Controls are awkward at times and cannot be changed.
- No story

Before delving into the complete experience, I need to address the puzzles.  They are, of course, the backbone of the game and they are delightful.  They begin simply enough, but build to an almost frightening complexity.  They’re challenging in more than just a mental sense—sometimes, even if you know how to solve a certain puzzle, it’s nearly impossible in practice.  Some puzzles left me with devastating frustration.  When I overcame them, it was like I’d defeated a hated enemy, and I continued with pride.  Looking back, it’s hard to believe I found the opening of the game so underwhelming, I almost didn’t play.

I’ll admit that in the beginning, I was unimpressed with Limbo.  While I love puzzle games, I am also a ravenous fan of narrative, and Limbo has none.  Also, the game’s simple graphics first struck me as shoddy and incomplete.  But by the time I reached the end, I felt triumphant.  It’s one of the best surprises I’ve ever experienced as a gamer.  And its biggest strength by far is its ability to sneak up on the player.

At first, when the screen opened to blackness and shades of gray, I was disappointed.  With no story to guide me, I meandered through the black forest, gray sunlight streaming down, and wondered what I was supposed to be doing.  I leapt a spiked pit.  I climbed down a rope and into a cavern, listening to the sound of my footsteps and the ambient rustle of the grainy trees.  Slowly, I realized I was in a puzzle game, and the world was trying to kill me.  I could die, and die horribly, with a squirt of blood and a rolling head, if I stepped onto a bear trap lurking in the grass.  

The deaths in Limbo are comically unrealistic—limbs leaping into the air as black blood spurts like a fountain, oversized head rolling away.  But this doesn’t detract from the sense of unease that builds around the player.  By the end of the second chapter, I was leaning close to my screen, waiting for some unknown terror to leap out. 
It was only then I realized what Limbo was aiming to achieve—and achieving masterfully.  The graphics are dark, grainy, and plain.  The music and ambient sound are minimal.  The puzzles begin so simply, they go unnoticed.  But Limbo is a deceptive game in that sense.  All of these individually simple features coalesce to form something greater, something layered with complexity.  

Limbo is not just a horror game—it’s a game about fear.  It inspires real dread in the player, without relying on monsters to do the frightening.  There are monsters in Limbo, certainly; there are other children who try to kill you, and giant spiders that take forever to die.  But the real enemy in Limbo, if it can be said to have an enemy, is the world itself: a dark, gripping ambience made of shadows and angst, which drives home the idea that it's not darkness we fear—it's the horrors that might lurk within.

Review by Laura Conrad

Final Score “An Indie Classic” 8.5
The entire game might be black and white, but it’s an incredibly unique art style that radiates with atmosphere.
It might take a while before you get the hang of the game, but once you immerse yourself in the puzzles, you’ll be hooked.
Every second spent in the world of Limbo is a memorable experience.
Atmospheric yet sparse. The sound that’s there works perfectly.

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