Travels Through Limbo: A Review

I’m pretty sure that LIMBO was created for the sole purpose of making my week. I’ve played through the the game three times now and I know I’ll be going back to uncover a bit more of the mystery that exudes from this great Summer of Arcade title.

Narrative is a strong part of Limbo. The story being told though can’t be parsed out into anything more complicated than the simple description hidden in the game’s details…

“Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters LIMBO.”

Beyond that, the boy wakes up and starts his journey through a world that holds its mystery tightly to its chest. If you are someone who needs the ending to your stories full of revelation, this is not the game for you. By the end of this three to four hour journey you’ll be no closer to a concrete answer. For those that enjoy a good mystery and want to interpret the artifacts left at every turn, you’ll find that a story unfolds mostly of your own creation and from a series of questions about the world known as LIMBO.

At its core, LIMBO’s success is in its fantastic gameplay. Playdead has created a wonderful physics system that allows for a puzzle platformer that is packed full with truly inspired puzzles. The game has no levels and passes from one puzzle to the next with a fluidity that completely immerses the player into the world.

I found myself dying regularly while attempting to complete most puzzles– to the point that it felt more like a game mechanic than a punishment. Trial and error became a regular tactic. Regular checkpoints and the addictive nature of each genuinely fun puzzle pushed me forward. Death isn’t ever taken lightly, though, because of the graphic ways in which the boy meets his end, shown in silhouette or not.

You will probably read this in many of the other reviews to be published, but this is not a child’s game. I found myself regularly hopping through windswept tall grass, only to come upon the remains of some giant creature’s meal, or the last resting place of another, much less agile, young boy. At those times, I was grateful for the monochromatic nature of the game’s art design.

To be honest there is too much to see in this game! Playdead has packed the swampy terrain and enigmatic mechanisms with suprising amounts of detail. Multiple playthroughs are warranted just to notice the unsettled swamp scum floating on fetid bodies of water, or white hot sparks flying from electrified patches of danger. LIMBO uses parallax beautifully to create a huge expanse of forest and cityscapes. Wonderful moments  of claustrophobic suspense build to a climax, as rare, glorious rays of light pierce the multitudes of gray that swim past the boy. At times it was physically difficult for me to press on with this mystery boy’s adventure, knowing that more darkness laid before him.

What keeps this world’s lifeblood coursing is its fantastic sound design. Rare bits of music whisper throughout, but I never really noticed it until after the fact. Dissonant chords buzz in your ears during moments of danger and slowly die away. This creates the effect of a adrenaline-fueled rush of blood. Like liquid, it flows right back into mossy footsteps and the croaking of some (hopefully) docile creature in the distance. Rusted ladders, echoes of dead machinery, the hiss of extinguished flame, and the sudden coming a torrent, all bring the world to life so vividly that color is infused into each bit of sound rather than object.

The visual and sound design combine together to create an overall aesthetic that seems to be hypersensitive to interpretation. At the same time the player tries to figure out the myriad of shadows that create the world, they are in an constant state of discovery through the audio queues.

While most of the puzzles have only one solution, players will return to experience more of the beautifully rendered world and challenging achievements seemingly placed in-game only to provoke the player to explore more.

I can’t recommend LIMBO enough. Few games catch me up in such an intrigue of frustration as LIMBO, not because of any difficult  puzzle design but because of a brief peak into a world that I so greedily consumed and must now attempt to digest.

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