Limbo ReviewGreg Knoll
I seem to be on kind of bizarre game kick as of late. Hyperdimension, Agarest Zero and I replayed through Cladun. Each one strange in their own right, but combined they still can't compare to the strangeness of my latest endeavor: Limbo.
It begins in a forest, the entire atmosphere black and white. No narrative, no dialogue-barely any sound. Your young character lies unconscious on the ground, camouflaged by his surroundings. And he will continue to do so unless you manipulate the controller. Eventually, his eyes will open, revealing blaring white orbs and a massive noggin that raises. He comes to his feet and you guide him along the 2D plane, blindly I might add as there is still no clue as to who he is, where he is or how he got there.
The first several feet or so it seems pleasant-almost quiet. There are a few obstacles to overcome - jumping over pits, climbing ropes, stalking objects to get a boost - but it initially struck me as harmless and almost like a child's game. Up until the point I was walking, saw several jagged lines on the horizon. I figured they were only grass blades and paid no heed. I believe the designers did that on purpose. The moment I stepped over them, a sharp-toothed bear trap snapped up, catching me in the neck and sending my huge noggin spiraling up and away from my body. My earlier impressions of this game were severed worse than my character's head in that very moment and I realized how cruel, unforgiving and sinister Limbo was going to be.
It's simple, yes, and there isn't much in the way of graphics, powerful story or design, yet in that lies the magic. For lack of a better comparison, it reminds me of a very brutal, far more intense Braid. Except there's no rewind button here. Make the mistake of tumbling into one of Limbo's many, many traps and you're forced to start over shortly before where you died. Sometimes it's easy to continue on, as your previous catastrophe was only a misstep-you didn't see the danger. Other times, it's a matter of timing and the game punishes you over and over until you get it right. The further you travel, the more elaborate and dangerous the game becomes. Once you learn how to spot and avoid the bear traps, they're then swung at you with ropes by maniacal natives. If you somehow manage to cripple the giant spider, he flees. Makes you think your safe, but you unknowingly walk into his tunnel, onto the webs you can't see until you can't move.
The game grows smarter as you press on, and forces you to do the same, placing you in even greater peril. It asks you to use what once destroyed you to progress. One situation asks that you leap over a trap, then drag it underneath a weighed down rope. You then must leap on, climb as quickly as possible before the trap snaps shut. Do so, and the trap snips off the heavy bottom of the rope allowing you to raise to the proper height. I think you know what happens if you're not quick enough.
And that's only the forest. The city is far more unforgiving. There you must deal with technology-climbing boxes on a conveyor belt to get enough distance to leap over a raging buzz saw, or manipulate levers and floating objects as the room fills up with water. Each area comes across as preparation for the next, as the traps evolve and grow more complex. Shifting and driving you on towards the end. Midway through the game I forgot all about seeking answers. I simply wanted to see what they would come up with next, my sadistic side eager to discover how gruesome my death would be.
Though even that wears thin three-quarters of the way through the game. Gravity begins to play a part, as does reversing it and you're left leaping almost impossible gaps over deadly pits and twirling saws, feebly trying to hit a switch halfway down to right yourself but if you're even a fingernails width off, you miss and you can only watch your young protagonist tumble into a violent death again and again...and again. There is no break in-between. No explanation given as to why you're there or even the point.
I'll be honest: it was pride and sheer, morbid curiosity that made me finish Limbo. Now that I have, I feel a slight disappointment. I won't ruin it for anyone but I will say that for all my tumultuous struggles, the reward was hardly worth it. I'm left with more answers than questions. A part of me-the artistic side-respects what they tried to do, leaving it so open as they did. It leaves it up to interpretation, allows the player to create their own story and reasoning behind this odd scenario. The other part-the gamer-wanted something more. Dialogue, a longer ending, anything. Challenging and unique only goes so far. You also need substance. And for the price tag Limbo-a game that could be finished in two hours-carries, it's not so much to ask.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
May I have the strength to lead with compassion. May I have a resolve strong enough to inspire it in others. May my heart be true, my motives virtuous, my spirit valiant. And whether I fail or succeed, may I at least be brave in the attempt.
About the Author: Greg Knoll
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