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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Limbo - Xbox Live review for the 360

What is Limbo? Well, here’s one set of definitions:

–noun, plural -bos.

1. ( often initial capital letter ) Roman Catholic Theology . a region on the border of hell or heaven, serving as the abode after death of unbaptized infants (limbo of infants) and of the righteous who died before the coming of Christ (limbo of the fathers or limbo of the patriarchs).

2. a place or state of oblivion to which persons or things are regarded as being relegated when cast aside, forgotten, past, or out of date: My youthful hopes are in the limbo of lost dreams.

3. an intermediate, transitional, or midway state or place.

4. a place or state of imprisonment or confinement.

That said, it’s also an Xbox 360 game that is part puzzler, part platformer and filled with more questions than answers in the end. My oldest daughter is not much of a gamer, and this is a game that caught her eye in one of my Game Informer previews, and then she has since sat and watched me play through about half of the game. It’s a almost disturbingly captivating experience that is far too short but deeply engrossing as well. Here’s my review of the game.


Graphics – 9:

There’s no color. The detail is not amazing, with loads of textures and flashy 3D effects. But visually this game is incredibly unique, and it’s deeply involving. I’ve included some screenshots and the usual video at the bottom. If this is a game you have any interest in at all? Do yourself a favor and check these out. There’s gorgeous play on shadows and light. Darkness and fog. It can be a bit disconcerting at times – a world of shadows and movements, and you will die wandering into the dark now and then. All the same, turn off your lights and play this in a dark room to fully appreciate the contrasting environment.


Music and Sound – 8:

Really almost no music to speak of, but honestly? You don’t miss it in this game. That’s because the environmental effects are so good. They don’t help you in the way that a surround system in Modern Warfare 2 does – you don’t hear a bullet striking near your back, left shoulder or anything like that. But there’s a wide variety of creepy sound effects, squeaking sounds and specific cues that not only effectively assist in presenting a spectacular atmosphere, but are useful in some of the puzzles as well (especially near the end where listening to the beats can help you navigate some very precisely timed puzzles).


Gameplay – 8.5:

The controls, like so much of the presentation, are both simple and yet beautifully implemented. You move your character around, and you have a jump button (that if you hold down can enact a sort of skipping animation that is rather nice) and an ‘action’ button that you press to interact with various things in your environment. That’s it. And while the control scheme itself may look shallow at a glance, its implementation is anything but. That same action button can pull crates, flip switches, activate levers and all of these things tie into the puzzles in their own way. Just when you think you’ve figured out what the game is going to throw at you, it tosses you something new. The difficulty of the puzzles scales nicely, from very simple early on to rather complex by the end of the game, but you very seldom get too frustrated. There were a few puzzles where I died a lot, but the game is very kind in that you respawn at the start of a new puzzle. Now, some puzzles are a bit longer to complete than others, so you may find yourself doing the same thing over and over again as you try to get your timing down, but the game doesn’t cheat – it’s your own fault and your own timing you need to perfect.


Intangibles – 7:

The game has amazing atmosphere. I was lost in it while I played, and it was almost jarring at times when one of my kids would ask me a question or if I had to get up to do something. There’s some unlockables that you can get which are kind of cool. For starters, the achievements are mostly based on finding ‘eggs’ along the way, and most of these are not in plain sight and easy to acquire. You can get a couple of items for your avatar though, if you enjoy changing those around on Xbox live – you can get a “Limbo” shirt (naturally it’s black with white lettering – simple yet fits the theme) for finding an egg, and another item you can get is a little critter as a pet. He’s a little black… well, critter, and you earn him by beating the game. It’s a small set of things, but it’s nice. The puzzles are varied and the game never really bored me. So why only a 7? It’s just too short. Short enough for me to recommend against it? Probably not – I’m very glad to have gotten to play it and I picked it up as part of the Xbox summer of arcade deal – having grabbed 2 other games and getting the bonus 400 Microsoft points. But the came can be beaten in about 3 or 4 hours. 5 if you die lots. In fact, there’s an achievement I haven’t gotten to try yet but plan to where you have to beat the game in a single sitting without dying more than 5 times. Taking a look around the internet and leaderboards, and it looks like quite a few people have done this. For roughly $15/1,200 points, that just doesn’t feel like enough game time. Make it 800 points/$10 and I think it’s a bit more fairly priced.


Overall – 8.2:

This is a very atmospheric game that is a fun blend of platforming and puzzling. It’s just short. Way too short. And without any kind of multiplayer and online, there’s really not much to encourage a 2nd playthrough other than looking for the achievements you missed the first time through. Also it should be noted that the main protagonist is a young boy. This young boy meets a variety of grizzly ends. You don’t see red blood splattered over the place, but you die often and to things such as spiders, buzz saws, drowning and even bear traps. The imagery may not be suitable to young children, especially those prone to nightmares. The game is like a single giant nightmare for a young boy, really.

And then there’s the story. Limbo – one of the definitions from earlier: a region on the border of hell or heaven, serving as the abode after death of unbaptized infants (limbo of infants)


The game starts with a simple cut scene. Keep in mind, there’s no voice narration or even long scrolling blocks of text to detail the story. When you reach the end it’s left a bit ambiguous. The developers have even said as much – that they are leaving it open for interpretation. I know how I took it, but it’s certainly not the way everyone else will – just looking up limbo ending discussion on Google returns tons of theories on it, and I will link these three here – each site/link is different for those curious about it – but it’s left open-ended by the developers for us to draw our own conclusions. It’s open-ended stuff, and there’s plenty of spoilers on those pages. What else can I say about the game? It's a bit too short for its price, but it's a hauntingly beautiful yet eerie one that certainly made an impact on me during and after playing it, and I'm glad I had to chance to do so.