|System: X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: PlayDead||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Microsoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: July 21, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
I dont usually go out of my way to talk about the use of sound in games, but in Limbo it bears some mentioning. There are parts of the game where all you hear is the clanking of machinery or the sound of distant thunder in the wilderness. There are fleeting, punctuated moments of cacophonous din - I would hesitate to call it music - and moments of background noise. The most effective of all, however, is dead silence. It can heighten suspense, as in the earlier sections of the game, or contrast the fury of anything you come across that does make noise, which will seem comparatively thunderous as a result. If you happen to get skewered by the set of black, spindly legs that slowly uncurl out from the trunk of a large tree early in the game, youll know what I mean. The creepiest part about the silence, though, may be that not even your enemies are outside its influence, giving them an eeriness all their own.
Interestingly, Limbos design even takes after the idea of limbo itself. The boys path is constantly blocked by an enemy or obstacle, and failure means repeating tasks until they are completed successfully. Since the game is a puzzle platformer, its just a matter of figuring out how to navigate each obstacle in your path, whether you have to kill it, open a passage, or escape death. Though the puzzles start out easy, they dont stay that way (though they rarely stray into the impossible). Regardless, failure most often results in death, meaning you must try again. In the rare case that you fail to properly execute a puzzle (a particular incident involving two moveable platforms and a rolling tire that must be balanced on them springs to mind), youll simply have to repeat the task again.
Limbo has no HUD, score, counter for lives, or any other game design convention that interferes with gameplay. Because of this, even death may be metaphorized as getting reset in limbo, forced to perform the same action repeatedly without penalty, but without end, either. This makes the boy akin to a digitized Sisyphus, since as soon as one task is complete or peril is avoided, another takes its place. Of course, the same could be said of all game characters, forced to endure design obstacles until the programming is complete and the game is over. We also know that the game will obviously come to an end at some point. However, the rate and frequency of the parade of trials that make up Limbo do create a feeling of being stuck. Even when moving forward, your only sense of progress is the changing scenery. You are powerless to do anything but move forward. Interestingly, this is mirrored in the games camera, which is one continuous tracking shot until interrupted by death, at which point it cuts back to the last checkpoint. The sense of perpetuity is evident. Thus, Limbo is at its best when it actually does take away control, leaving you equally powerless to stop whatever impending doom may befall you, at least until you figure out the exact actions needed to save you from death.
For this reason, Limbo isnt always fun in a traditional way, but it is effective on a deeper psychological level. Much like the best survival horror games, its more of an experience than something that directly entertains (although some of the puzzles can be real brain busters). Theres no doubt that this kind of gameplay isnt going to appeal to everyone, and it also bears mentioning that the game can take as little as three hours to complete. Yet, this a beautiful, haunting game that will leave its imprint on your mind long after its completion, making it one more deserving of its admission price than countless big-budget retail disc releases.
CCC Freelance Writer