Viewing Review: A surreal dark adventure - AVS Forum
A surreal dark adventure Edit
by _Michaelangelo_ Combined Rating: 5.0

"Perfectionism is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to remove." - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Airman's Odyssey

There are always those naysayers...
Pros Cons
  • Unique silhouette art style, great lateral thinking puzzles, minimalism at its best
  • Low medium replayability, puzzles may be frustrating

"Perfectionism is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to remove." - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Airman's Odyssey

There are always those naysayers who say "Indie" games can't compete with "Professional" ones (whatever that is supposed to mean) or worse "That Computer Games are not Art." It is quite obvious that they have never played gems such as Limbo, nor seen how big the "Indie" section is on Valve's Steam. Sadly, their ignorance prevents them from enjoying the new medium of some really marvelous indie games. As a game developer, game player, and recently game designer, I love finding out how my "peers" have discovered new ways to answer the Gladiator's eternal question: "Were you entertained!?" To which I can shout "Heck yeah I was!"

When the game begins there is no HUD or any other non-essential user interface (UI) elements (such as statistics like life/health bars) to break your immersion. The perfect UI is the one that gets out of your way. One could argue that Limbo's designers have taken it o the extreme: the non-existent one! There is never any pop-ups, hints, or tool-tips prompting the user on what buttons to press or what to do. Complexity usually makes this impossible to pull off but Limbo has not compromised their immersion. They have the perfect UI by understanding its foundation: Signal-To-Noise. Which can be translated as:

Less is More.

Minimalism is enjoying a recent resurgence trend in gaming UI (technically it is an old idea where the classic Ultima 7 was one of the first games to use it, but there are hints of it in even older games such as a Karateka.) It comes up every so often, such as the beautiful Ico, so I am always curious when other games embrace it whole heartedly -- it tells me the designer is thinking about their game not as just "Yet Another Game" but as something to be _experienced_.

And Limbo delivers an unique entertaining experience -- first augmented with its visuals.

From Limbo's parallax scrolling to that of a dark, black silhouette atmosphere augmented with bright light creates a vivid contrast -- the game literally stands out. From the glowing of your eyes to the glow worms they have masterfully conveyed the concept of atmosphere that begs the dream-like question: What is this reality?

Controls are simple: Movement, Jump and Use. You won't need to worry about "combos" or "button mashing" like in fighting games but you will need to worry about your timing. Missing a jump will result in a gruesome death. And you will die. A lot. However the game takes an innovate step and completely does away with "save-try-load" mentality that plagues other games. Early on it teaches the player "Death is only a temporary setback". When you die you are resurrected about one screen back so you are never heavily penalized for "failure". On the PS3 I did find there to be a little "input lag" so you will want to pay attention to jumping early. (I never noticed any input lag on the PC version.)

From the start Limbo focuses on the primary fundamental properties of games:

* Exploration, and

* Strategy

While being "just" a "2D platformer" the dark atmosphere ironically conveys that this is a world to be explored. What IS just past the edge of the screen? Exploration is the only way to answer the question "Why am I here?". It works. There is no narrative that forces you to watch pointless unskippable cutscenes that many Professional games berate the player with -- instead the story is slowly revealed as you progress. There is one word that makes me love this style: Subtle.

Your perspective is ever so slowly expanded as you come across new scenery and you start to piece together the back story.

As you explore you will be introduced to new puzzles. As with most puzzle games your progress will be blocked until you solve the puzzle. While puzzles (for the most part) can only be solved one way I never ran into the problem of "What the hell was the designer thinking? That makes NO sense!" Puzzles are logical and build upon past successes. The mental gameplay cycle is broken down into:

a) Explore

b) What do I need to do?

c) How do I do it?

Limbo's tight gameplay is a sign of good design and perfect execution. If only more games would pay attention to the gameplay cycle and let me actually _play_ the game instead of wasting my time with pointless cutscenes that are intriguing the first time and aggravating to watch the 10th time.

As an audiophile ironically I don't pay attention to the technical details of music and sound effects (SFX) such as crisp treble or tight bass. Instead I focus on "Does the music and SFX fit the context of the game? Does it provide the proper audio cues? Or does it annoy the heck out-of-me and I just want to turn it off?" Thankfully none of those worries were ever a concern.

The music augments the ambience. It was never harsh or out of place. Again the word subtle comes to mind.

The SFX are clear, crisp, and beautifully cement the player immersion. For example, from the decapitation sounds I am reminded of the Price of Persia gate slicing that still sends slight chills down my spine. The breaking glass, the sound of water, all the sound effects are visceral and connects the player with the game.

There will be those that complain that Limbo is "too short." I finished it off in a weekend, but first, I would point out there is the secret _completely_ pitchblack level where you are forced to rely 100% entirely on audio cues to complete. Challenging? Yes. But very satisfying. Second, when was the last time you heard someone complain that a movie was TOO SHORT?? A good game, like a good meal, should leave you wanting more instead of "burning you out." Limbo's gameplay duration is "just right."

The Good
+ Unique silhouette art style
+ Great lateral thinking puzzles

The Bad
- Low-to-medium replayability
- Puzzles may be frustrating until your "left brain" figures out the "trick"
- Input lag on PS3

The Ugly

Graphics: 5/5
Gameplay: 5/5
Sound: 5/5
Multiplayer: n/a

Overall: 5/5

Genre: 2D Platformer / Action Adventure / Puzzle
Similar puzzle games: Machinarium, Trine 1, Trine 2, Tales of Monkey Island.
Platforms available on (alphabetical): OSX, PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Platform(s) reviewed: PC (Steam) and PS3
PC specs: Custom Gaming Rig: nVidia GTX Titan, Intel SSD 128 GB, 16 GB RAM, AMD 4-core CPU @ 3.5 GHz.

Bottom Line: Thumbs Up! Must Play.

About the author: Michael has shipped numerous games on DS, PC, PS1, PS2, PS3, and Wii working on almost every aspect of games from engine architecture (rendering,audio,UI), tool pipeline, game design, and art. He has been an avid gamer and programmer since the early 80's. His book "Fundamental Properties of Game Design" is forthcoming.
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Sean Spamilton 09-24-2013, 11:04 PM

Sounds awesome, I must pick it up!

djgill 09-23-2013, 12:35 PM

 Just finished this game on iOS on my iPad recently and absolutely loved it. Highly recommend as well!

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