July 3, 2012

Game Talk: Limbo

The game is this cheerful all the time!

Limbo had a lot of hype behind it when it was released. I remember hearing about it here and there and basically everywhere, but I never payed it much mind. Then, of course, the reviews came out and Limbo was receiving a ridiculous amount of praise, maintaining a 90 on Metacritic. So I figured I had to check it out. I downloaded the trail version of the game which was actually pretty engrossing. Good enough to show off to all of my friends, at least. As the game starts off, you are a young boy lying in the woods. Continuously mashing any button wakes the boy up and then you're on your way. That's it. No explanation. Apparently, he's out to find his sister or something. Immediately I was sucked into the atmosphere and style of the game. It's all grayscale with a kind of grainy old film filter on top of it with a vignette effect that blurs out the edges. To add to the atmosphere, there really is no music in Limbo. For the most part it's all ambient noise, except for a few occasions where a couple of eerie chords sneak in. So the game was able to suck me in. Good.


So far, I was having a good time with Limbo. Then something happend that put this game on the top of my all time creepiest list. Hidden in the grass along the path was a bear trap, perfectly concealed. I walked into it. It snapped, my head flew off, blood spurted out of my neck, game over. I nearly shit my pants. This had me completely paranoid for the rest of the demo. I walked very slowly and carefully so I wouldn't trigger any more traps. Finally, I got to the spider "boss". Using a bear trap to crunch his legs, he finally retreated and I headed into a dark cave. I walked up the hill until I realized that I was progressively slowing down. The ground was covered in spiderweb. The spider returned for his prey. The demo ended. I nearly bought the game. In fact, I probably would have if it wasn't $15. 


Yeah, so you die a lot in Limbo in a lot of brutal and gruesome ways. Let's not forget you're playing as a child here. 

Limbo is weird for me. The earlier parts of the game were my favorite. They're more unpredictable, eerie, and exciting. After a while, you've pretty much seen all the puzzle mechanics the game has to offer (damn you, brain slug!). It seems like in a last ditch effort to mix it up, the end of the game makes heavy use of gravity switches, something that's been done a lot before. The puzzles are not so much hard to figure out as they are frustrating to pull off. I found two main reasons for this. One, most of them require some sort of precise timing because of a timer or because something is going to crush you. Two, the physics-based gameplay makes the game really difficult to control. I'm not sure if a lot of people will agree with that second point, but I've concluded that must be what it is. I'm used to playing games like Mario and Meat Boy with very tight controls. When I want my character to jump, he jumps. When I want my character to move a precise distance, he does. Not so in Limbo. The laws of physics all play a role in the game. When you're trying to run here and jump there under a strict time limit, the realistic nature of the object movements makes things very frustrating. Like, throw your controller at the tv frustrating.

Jumping: Not as easy as it looks.

Artistically, the game is lovely, though it falls a bit flat in the last third or so as the "wow factor" wears off. That's basically all Limbo is, though. It's a piece of art. Which is why I find it strange that reviewers gave the game such a high score. From a gameplay perspective it is completely unremarkable. It brings nothing new to the table. Not a single gameplay element in Limbo has never been seen before. Limbo is an extremely average, and sometimes frustrating, game. Without the artistic style to it, I think it would have been largely ignored and swept under the carpet. It's amazing how some eerie visuals, ambient sound effects, and minimalistic approach to story (major spoiler alert: both the boy and his sister were dead the whole time) can win the game so many awards. Limbo was a big seller, even with the $15 price tag. It sold more than the excellent Meat Boy! I bought this game on sale for $10, though I think it's worth $5 at most considering its short length and lack of depth. 

Bottom line: Limbo is ammunition for supporters of the "games are art" camp. As a game game, though, it's terribly overrated. Probably one of the most overrated of all time, in my opinion. I want my $10 back.

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