Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Re-Review - Limbo


A couple years ago I reviewed Limbo on The Future Machine.  While I applauded the game's art-style, I reacted very negatively to the trial-and-error gameplay, as well as the fact that it was universally embraced by the art-seeking gaming community despite what I perceived to be a variety of design-choice flaws.

Upon revisiting Limbo, I'm happy to tell you that I was wrong.


If you have not played Limbo, I highly recommend purchasing it as it is certainly one of the best games Xbox Live Arcade has to offer.

While I originally thought Limbo's blatant vagaries and shadowy look revealed more style than substance, and that the death-promising platforming negated a basic video game tenet (thought shall have fun!), upon further reflection and a second play-through, I found myself wide-smiled and positively jubilant.  And it isn't often I get to use the word jubilant.
Limbo is akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey.  It's a work of art that fairs better each time you experience it, for upon first glance it's easy to get caught up in the apparent spectacle, and miss the subtleties of its excellence.

Though nothing is explicit in this game, I believe Limbo to be one of the best game-stories I have ever experienced.  The designers behind this game do not assume you are stupid.  They assume you are intelligent and the result is a work of true excellence.  There is no walkthrough or tutorial, which more effectively transports you into the world of the little boy you inhabit.  Players awaken in a grim and beautiful forest without any understanding of the protagonist's identity or quest.  In order to comprehend the story the player must pay close attention to a variety of subtle details that paint an epic, and moving tale of love and loss.  With this in mind I was much more forgiving of the inevitable recurrent deaths, and my frustrations subsided with ease as I simply took pleasure in the smoothness of the controls and the beauty of the world.
I decided to play Limbo again after experiencing Deadlight.  Deadlight will be a very enjoyable game for most people, but I found it impossible to enjoy thanks to the tired plot, poorly animated and voice-overed cutscenes, as well as the clunky controls and mechanics.  Compared to Deadlight, Limbo (even with a similar trial-and-error gameplay style) plays like a beautiful dream.  The designers wisely don't force players to endure any kind of loadscreen or delay after a missed jump and misinterpreted puzzle.  All the player need do is tap A immediately after dying and they will respawn moments before the obstruction that killed them, permitting a seamless flow in gameplay (unlike Deadlight which forced players to read a tutorial telling them to press A, watch a load screen, and then hear the same bad dialogue over and over until clearing a particular section).

I don't want to spoil this game for anyone who hasn't played it, hence the lack of detail in this re-review.  I will write that I have rarely experienced a sense of dread and terror when watching a film or playing a video game quite like I have with Limbo.
The world evolves subtly from a rural and frightening forest to an industrial, electrified world-of-tomorrow-gone-wrong, mirroring the progression of the player's real world, and also the nameless protagonist's state of mind.  The second time around I was particularly moved by the presence of other children in Limbo, shadowy figures bent on hurling a spear through my body or dropping a crate on my head.  They move slowly and ominously, dark hints that you are not alone, even in such a lonely place.  Like the children of Lord of the Flies, they peer at you from beyond the forest-line, not quite understanding the severity of their violent actions; eager for play.
The climax of Limbo is a fairly complex gravity puzzle, and if you're not aware it's coming then it may lead to dissatisfaction.  The player will be so focused on completing the puzzle that they are not emotionally prepared for the brilliant, and ultimately satisfying ending.  It may take a few playthroughs to fully appreciate it.

So, if you have the time and the Microsoft Points, and want to experience something that is both good art and a good game, give Limbo a try.

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