Review: LIMBO (PS3)

Title: LIMBO
Format: PlayStation Network Download
Release Date: July 19, 2011
Publisher: PlayDead
Developer: PlayDead
Price: $14.99 / $11.99 PlayStation Plus

Gameplay:
You wake up in a black and white world with no instructions, no direction and only a few simple commands to control your character. Developer PlayDead sets the tone for this game right off the bat.

Essentially a puzzle-platformer, LIMBO takes place in a very dark and twisted world where you’re searching for your sister. It’s a very minimalistic game, from the art style to the sound design and even to the menu as well. Don’t take that for cutting corners by the way, everything in this game was created with great care and thought and it shows.

While many of the puzzles may feel familiar, the setting is anything but. It’s all designed to give you a feeling of isolation and loneliness, even despair. The few characters you meet are either dead or running away from you. Others are actively trying to hinder your progress. It’s very effective in making you feel like an outcast.

Underneath the hood is a solid physics engine that comes into play throughout the game. Whether you’re crossing water on the backs of floating corpses, pushing boxes off ledges or reversing gravity, everything behaves as it should, making you feel that much more connected to the world.

The learning curve ramps up nicely over the course of the game allowing you to get your bearings and try to make sense of things before they become more difficult. Player deaths, of which there will be many, can be particularly gruesome. Whether you’re ripped apart in a massive bear trap, electrocuted, impaled on spikes, eaten by a spider or more it can be downright horrible. The fact that the game is in black and white doesn’t make it any less nasty. The deaths tend to come quickly, when you least expect them which makes them that much worse.

You only have the ability to walk, jump or interact with some objects, nothing else. Interacting consists of flipping a switch or pushing/pulling something and that’s pretty much it. From there, you’ll need to asses each area as you enter it, deciding how to get from the left side of the screen to the right relatively unscathed. Obstacles and enemies you encounter include massive spiders who will spin you into a cocoon and eat you given the chance, brain slugs which will force you to walk in one direction against your will, large boulders, buzz saws and more. There also just happens to be a mine cart level so you know it has to be good 😉

While some of the puzzles can be particularly frustrating, it’s always good to keep in mind your limited arsenal and that fact that it’s a physics based world. This becomes very important in later levels. The one upside here is that you have infinite lives and checkpoints come quite often keeping the frustration level down a bit.

You can beat the game in about three hours, but the hidden items will keep you busy for a little while after that. The other little bonus for PS3 owners is an extra, hidden level that only appears after you’ve found all the hidden items in the game. Think of it as a little consolation prize for having to wait out that year of timed exclusivity on the 360.

Visuals:
In a world of high definition, in your face action, Limbo takes a decidedly low key approach. The black and white visuals really help make the game what it is. The corners of the screen are all darkened while background and the occasional foreground layers move independently of the layer your character appears on, giving the world some gorgeous depth.

Light is used in a number of ways, somethings saving you from enemies, sometimes guiding you to hidden treasures. Darkness and shadows can work against you as traps on the ground tend to blend in with their surroundings if you’re not paying attention.

It’s an absolutely gorgeous game with a beautiful and unique art style that’s unlike any game you’ve seen before let alone any puzzle game. Everything in the game just looks and feels as it should within this dark little world. It’s worth trying the demo even if you don’t like puzzle-platformer type games.

Audio:
Like everything else in the game, audio benefits greatly from the philosophy of “less is more”. Music is used sparingly and usually either in melancholy tones or urgent calls. Otherwise, the simple sounds of the environment are all you hear throughout the game.

Surround sound really helps pull you into the world as your character’s footsteps echo, crickets chirp, water drips, all of it adding to the loneliness like everything else. Sound is also a key in puzzles as things can happen off screen and the sound of an object falling or shifting is your only clue.

A lot of thought went into the sound design of this game and it’s all critical, whether it’s adding to the atmosphere, giving you clues to off screen actions or warning of danger. For something that there’s so little of, it makes a big impact on the overall game and most players will never notice it.

Conclusion:
While the game screams minimalism, each little piece of it comes together to create a living, breathing yet desolate world. As you make your way through the world solving puzzles, the game will make you genuinely feel smart when you get past a particularly tricky one, like any good puzzle game.

Yes, it’s $14.99 and it’s relatively short, but it’s all about the experience. This is one of those rare games that feels fresh and new and really unlike anything you’ve ever played before. It’s definitely not for everybody so I’d suggest giving the demo a try, if you like it, buy it, because you’ll love the game.

Score:
9.0

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  • Anonymous

     The demo was pretty great, especially after waiting for it for so long. And you’re right, some of those deaths so far are pretty damn shocking. The only thing stopping me from buying it is the hope for a PSN sale.

    • Well it’s only been on sale once in the year it’s been out on XBLA and that was for $9.99. I’d say if you like it and have a Plus Membership it’s worth getting now qt $11.99

  • Bought it, played it, liked it.  Now to go back and get all the eggs.

  • Anonymous

    PS = Port Stuff.

  • Great review, this is one of the Xbox live games I thought was lost to us PS3- only owners. I am sure to pick this up. Now if we could only get Shadow complex and Bastion…

    • I’m sure as soon as Supergiant Games gets some more engineers they’ll port it over.  That was the main answer I got from the narrator when I saw him at PAX East this year.  Cool game, can’t wait till it gets ported next year.

  • Anonymous

    Based on my playthrough a year ago on the 360, this is a very appropriate grade.  Highly recommended all around!

  • Enjoyed the review and will play it as soon as I pull it from our press account but had a good laugh at “From there, you’ll need to asses each area as you enter it…”
    heh, asses.

  • I have played this now almost all the way through and I can really recommend couch co-op for this one. Had one of my friends over and solving the puzzles together was really fun. And you can pass over the controller when you are too frustrated after failing the execution of a sequence five times in a row.

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