Wonderfully designed game that is logical and rewarding despite being painfully short
This year (in particular quarter 3) has been a very busy one for games but generally the focus increasingly seems to be on graphically detailed, expansive worlds where the playing style is either free-roaming or has an element of freedom of movement within it. So your Red Dead Redemptions give you the ability to ignore the "main" story and do loads of other things if you so desire, while the large levels in some first person shooters mean that, although you are doing the same mission, you have options in terms of how you approach the action and where you go. So perhaps with that in mind it is a surprise to find that one of the biggest hits of the year on Xbox Live Arcade (the online shop for "smaller" games on Xbox) is a 2D platform game where each level has to be completed in a very specific way in order to progress.
The "story" of Limbo is vague but essentially you play a boy who awakens in a dark world and moves sideways through it in a hunt for his sister although it must be said that narrative is not really a huge part of the game and indeed the nature of the ending is part of that. The point of the game is that every step of the game is a puzzle to solve. Not a riddle but rather the ability to progress requires you to cross some sort of obstacle by using the tools available to you in that specific area. It sounds simple and, in hindsight it is, but yet it is also challenging and rewarding. The "tools" can be physical objects (mostly boxes to climb onto) or dynamic forces within the area (eg magnets that you can switch on/off). Some "areas" are larger than others (some are wholly visible on one screen) but with all of them the principle is the same everything you need to progress is there, all you need to do is work out how to use them. Once you understand the "rules" of the area then it is a matter of logic. In some areas me "playing" Limbo involved the controller sitting by my side while I stared at the screen muttering to myself, deep in thought about the puzzle.
This is not the case for all of them (some are pretty straightforward) but some of them are wonderfully clever in their design one puzzle in particular I thought was wonderful as I realised that momentum of an object in combination with opposing magnetic forces was the solution. It is a great feeling to progress whether it is working out the logic or making it across an electric "hotel" sign with a series of perfectly timed jumps and movements. Speaking of timing there are plenty of puzzles where you have to get things just right and are jumping towards electrocution knowing that (if you got it right) it will switch off just before you hit it, giving you time to run along it and jump off before it switches on again there are loads of "ohhhh, just made it" moments here.
The design of the puzzles are not the only great part of this game. Visually the game is simple and stunning. Entirely in black & white with lots of shading and atmosphere the game is beautiful to look at it is like playing some Eastern European cartoon from the 1930's. The sound design is equally impressive. There is no (or very little) music but instead the game is populated by silence, footsteps, wind and noises associated with actions (metallic noises etc). It is very effective and adds a lot to the atmosphere.
So, the downside. Well simply put the game is very short very short. I was loving it and it was disappointing to finish it. Given the length it was probably a bit overpriced at £10 (although it is still 4 hours of play, so not too bad) but it does also have limited replay value because, once you solve the puzzles half the fun is gone from the game. I would therefore advise anyone playing to not look for solutions on the internet if you are stuck then be stuck, think about it, if you watch someone else do it on a video then what is the point? The only exception would be those hunting the hidden eggs for the achievements most are so impossible to find that using a guide is the only way to do it.
Limbo is painfully short and feels even moreso because of how much fun it is. However it is beautifully designed in all regards. The simple gameplay/controls and rewarding puzzles make for great simple play where thought and logic are your weapons. Visually and aurally it is stunning although for some reason it attracts my cats to the TV in a way no other game does the noises and the visuals have them enthralled. It is short but it does leave you wanting more and I will be first in the line if they make Limbo 2 (which I really hope they do).
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