Where's the pole and Hawaiian music? I was told Limbo. I've got my awesome shirt on and everything.
When I saw Limbo for the first time I was very skeptical. Yes it was a side scrolling platformer, a type of game which I'd been fond of ever since I can remember, but it looked like a game that a programmer had designed, meaning that the art style wasn't really anything to write home about. That being said, I downloaded the game and figured I'd give it the minutes it was worth -- I was shocked, though: if ever there were a game that single-handedly changed the face of an entire genre, it's Limbo. If there were a game that is both visually interesting and enjoyable to play, it's Limbo. If there's a game that will always make me wish it had "just one more level," it's Batman: Arkham Asylum. Also Limbo. And Super Meat Boy.
Limbo has been on my radar for a while; I'd seen the E3 demo and I'd heard and read a few people say that it's similar in concept to Little Big Planet: you go from left to right and grab/move things in order to get to the next area. Pretty straight forward. Normally I don't go for games that are so linear that you could draw a line on them with a ruler, but Limbo was different; Limbo intrigued me. I'm not sure if it was the platforming that got me interested or the puzzle element, it could have even been the art style, although I'm not generally one to go for an interesting art style over actual gameplay, but for whatever reason I sat down and played Limbo.
The first thing you'll notice upon starting up Limbo for the first time is that there's really nothing in terms of an introduction. You start the game and the main character, the child seen in the video, wakes up and from then on your one and only task is to go from left to right by whatever means necessary. Granted, in the PC version, you'll be slamming 'esc,' 'wasd', and the spacebar while wondering what the hell is going on. It looks like a cut-scene, but then after about 30 seconds of nothing, things demand action: to the controls scheme! Wait -- what is this? ARROW keys? Seriously? Oh well, I'll cope. The learning curve is nice and steady - there's not much to really learn in games like this, but that doesn't mean that the puzzle themselves are simple. Not by a long shot.
From the very beginning of the game the puzzles can at times be literally brutal. A brutality I wasn't expecting from a game with a small child as its protagonist, to a certain extent though most of the brutality was only seen within my own mind. When I went back and actually looked at what was happening on the screen instead of what was happening in my head, I realised that while the game might only show what SEEMS to be the main character impaled on a spike, but all the blood and gore I was putting in myself. That always seems to be the best way in my opinion. A horror movie is never quite as scary when you can see what's happening, it gets scarier when you watch the character walk into a room and then just hear what's happening to them. You're putting the gore in your mind, and your mind will always be more graphic than anyone will ever be allowed to do in a movie. Or in a game in this case.
The gameplay of Limbo is very similar to a few classic games I remember from my childhood. Most notably Flashback (which I played on an Acorn, which 99% of you will have no idea at all what one of those is), and the first two Oddworld games. A side on puzzle/adventure game where you end up doing a lot of climbing, lever pulling and running. I don't think I've enjoyed this style of game as much as I enjoyed Limbo since I played Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus, which was 11 years ago now. It's very impressive that PlayDead made me enjoy a game as much as I did those classic games of my youth, what's even more impressive though is that this is their first game. To be honest I didn't believe it when I first heard that, I had to do some research myself. I don't think I've ever seen a company's first foray into the game industry be so polished, thoughtful, and universally acclaimed. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for whatever they do next. I just hope they don't milk Limbo for all it's worth, move on, do something else with the clearly vast amount of talent you have at your disposal.
I couldn't possibly talk about Limbo without talking about the visually striking art style. Black on grey. I'm certain I've never seen a game like this and it's something that I'll definitely be pointing people to when the argument of “Games as Art” inevitably comes up again. I'm not saying that other games aren't pieces of art, but Limbo is one of those games that just makes people sit up and take notice. The only downside about that art style is that it can sometimes be hard to see what needs to be done in a specific puzzle, it could be a bear trap that needs moving but it might be slightly obscured by some grass in the foreground and because everything in the foreground is black it's easy to miss. There were a few times I found myself stumped by a puzzle before literally walking into the piece I was missing in order to fully understand what was expected of me. That being said, 20 minutes of confusion in what was eventually a 6 hour game is an acceptable price to pay.
Limbo is one of those games that comes along every so often, it's something totally different from almost everything else on the market, and it takes the industry by storm purely because nobody was expecting it. It's the perfect game to sit around with a few friends or a significant other and play because it's just as much fun to watch and work out the puzzles together as it is to do it alone. Everybody should at least play this game, and seeing as it's now on Steam and XBLA, there's no reason not to give it a shot. Chances are though you'll love it just as much as everyone else did and you'll pay the price to get the full game. What were you going to spend those Microsoft Points and "dollars" on, anyway? More Call of Duty stuff? Buy something well-worth your hard earned cash.