Year: 2010
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Playdead
Genre: Puzzle
Review Date: 7/30/10
Rating: ***

A delightful throwback to old-school puzzle games of the Amiga/Genesis era, "Limbo" requires patience, persistence, concentration, precision, and split-second timing. Many of its challenges are mentally and physically brutal, but the game tempers that with a generous checkpoint system and unlimited attempts. You learn how to play the game by dying, and you'll be dying A LOT. The ambiguity is also reminiscent of classic platformers, where your character is thrown into a hostile environment and you have no idea who you are, where you are, or what you need to do. The protagonist in "Limbo" is the silhouette of a young boy, punctuated by two large white eyes. He can run, jump, climb, and push things around, but lacks the ability to swim. Any water that's more than waist deep causes the boy to immediately drown, which is rather annoying. The world that he awakes in is immediately dangerous, strewn with bear traps, spiked pits, crushing boulders, whirling saw blades, brain sucking parasites, electrified floors, laser guns, and of course, water. Apart from the occasional birds and butterflies, the game is almost entirely devoid of life. Any people that you run into are either dead or out to kill you. Other than survival, the objective of the game isn't clear and the perplexing ending doesn't offer any closure or insight. If anything, it just drives home a feeling of pointlessness, but with a title like "Limbo," maybe that is the point.

The first thing you notice about the game are its striking visuals. Everything is presented in shades of gray, with deep shadows, hazy fog, and sharp silhouettes. Every inch of the landscape oozes with a thick sense of dread and hostility, as if it were threatened and offended by your very presence. The art direction is wonderful and offers a delightfully bleak perspective that you rarely see in video games. The presentation is quite creepy and very violent, as the boy dies repeatedly in a wide variety of horrific ways. However, the most terrifying part of the game for me was being pursued by a very large and very persistent spider. If you have arachnophobia, stay far away from this game. It still gives me chills just thinking about it... Music and sound effects are sparse, but highly effective when they show up.

The gameplay mechanics are simple enough, but execution requires pixel-perfect precision and split-second timing. The puzzles are fiendishly clever and most of them are reasonably easy to solve. Towards the end, though, they get really tough and I finally had to resort to a walkthrough on several occasions. The biggest flaw with the game design is that sometimes it's not clear what you can interact with and how you can interact with it. I don't know if that's a legitimate design flaw or just my inability to process the information that's given to me. The game also tapped into my love/hate relationship with video games, as I became increasingly frustrated by my inability to perform the feats that were demanded of me. Each step of the game is followed by a feeling of accomplishment and a sigh of relief knowing that I won't ever have to go through THAT particular piece of pain again. Which makes me wonder why I feel so compelled to go through the pain in the first place? Are the rewards justified, or are video games simply tools for obsessive masochists? Overall, philosophizing aside, "Limbo" is a journey worth experiencing if you have a fondness for old-school gaming, and it reminded me of "Shadow Of The Beast III" and "Lemmings" on several occasions. Just don't play it before going to sleep...