"LIMBO": Entering A Hostile World, Alone
By EVAN FRITZ
The video game industry is beginning to show signs of growing pains. In the midst of a recession, developers are lining up to show gamers, more than ever, why their game stands out from the rest and deserve the consumer’s well-earned money with ad campaigns designed to lure potential customers with boisterous visuals and sound.
Overall, it is just a noisy time in the video game sector, for better or for worse. It is a shame that lying beneath all this noise are games such as “LIMBO” which are meant to be discovered instead of being delivered to the eyes of the consumer via an advertisement.
This sense of quiet discovery is central to the game of “LIMBO,” wherein a minimal amount of context is given to the player as he or she traverses a stark and forebodingly alien environment. That is for the individual player to decide. I am simply aiding an argument as to why any person remotely interested in the interactive electronic medium should play this game, how it stands out from the crowd of games, and (in a nutshell) why it is worth your cold hard cash. On to brass tax.
The first thing you will notice about “LIMBO” is its art style. Everything is in black and white and is represented by a silhouette. Be it a tree, crate, or a… creature. Not only does this give off a very dark and grainy atmosphere, but it lends a dreamlike quality to the proceedings of the visuals. Since all you see are silhouettes, you don’t see any specific details of each object, leading the player to sometimes take a guess at what they are seeing, or get closer and discover the consequences of being curious without being cautious.
That being said, this game is begging to be played in a dark and secluded area where you aren’t rushing through the game, but rather discovering the world you are in along with the game’s protagonist at your own pace. There is no intro cutscene, no prelude. You are a boy who wakes up in a dark forest, looking for your sister. That is all the info you are given before being thrust into a dangerous world by yourself.
“LIMBO” does an excellent job of transitioning its gameplay mechanics. It took me a while to realize after playing through it, but “LIMBO” subtly transforms from a platforming/adventure game into a puzzle game. A good amount of the puzzles in “LIMBO” revolve around the game’s physics system, which adheres to concepts of weight, inertia, and even rudimentary forms of velocity. This is all backed by an elegant and intuitive control scheme: you move with the Xbox 360’s left analog stick, jump with A, and interact with the environment using B. In this way there is no barrier for entry due to the control setup.
What sets “LIMBO” apart from its platforming peers is its atmosphere and mood. It exudes a sense of vulnerability as you travel throughout the world. It feels as if the world itself is out to kill you in any way imaginable, and kill you it (inevitably) will. Any way you slice it, be it a hidden bear trap, a pit of spikes, or various denizens of the woods you will suffer several sudden and gruesome ends. Even the camera angle within the game makes it seem as if you are being watched at all times, as objects slowly shift in the foreground. All of this is intended.
A grim process of trial and error is applied to many of the environmental hurdles within the game. What this does is make the player exceedingly cautious and paranoid of his surroundings. This leads to some truly delicious moments where in order to proceed you need to trust yourself and move closer to what seems to be imminent danger.
The audio is also expertly produced in “LIMBO.” For the most part all you hear are ambient sound effects and occasionally ambient tonal “music” which ranges anywhere from a gloomy bass drone to a bright arpeggiated chord progression in moments of “clarity” within the game.
All in all, “LIMBO” is like the darker cousin of an oft-forgotten game called “Ecco the Dolphin” for the Sega Genesis. Instead of trying to find your pod, you are on a quest to find your sister. Instead of swimming in the deep blue ocean, you are traversing through a deep forest/industrial area. And instead of being hunted by octopi and sharks you are being stalked by something more… creepy and eight-legged.
Both of these games are case-studies in loneliness as you navigate a world that most definitely does not want to be your friend. But through all the gloominess of “LIMBO” is a game worth anyone’s $15 (Xbox Live Arcade). Before all the noise of midterms and finals, find some time to download this game, plug in some headphones to your TV and enjoy the quiet solitude with “LIMBO.” The experience will stay with you long after you’re done.
[Photo courtesy of stashmedia.tv]