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    Review: Limbo

    This year's highly self-touted Summer of Arcade saw a pair of releases that caught my eye the way Xbox Live Arcade games rarely do. After spending my sparse free time the past two weeks thumbs deep in the XBLA, here is my late-albeit-great take on Limbo.

    is like the indy film you watched last week with some of your hipster friends. You either like it because it's such a rare work of art, or because so many other people enjoy it, the hipster in you tells you to hate it. Some other parallels are the open ended (lack of) story, the radically different art style, and the fact that no matter what inconceivable hardships the protagonist overcomes, he appears to be doomed, regardless of how the game ends. However, none of the irony will deter this big-headed, bright-eyed hero from successfully navigating a drab world of shadows littered with dozens of hazards to kill you in the most grotesque and disturbing ways. Holla!

    Limbo is good old fashioned platforming at it's finest. The hero can't attack, he can't run, he can't swim, hell, there's a lot of things he can't do. One speed of a jog, a modest jump, a ledge hang, the ability to drag small items around, and your wits; that's it. As much as I love stylized and over the top action, I more than welcome the jog-jump-swing mechanics of the Pitfall days. Besides, the most dangerous weapon in human history is your best weapon in Limbo; your brain. Gameplay is drenched with puzzles, straight forward in their presentation, but complex in their execution. The tricky ones you may find yourself breezing right through, while getting stuck for fifteen minutes on the gimmes. The tricks frustrated me on more than a few occasions, but it made thinking my way past them that much more rewarding. If you become vexed with some of the puzzles and switch the game off for the night, you're really extending your play with the game, because it's absolutely possible to beat it in a one to two hour sitting. For all the positives the gameplay brings, Limbo's (lack of) length is it's main offender

    Art Design
    Developer Playdead keeps Limbo's graphics mundane yet elegant, dark yet beautiful, and simple yet grandiose. The entire game is played in black and white, with the line of play taking place on a heavily silhouetted mix of forest-meets-industrial-slaughterhouse. While the trees, caves, and gears tend to keep the foreground flat black, light more often than not bleeds through the background, allowing you to see the world's detail. The knock most reviews have on many of today's games is the lack of color and dreary neutrality of the game world leaves the gaming experience feeling lifeless. And while Limbo has even less color than some of those games, the world still feels lush and full of life. 

    Sound Design
    I'm not mad that Limbo has no real music to speak of. The game world's ambient noise sets the mood better than most game's soundtracks. The churning of gears as you activate a switch, the grinding of a circular saw steadily growing louder as it whirs toward you, the blood curdling echo of your body being pureed by said saw after mistiming your jump.. Or the soothing harmonic cord drone that invokes thoughts of a better place as you modestly trot forward to your certain death. It's all very stirring, and serves the game well. I came into the review wanting to write that Limbo needed some sort of a musical score to mix with the ambiance, something like Silent Hill has always done so well. Truth be told, as succinct as Limbo is, I realize as I write this that the sound design is pretty much perfect for this type of game.

    I mentioned Silent Hill, I think that stands as a good comparison to Limbo; a dumbed down, 2D Silent Hill demake. Scratchy film grain, disturbing traps and enemies, ambient soundtrack, and the open for interpretation story. The first few Silent Hill titles were some of the best games of their time, and one could even argue, of all time. For Limbo to draw comparisons to that, as a $15 Xbox Arcade game, I'd say Playdead should be thrilled with their end product. 

    Buy it if: You enjoy platforming, puzzles, indy films, Silent Hill, you're a goth or hipster
    Don't buy it if: Less than four hours for a single play through is a turn off
    Value out of $15: $10
    The Score: 8 outta 10 Blasters!


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