Prepare to die. A lot.
That’s the first thing I’d tell anyone ready to delve into LIMBO on Xbox Live Arcade. The same can be said about a lot of games, but not many of them carry the theme of death with such a spooky, dark and minimalist quality.
Playdead has created a masterfully entertaining mindbender that comes across as not only a visionary challenge to interpretations of the afterlife’s gray area, but also as an old-school lesson in perseverance and pain.
TThe game mixes some of the best of two gaming staples: Platforming and puzzles. Without bothering with an intricate story, it breaks down gameplay into a litany of challenges that not only test your skills and mind, but also your will.
Adding some soul to the challenge is the game’s morose art style, which presents Limbo as a place ruled by stark black-and-white imagery, with hints of a larger world veiled in gray. You’ll travel through forests, factories and cityscapes, each devoid of color but teeming with a kind of depressing, grim energy.
The art style allowed Playdead to do some eerie, special things with the game’s side-scrolling nature, especially as a psychological tool. The game looks simple, so it’s supposed to be simple to play, right?
No time is wasted in proving that notion to be terribly misguided.
Limbo is loaded with all manner of ways to kill the little white-eyed, boyish protagonist you’re supposed to guide through it.
Among the ways the hero can meet his end are getting impaled by spikes (or by a giant spider), drowning, electrocution, crushed by a boulder, processed by a giant spinning saw or shot to pieces. If you think something can kill you, it probably will. I once died because a box that was a little too high fell on my head.
Also, the game doesn’t spare any expense on gore. Even though it’s in black-and-white, it can still be a little unsettling to some to see someone’s head pop off because he stepped on a giant bear trap. If that bothers you, it should be noted there’s a gore filter.
But the real essence of LIMBO can be found in its wild array of puzzles, which seem to serve as a homage to every possible buzz-killing, you’re-not-good-enough moment you may have experienced with gaming puzzles. There will be moments where the game’s combo platter or traps and tricks will leave you feeling dumbfounded and hated.
Something as simple as crossing a lake can turn into a lesson in backtracking and exploration. You’ll also have your perspective warped by rotating levels. Or, you can encounter devices that trigger magnets or flip you upside down. Sometimes, physics come into play. The more daunting levels involve combinations of everything mentioned above. I don’t want to get too specific, because a lot of the fun lies in seeing what the game relentlessly throws at your feet.
The only issues I had with the LIMBO experience is that the sheer complexity and difficulty of some of the puzzles could defeat members of the casual gaming crowd. The controls are simple, but the game is not.
There’s also a significant dose of trial-and-error, which means you’ll have endure a steady diet of death en route to eventually figuring everything out. Some enjoy that part of the challenge, while others will compare that to banging their head against an e-wall.
LIMBO made me curse to myself, at the TV and in the presence of my dog, but I enjoyed the mental ride to the very end. I just hope that when my time comes, I won’t get stuck figuring out what to do next.
Xbox 360 (Xbox Live Arcade)
Rated T for Teen