Too many games nowadays are classed as a work of art. It’s very easy to see some funky graphical stylings or top-notch soundtrack in a mediocre game and forgive its shortcomings because of the “art” on display. So what happens when almost everything about a title is elevated above what you’d normally think as a result of how it’s been presented? Well, you’re probably playing Limbo, and chances are you’re loving every second of it.
It’s tricky to write much about Limbo for two reasons. Firstly, there isn’t much of a storyline to talk about, and secondly I wouldn’t want to ruin any of the game’s surprises for you. But let’s tackle the challenge head-on and look into the storyline. Don’t expect Mass Effect levels of plot or interaction here, and if you’re a fan of Metal Gear Solid’s epic cut scenes then look away now; Limbo features no communication, no plot introduction and no breaks in the gameplay. As soon as the small boy under your control wake up in the forest, you’re on your own.
Taking your first few steps is a fairly serene experience, and lets you take in the breathtaking atmosphere set from the very moment you load the game. The black and white, almost early cinema style visuals are deceptively advanced. Lighting casts shadows flawlessly across the forest, and later sections take the lighting to a different plain altogether. As I said earlier, I won’t spoil any surprises by outlining what you’ll find but it’s safe to say it doesn’t take long to realise that the boy’s objective is to get out of the lethal forest ASAP.
And lethal is exactly the right word. There are no clear checkpoints in play here, and no option to save your progress, and yet you’ll die a lot. If you choose to you can play from start to finish in one (long) sitting you can do exactly that without interruption of any kind. There’s no loading screens or “please wait” moments, it’s a single smooth playing experience. But don’t think that the lack of save option means you’ll lose loads of progress – the game clearly knows where the tricky sections are and should you die or quit the game you’ll resume just before the section that just killed you, and with each area quite clearly defined it becomes comfortably obvious where you’re likely to get dropped when your progress grinds to a halt.
Some areas are tough too, and some of the later parts offer quite a challenge of both brainpower and timing with some genuine “how the hell…” moments rarely seen outside the realm of a Portal game. It’s not unrealistic to expect a few controllers to be flung across the room, followed shortly by mild embarrassment when you realise just how obvious the solution turned out to be. It’s a feeling which, again, mimics that of Valve’s classic puzzler and yet does it in a unique and individual way that at no points feels like it’s trying to be something else.
By the end of the game I was feeling quite attached to the escaping kid, which made the ending all the more meaningful. For a game that copes without uttering a single word of dialogue, it’s a massively poignent affair that leaves you keen to go back and start again and experience the magic all over again. It’s good for casual gamers too – the focus on brainpower balances with the simple controls to give you something that your casual gamers will also love playing through; my wife went through from start to finish and almost immediately started again, loving every minute of the game. Sadly it’s not a game you’ll want to give your kids – some of the deaths are pretty gnarly and not the sort of thing you’d want younger gamers to experience, more so because of the age of the character, but that only emphasises the danger for the rest of us.
XBox 360 owners have been enjoying this for 12 months, and now the rest of the gaming world can see what the fuss is about. Limbo will challenge your mind and give you a whole new idea of what an artistic video game looks and feels like. You owe it to yourself to give Limbo a go, it’s nothing short of fantastic. More than that, it’s a genuine work of art.