Thursday, June 28, 2012

Noir, noir, noir, Full Review: LIMBO

This post is going to contain *spoilers*  I will try to keep the details to a minimum, but I will be talking about game flow from beginning to end.  Since this game is a strongly atmospheric game, I don't want to break your immersion when playing, which would spoil the game for you.  LIMBO was released by Playdead for Steam on Aug. 2nd, 2011.  

Let me tell you the story of when I was first introduced to LIMBO.  I was over at my friend Steve's house, with a bunch of friends.  Steve's a guy who makes it a priority to have the latest and coolest giant flatscreen tvs and playstation y's.  We were all playing Rock Band and drinking beer in the prime time hours, having a great time and generally being hooligans.  I'm sure we annoyed the ever-loving piss out of all of Steve's neighbors, as he was living in a small apartment complex.  No one really thought twice about it for some time into the night.

But at some point, as these things happen, some responsible adult took charge, and we were told it was time to take a break from Rock Band and to stop making so much noise.  Everybody crumpled into their seats and slowly started breathing regularly again, in a daze brought on by so much hard rocking, hard drinkin' good times.  For my own part, I was not ready to stop, and I didn't have a clue what to do next.

As we all settled down, there was maybe a little idle chatter, but mostly our energy had gotten low, perhaps we had rocked too hard and only now were realizing we were exhausted.  While this decompression was going on John quietly started up LIMBO.  

We all sat, transfixed, as he played for the next half hour or so.  We were completely absorbed by the games atmosphere.  And this was not the usual gaming crowd.  These were the sorts of hooligans that haven't owned a system since the NES, and didn't usually make it out en force for a video gaming session unless it was a game like Rock Band.  But no one said a word, the whole time John played.  We just watched the shadowy little guy walk around on screen, push down a rotted tree trunk, avoid bear traps and fight a giant spider.  It was awesome.  I was so awed by the game that I made a firm mental note that I would one day play this game, and i would play it through to the end.  

And I did.  Twice.  In just the last two weeks.  It took me a while, but I didn't forget.  I was just waiting for the right time.  And then LIMBO was a part of the Humble INdie Bundle V that Jac' did purchase for me earlier this year, not realizing that he was giving me more than just a great set of games, I was getting one particular game for which I had been salivating.

So, one day, while I was at home sick from work, I played through LIMBO.  It took me about 4.5 hours.  I had a great time.  I knew I wanted to play it again as soon as I was finished.  I just finished it for a second time, and I actually got the same feeling.  But this time I won't.  Until I have someone to show the game to.  

Because really, for me, this game comes down to atmosphere.  The hazy black and white scheme, the background and foreground merge together seamlessly, the animation is very solid, and the sounds are haunting. I always feel immersed in the game's world.  

My immersion is broken when I die, but I'm treated with a gruesome death animation and then the game starts up again, usually very near to the place of death, and   immersion returns.  Immersion is only heavily broken when I die over and over again, which did happen a few times.  In one sense it was more fun to play the second time when I already knew how to do the puzzles.

I realize now that John had definitely already played it when he showed us.  He cruised through the first portion of the game without dying more then a few times and without puzzling too long over any of the puzzles.  It was a great way to be introduced to the game, I recommend it to anyone.  

I think my one strongest point of critique for LIMBO is that, after a while, it just becomes an excuse to put puzzles in front of you.  The earlier parts of the game, I had a sense of discovery, like maybe I would learn something about this strange world that I occupy.  Or maybe there would be plot development. There's a giant spider, there's these strange dudes with blowguns.  What does it all mean?  Now I'm in a factory, now I'm on top of a roof, what's next?

Oh, more factory.  And more.  By the last third of the game, it's some sort of mish-mash of factory scene and swamp scene, and puzzle after puzzle after puzzle.  This is where the game gets to be like many other puzzle platformers, in that the setting just serves as a way to put more puzzles in front of you.  Buzzsaws anyone?  Reminds me of Super Meat Boy, a game that didn't take itself seriously at all.  In LIMBO, I just found the factory scenes boring.  

Apart from the setting not being as interesting in the latter half of the game, I think I was let down by the lack of other creatures.  Early in the game, there was a spider, and corpses hanging from ropes, and weird blowgun toting dudes and then, finally a giant fly.  But then, for the next half of the game, there's no one.  Did I kill off the entire population of LIMBO?  A giant spider, three random dudes and a giant fly?  Well, I guess we'll always have brain slugs (way cool, but a bit overused in the game).  

I loved playing LIMBO.  It's the kind of thing I would call a "gaming experience."  And I recommend it highly to everyone.  It's not perfect, by any means, but it's damned good.  


*the game gets an extra point for replay value because the first 1/3 of the game or so is worth playing again and again and again.

P.S.  Oh, and before anyone says "Boring?  But it's LIMBO, dude, it's supposed to be boring" - that is so not true.  It was very entertaining, it became boring when it felt like just a bunch of puzzles, one after the other, and not a really cool world to explore and move through.  


This actually brings me to several ideas I have for a sequel.  One is that it would be cool if they did have a 'second play-through' mode.  Really beat the player over the head with the idea of LIMBO, meaning no escape, no real progress.  Plus, the game already has replay value, why not reward the player for it with variations on the second time through?  

One way to do this would be to have multiple paths through the game.  Or your standard 100% discovery mode, similar to the one from Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.  This would promote the idea that if you truly want a good ending, a way out of Limbo, then you have to earn it.  There were times in the game when I felt the immersion was broken when I died too many times in a row on a tough puzzle. I thought the puzzles were cool, but the real strength of the game was in the atmosphere, which the challenge of solving the puzzle-- or, simply executing the solution-- sometimes broke.  Perhaps the game could have an easy route with easy puzzles or less of them.  Just a stroll through the spooky atmosphere with no real breaks in the immersion.  Just an idea.  

And/or the puzzles could be tied in with multiple paths.  There's an easy way out and a hard way out.  The hard way will lead you along a different path.  Something of a 'choose your own adventure' method, but being controlled by the difficulty of puzzles.  The game wouldn't require a difficulty setting, because the variance of difficulty modes would be built into the game.  

It might have been nice would be for extended deaths.  Like, after getting hit with a blowgun, the game could cut to me stuck in a box, unable to get out, like one of the corpses I encounter.  Like: that's just what these guys do, they stuff people into boxes.  Also - game over, you're dead. The game actually did something like this in an unavoidable way when you are captured by the spider and wrapped in a cocoon.  I guess I feel like the corpses helped to create an atmosphere of horror and when I finally encounter enemies that seem to have some agency, they don't really do anything interesting or clever.  I'm sorry, I criticize because I love.

And my final idea for a sequel to this game would be to just straight-ripoff the multi-player in Journey, by thatgamecompany.  In Journey, the multi-player mode was like so:  The game was connected to the internet, and a random player who happened to be playing in the same stage of the game as you would appear in your game.  You couldn't talk, but you could communicate through actions.  I loved this mechanic, and I think a game like LIMBO can be a good fit for it.  As you progress through the game, you encounter another player, stuck in this dark, dreary and frightening environment with you. Mostly, this would be a break in the heavy loneliness that would (hopefully) enhance the atmosphere when it is taken away. 

I really love this game, and I am so glad it gave me all these ideas of how to improve it.  This is what all the best gaming has always been for me- loving the game and being inspired for improvements. But, ultimately, I'll leave it to the LIMBO fellows to do what they do and do it well.  Here's hoping for a badass sequel.  Later!

1 comment:

  1. AAH I remember the first time someone showed me LIMBO too! This is one of those games that I'd rather watch than play. I love love love the atmosphere but struggling to figure out what to do kind of takes me out of it.