Limbo, from independent Danish developer Playdead, is a unique puzzle platformer for Xbox Live Arcade. The game's use of a simplistic, black and white art style, and ambient sound design help create a surprisingly eerie, bleak atmosphere that compels the player to move forward. Coupled with a mysterious premise that largely lets you draw your own conclusions, the world of Limbo is never a dull one. Unfortunately, some of the magic fades by the end, mainly because the emphasis shifts to pure puzzle solving as opposed to the atmosphere. That being said, Limbo's puzzles are by no means a weak point. They are filled with incredible variety - you'll never see the same mechanic rehashed. Overall, Limbo is a great package.
In Limbo, players take control of a young boy who wakes up in the middle of a dark forest, one that immediately sets an uneasy tone. No back-story or context are revealed as to what caused this boy's situation or what he should be doing, so you set off through the forest not knowing what to expect. Limbo is purposefully light on plot details, because the world Playdead have crafted speaks for itself. Nobody needs a reason to flee from a giant spider, or to be curious as to why strange children are hell-bent on stopping your progress at every turn. Limbo's atmosphere is its strongest asset.
This engaging world was made possible because of a masterful combination of thoroughly planned visual and sound design. Limbo's use of black and white suites the tone perfectly, setting up a surprisingly rich art style. From the detailed environments to the vibrant lighting effects, the visual presentation will immediately draw you in. This also extends to the game's sound design, which uses silence to greatly enhance the eerie, tense nature of the world. There's no soundtrack to speak of, with only the occasional noise of a wild forest or industrial plant to break the silence. It all comes together to create a very engaging experience.
Playdead's achievements in presentation, primarily in the opening half of Limbo, raise a fundamental question about game design. Does atmosphere have to be sacrificed over the course of a game's progression to make way for complicated mechanics and challenge? These elements have traditionally defined games, and unfortunately Limbo somewhat falls victim to that age old struggle. The world is set up so well initially, but loses some of its appeal as the difficulty of puzzle solving increases. Some of the things that made Limbo so intriguing get left behind by the conclusion - an ending that appears out of nowhere I might add.
Everything else aside, Limbo's puzzle solving is some of the best around, combing variety with challenge. The best thing that can be said about them is that nothing feels overused or tedious. Certain concepts are used in multiple puzzles, but each time they appear in new, interesting ways. There's also enough complexity to make you sit back and carefully consider things in the late stages. A complete lack of loading time throughout the game makes it difficult to put down.
The main complaint many will lay at Limbo is that it doesn't offer too much in the way of replay value. Most players will complete the game in roughly four to five hours, however it's important to keep in mind that there isn't one minute of filler in that period. One playthrough was more than satisfying, but for those who feel compelled to do more there's secret achievements to unlock and completion leaderboards to keep score. Regardless of how many times you play it, Limbo is worth your time.
Playdead have crafted an experience with Limbo you won't soon forget. The unique puzzle platformer's dark, bleak tone is executed thanks to a brilliant presentation, and constantly inventive puzzles keep your mind sharp. The only meaningful criticism I can lay on Limbo is that it falls into the fairly common design struggle of sacrificing part of the overall experience for the sake of a difficulty curve.