Sunday, July 14, 2013

Stuck in LIMBO

I had a few other ideas for posts, but I decided to put them on hold so I could talk about a game that missed the mark for me: Limbo.

Limbo is a 2D platformer with a wonderful, creepy aesthetic. There's a very consistent art style that invokes a feeling of near powerlessness in a strange world of large spiders and crushing cogs. You play as a young boy navigating a weird world in shades of grey with death lurking around almost every corner. I think you're looking for your sister, though that is information I've gleaned from other sources than the game.

I picked up Limbo because it garnered a lot of praise as a puzzle platformer. I enjoyed the art style, and the music lends itself to a consistent aesthetic. You feel very alone in this strange world as you manipulate it to avoid death and further your journey.

For the first part of the game, I was somewhat interested. There were a few interesting puzzle moments, and it was interesting that there were also large breaks in the action. But for some reason, it just didn't grab me. It could be that the story wasn't laid out for me or just that the action was too spread out.

The puzzles were either very transparent or obtuse. The latter version left me irritated as it took dying to determine what the rules of the game were. In a few cases, while it was potentially possible to make the right decisions the first time, I found that I couldn't react to new information in sufficient time to live. Puzzles either left me underwhelmed or incredibly frustrated. Either I couldn't determine how to overcome an obstacle or I couldn't execute to the precision needed.

The game lingers a little too long on the death scenes for my liking. There's no easy way to restart a checkpoint once you realize that you've botched a puzzle, so instead you have to surrender to the circular saw or jump into the spiked pit. The scene lingers on your impaled or dismembered form before resetting you. While this may lend to the aesthetic, from a gameplay perspective, it took me out of the experience. Compare that to a game like Super Meat Boy, in which death takes a matter of a second or two before you're back in the saddle again. That approach is designed to facilitate flow, which I never achieved in Limbo. Granted, they have different approaches to the dynamic, but Limbo failed me on this point.

This sums up my feelings on this game

I actually realized while playing the game that I wasn't enjoying the experience. I was just going through the motions in an effort to not let the game get the better of me. Either I was detached from the experience or incredibly frustrated by it. I finally called it quits to write this about 2/3 of the way through when I encountered a puzzle that I'm not certain is solvable. (Obviously it is, as many other people have completed this game, but I can't figure it out. Even turning to a guide has left me with instructions that don't make sense. And before you offer, no thanks, I'm done.) Maybe I'm just bitter because I can't do it. But I'm no longer beholden to this game.

Limbo's main failing points, then, are an odd approach to pacing that didn't keep me invested in the experience and a discrepancy in puzzle difficulty coupled with lingering too long on deaths. I enjoyed the art style and the seamless transition without a HUD or loading screens. The music was largely absent (what is even on the soundtrack?), though, which was an interesting artistic choice. This is the first game I've played in a while that I simply didn't enjoy, despite many reviews to the contrary. I guess we're all entitled to our own opinions, then. Now I'm going to go play more Gauntlet: Dark Legacy while unsuccessfully trying to avoid the Steam sales.

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