A mesmerizing experience that's criminally short.
This age-old saying seems to have been Playdead's mantra during development, and Limbo's minimalistic design definitely delivers a unique experience; the graphics are a bunch of silhouettes layered on top of each other, the controls require nothing more than 2 buttons and a joystick and there isn't any real music to speak of other than the odd musical cue. Unfortunately, compared to most other content on Xbox Live, you also get less playtime for more money. There's no way around the fact that you can complete the game in under 4 hours and there's no replay value whatsoever unless you're hungry for more gamerscore.
The story can be summarised in one sentence; a young boy travels to Limbo to look for his sister. There's no prologue or intro, no text or speech, and if it weren't for the description on Marketplace, even that bit of backstory would've been unknown. But this isn't a bad thing. You press "Play" to see the protagonist wake up in a dark world, and you're off.
And I mean dark in every meaning of the word. The aesthetic is instantly noticeable, a beautifully rendered, black and white world comes to life with some amazing effects, superb animations and an abundance of blooms and blurs that make for a very striking vista. However, I had to scale the brightness up a few notches because, in a game where traps lie around every corner, not being able to see the ground clearly is a little silly.
But dark also in terms of its theme. You control a young boy who kills to overcome, who sees people being killed and who himself dies in pretty graphic ways. It's hard to shake the thoughts of your actions simply because you control such a young protagonist. There's no flinching at the gruesome imagery either. At one point, a boy without control over his own body is brought to the water to drown, allowing you to use his corpse as a stepping stone. A few moments later, you're dragging another corpse from the same pond to trigger a booby-trap.
Unfortunately, these themes are all but abandoned after the first third of the game. Once you leave the forest, contact with other living creatures is kept to a bare minimum, and hostility comes from machinery instead. It loses its sense of macabre, and most of its "wow!"-moments with it.
But even when that part of the game is lost, Limbo is still a refreshing physics-driven puzzle game that manages to bring something new to the table throughout the entire experience. Electric floors, room-spinning switches and gravity controls ramp up the difficulty and by its end, you're dodging giant sawblades in mid-air. Your brain will definitely get a work-out, and surpassing a dangerous route gives an immense feeling of satisfaction.
The puzzling goes hand in hand with trial and error and precision jumps that, more often than not, will send you to your doom on a first try. Thankfully, the checkpoint system is pretty forgiving, starting you just before the trap you died on. I could've done without the body-controlling worms that force you on an unstoppable stroll in one direction, though. It's great to have once, maybe twice. But having this happen 3 times is a little excessive.
I do like how the achievements are integrated, acting more like a scavenger hunt than a gratuitous donation of points for progressing through the game. Most achievements have a cryptic description, giving you a clue on where you might find a glowing grub, on which you need to step to unlock an achievement. It's a neat concept that works well within the world of Limbo.
The only real downside is the length. For 800 points, I would've given it a 9 and a solid recommendation but for a game you can finish in 3-4 hours on a first time through, 15 bucks is just too much. It's a great experience while it lasts but you can't help wanting more upon completion, especially since the ending kind of leaves you hanging too. Chances are you'll go through it again but I'm not sure if it will leave the same impression a second time through.
Download the trial, get to the end, and know you've just completed about 1/8th of the game. Then decide for yourself whether or not you'll want to explore Limbo for another 4 hours. More or less.