100th Review Special, Part 3: Thrashing the Threes

Whether it was through Schoolhouse Rock, De La Soul’s debut album, or the Planescape setting of Dungeons & Dragons, we were taught that three is the magic number. That is sort of the case here on Extra Life as well. Specifically, 3/10 is that highest score a game can get without me being able to recommend it. The main difference between this grade and the two that preceded it is that I can imagine people liking the following games in a non-ironic fashion. I would suggest several alternatives, but I can see why they would garner a fanbase, as there’s enough to like about them.

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IO Interactive, a game development company headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark, made their impact on the medium in 2000 with their debut title, Hitman: Codename 47. In this game, players assumed the role of Agent 47, a highly skilled contract killer, and they were encouraged to go about their missions in a clandestine fashion. It was its own unique take on the then-budding stealth genre first popularized by Metal Gear Solid and Thief. Although some critics felt as though it didn’t live up to expectations, it was nonetheless a hit, inspiring sequels and even a few big-budget Hollywood films.

During this time, a concept artist from IO Interactive by the name of Arnt Jensen grew dissatisfied with the increasingly corporate nature of his company. In 2004, while coming up with new ideas, he sketched a “mood image” of a “secret place.” From these sketches, he was ultimately inspired to expand on them by making a game of his own. He initially tried to program his game in Visual Basic, but soon realized he would need help if he were to make his dream into a reality. Two years later, he created an art style trailer. Although he only intended for this trailer to attract the attention of a skilled programmer, to his surprise, it garnered substantial interest across the internet, leading him to meet Dino Patti, who found himself similarly disillusioned with his job. Through their collaborations, they founded the company Playdead, and development of Mr. Jensen’s personal project began in earnest.

Development of this game was funded personally by Mr. Jensen and grants from the Danish government, including from the Nordic Game Program. Throughout the process, they had to drown out advice from critics and investors who insisted on including features such as variable difficulty settings and multiplayer. They even went as far as not committing to any major publishers to retain total control of the project. Finally, in 2010, the project was completed, becoming available for the Xbox Live Arcade before making its way onto various other platforms. This game, named Limbo, proceeded to amass nearly universal critical acclaim, with many publications awarding it the distinction of “Game of the Year,” and was at least nominated for the title in several more. Many use this game as evidence of the medium’s artistic merits alongside Braid, which was released two years earlier. Considering that 2010 was a decidedly strong year for the AAA industry, Limbo managing to stand out was certainly no mean feat. The question is: how did it manage to make such an impression in the face of such tough competition?

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