Once in a while just a mere glance at a game catches my interest and begs me to give it more attention. Few games did this more than Limbo, a downloadable title out now on current generation consoles and PC. Even though I was stoked to finally play this game, I did not know what to expect. I was, however, hoping for a totally unique experience in addition to being fun to actually play. Thankfully, that’s exactly what I got.
A lot of effort was intentionally put into not having much context for Limbo‘s story. You literally press Start and wake up as the kid onscreen with no explanation, aside from the short, one-sentence blurb on the download description in the store. “Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters Limbo” is the only concrete information you are directly told, but it is left up to you, the player, to interpret or decipher the rest.
The minimalistic nature of the or the storytelling is a strong suit, but is also somewhat flawed. Having a story crammed in my face and blatantly being told what happened happens in almost every other narrative, leaving little room for our imaginations to think about what could have happened. Here, the contextual nature of the storytelling makes you infer from the world what is happening, who the few characters are, and what they have gone through. Since the whole environments gives off a distinct mood, part of the mystery intrigued me to think about what was happening and became the most captivating part of the whole tale.
Unless you’re like me and wanted a bit more to go off of. Like I said, I like how little was shown in some respects, but the ending was too brief to draw meaningful conclusions. Games like Braid were left intentionally ambiguous, but they gave you enough to actually form a coherent and plausible ending in your mind. Limbo ends all too abruptly and leaves a bit too much fortune telling up to the player. The ending I interpreted sort of feels like I’m reading too much into (or maybe just not enough) subtle clues in certain spots. Even though I’m not completely confident in the ending I imagined, I still found the little storytelling to be effective and to be pretty different overall.
I feel like some sort of masochist after completing Limbo. I watched this poor little boy get gibbed and skewered in more ways than I care to count. Actually, and this will make me sound like a crazy person, it was all entertaining and bettered the game for it. The environments are littered with hazardous materials that will instantly kill you if given the chance. Learning comes from the correctly dubbed “trial and death” scenarios where you cautiously walk forward, then get brutally murdered because of a cleverly hidden bear trap just ahead. Even though dying is common, it is rarely frustrating, if at all. Checkpoints are liberal and scattered in all of the important spots, and you will grow to be thankful for their frequency. Most deaths come with a “Oh that’s how I do that!” as death becomes as useful as life in some ways.
If you are wondering what causes your constant deaths, they will most likely be from the moment-to-moment puzzles needed for progression that make up the meat of the gameplay. Each room requires you to figure out a way to move on using the tools at your disposal. You can only jump, climb ropes, interact with certain buttons or switches, and grab objects so the tools for continuing always lie within your grasp.
Even though your interaction with the environment is fairly simple, figuring out the solution to puzzles usually isn’t that easy. Being challenging isn’t a synonym for being frustrating, as it is anything but. Extreme satisfaction comes from using the game’s mechanics to intelligently configure the most plausible route in order to move on to the next area. Solutions require clever use of physics and having the player pay attention to special, seemingly small details like sound or light sources (mostly because there are no tutorials or hints). Every room feels distinct, but it never feels out of its own element by throwing you something that you have no idea how to interact with. Finally making it through without dying and putting two and two together has a ecstatic feeling all its own that makes these excellently designed puzzles the game’s biggest treat.
Limbo only has three colors, but yet it remains one of the most visually striking games I’ve ever seen. Less is definitely more here, as the black, whites, and grays color the environment and give it such a depressing, mysterious atmosphere. The fog, darkness, foreboding sound design, and overall demented nature of just about everything beautifully collide with the game’s simple art style and make it such a disgustingly glorious place because of it. The environment of Limbo creeped me out a bit (in the best way), but I just wanted to see more.
I know there are many puzzle-platformer hybrids out there, but the raw mystique of this game set it above the others. Capturing that lonely, dark aesthetic so excellently and giving some inventive puzzles along the way makes Limbo one of those landmark downloadable titles to remember. I descended straight into limbo and do not regret my journey.
+Black and white art style looks sharp and bleeds atmosphere
+Creative puzzles that really make you think and always change it up
+Mystery leads you on
-Story can be a little too vague for some
Final Score: 9/10
Platform Differences: Since the PS3 version released almost a full year after the Xbox 360 version, that extra time has warranted a bit more content. If you collect all of the eggs on the PS3 SKU, an extra secret level gets unlocked. It’s different and really challenging, but retains the awesome feeling of the other parts of the game.