Limbo is a game I’d heard much about, the title was praised by critics as an indie darling and the development studio Playdead has seemingly struck gold again with the recent Inside. Despite its appreciation amongst gamers I’ve never come around to playing Limbo, possibly because puzzle/platforming games aren’t really something I gravitate towards. However, when the game became available as a free title on Playstation Plus I downloaded it hoping to find time for it at a later date. Having now completed Limbo, I can see why it is held in such high esteem.
For those who don’t know, Limbo is a 2D sidescroller where the player must guide an anonymous boy through dangerous traps and environments to find his sister. You’re expected to fail though, a lot, to work out these puzzles. By watching the boy’s gruesome death animations, the developer intends the player to work out what not to do before finding the solution. Many of the puzzles involve physics and become more complex as you progress through the game. Limbo can be brutal at times, even frustratingly so but you always feel like the solution to a puzzle is just in front of you hiding in plain sight.
The system of failing until you find the right solution is particularly effective and although I found myself looking to a walkthrough for one or two of the later, more challenging puzzles I never felt cheated out of a solution because the path wasn’t clear enough. Limbo gives you very little in the way of instruction and the game’s trial and error approach does make you want to forge ahead and think your way through the game. This rather brutal method of solving problems lends itself nicely to the world’s subtle storytelling and the artistic work in the game.
Limbo stands out in the ‘games-as-art’ debate, championing a black and white aesthetic and plenty of greys to go along with it. Playdead’s artistry hands the game a real tone and atmosphere. The journey of the boy along with the game’s abrupt ending speaks to a morose and macabre world in which there seems to be no hope for the child. At points in the game you find yourself finally reaching the end of a dark, damp underground facility moving towards light only to find that there is fresh peril for the boy just ahead of you.
The game feels fairly emotional too, you can’t help but root for the mute child after spending time with him leaping over chasms or escaping spinning saw blades. There’s no real story in Limbo except what you can infer about the world from the environment. Early on the boy comes across other humans but they are a tribal group intent on killing you as you make your way onwards. There are vast factories and machinery but all abandoned leaving the question: where is everybody? Limbo never holds your hand or gives the answers to these questions but is all the more effective because of it.
Overall, I’m glad I got round to playing Limbo eventually even if I found the game’s trial and error approach frustrating at times. For the most part the puzzles are all logical and can be worked out if you sit and look at them for long enough. The dark journey of the game’s protagonist is pretty unique in this genre and I appreciated the game’s art, storytelling through the environment and the developer’s refusal to paint a bright, happy ending or to hand you the answers.
What do you think of Limbo? Let me know by commenting at the bottom of the page.
Thanks for reading!