September 29th, 2010 | By Mike Gnade
Limbo is a fantastic game with gorgeous visuals, but it falls just short of greatness.
Limbo has been in the works for years. I think I first saw a video trailer popup on its website back in 2006. Playdead used the trailer to secure funding for the game and then spent years polishing their game and bringing it to Xbox Live Arcade. Limbo picked up a lot of awards before it was released from the IGF, E3 and more but the question remains: Does it deliver on the critical acclaim and hype?
Not quite. On the one hand, Limbo is a well-crafted puzzle platformer with unprecedented ambiance and a unique monochrome art style. This originality and polish add up to a great game, whose minor flaws and missed opportunities make it fall short of excellence.
The description of Limbo in the Xbox Marketplace reads, “Uncertain of his Sister’s Fate, a Boy enters LIMBO.” That sentence is about as much storytelling as you will get through the entire game. Limbo’s storytelling is all done through its visuals and ambient audio track. The manner in which the player is thrust right into the game is certainly unconventional; I have to admit that I have been well trained to expect an opening tutorial level, but after a quick pause to look at the simple controls I was ready to explore Limbo’s realm.
Limbo is a haunting place. The lack of information leaves the player to project their own interpretations into the game. Different religions and people have their own dispositions and beliefs about what to expect from Limbo/Purgatory. In the game, Limbo is an ominous and malevolent place with giant insects, traps, murderous children, and other dangers. It is a gray and foreboding shade of the real world.
The world of Limbo, its black and white visuals, dangers, animations and sounds, are simply sublime. Screenshots don’t do it justice and the environment of the game alone is worth your time and money to experience. Once you get past the wow factor of the game’s presentation, you are left with a solid puzzle platformer. Limbo’s gameplay is nothing new and rather traditional. The player moves the boy with the left analog stick, jumps with the A button, and B is the action button. The game’s controls are tight and the puzzles are really well designed.
As you progress through Limbo, the environment evolves from a haunting forest into a sterile industrial district. There’s no repetition and new mechanics are introduced as you progress in the game. Discovering the solutions to these puzzles is fun on your first play through, but there’s really no replayability other than to experience the game again or go after achievements. The variety of puzzles, challenge of the game, and it’s unique and ever changing environments make Limbo a joy to play from beginning to end.
I’m not sure how big of a problem it is that the game is short, but it is. The game’s length wasn’t as big of a problem for me as the overall level progression. Limbo starts strong with unique creatures, a horror filled forest and gruesome children. The game and environment is gripping from the start, but as it fades into a factory and urban environment, the player is left to interact only with machines and sterile environments. The abrupt end immediately following the player’s solitude left me wanting more. Not more puzzles, but simply more resolution.
I can’t help but compare Limbo to Braid. Both are indie games that feature 2D puzzle platforming and both feature unique storytelling techniques. While I prefer Limbo’s visuals and sound, I found Braid to be superior in story and gameplay. Limbo really lacks gameplay innovation whereas Braid added an interesting time component. The big difference is in the payoff at the end. Braid’s was spectacular and Limbo was lacking.
Limbo meticulously creates one of the most ominous and beautifully terrifying atmospheres in any video game. The game sets expectations so high from the start that its brevity and conclusion spoil an otherwise stellar gaming experience.