Review copy purchased.
Limbo feels like a horror charcoal drawing that’s come to life, and I love it. Sinister undertones. Monochrome art style throughout. The perfect game to play at night when you’re home alone-with the lights off. I’m not usually a fan of horror games, but I take my hat off to developers Playdead for creating a highly thrilling game atmosphere with a deceptively simple story with minimalist style graphics. It’s actually a lot deeper than that. This is a game about a kid, but it’s definitely not a kid’s game. You play as a brother who wakes up inside a deep, dark forest, seemingly right on the outskirts of hell. His sister is gone, and it’s up to him to ignore the voices in his head telling him to run, and instead to go on a dangerous quest to find and save her. There are lots of theories as to how he got to the forest in the first place, but I suppose Arnt Jensen is the only one who really knows the answer.
When you start playing Limbo, a sense of discomfort immediately overcomes you. You’re completely alone in a place you don’t know. Everything around you is too silent. All the world’s colour has been drained through an unknown means and you’re stuck in the eeriness of stagnation and decay. There isn’t any explicit form of instruction either, telling you how to use the controls or giving you feedback on your actions. The beauty of this game is that it leaves you to think and analyse the situation on your own, without spoiling the experience. There isn’t even any music-instead we have ghostly tones echoing around you that intensify the suspense, with only occasional dark, ambient humming.
The gameplay in Limbo is all about puzzle solving and trial and error. Usually games have predictable tasks that are within reach of solving, but Limbo doesn’t exactly adhere to that formula. Many of the puzzles are wonderfully unconventional at its best, and force the player to really think outside the box in order to solve them. On the flipside, I found that many of them were too hard too often, resulting in very frequent consultations with walkthroughs. A decent amount of challenge in a game is necessary to keep the player intrigued, but too much difficulty and the enjoyment factor tends to suffer, which is what I found happened in Limbo. To be fair, I did enjoy being challenged earlier on in the game quite a bit, but a lot of the time the puzzles felt obscure and seemingly impossible. For instance, there was one section with a cart, a rope, and two spiky spinning wheels (shown below) that I got stuck at, and tried all possible routes I could think of to no avail. But maybe this was the point of the game, getting players to feel what it’s like to be ‘stuck in limbo’ in a metaphorical sense-and if that’s the case I can’t complain! Despite the high difficulty, I still think that the no-level free exploration approach makes for a very unique experience. One chapter of the game sees the boy defying gravity, and I would absolutely love it if more games today used this upside-down mechanic because it is absolutely awesome to make players re-orient themselves and think in a new way. Other areas included these strange three-headed creatures that would possess you with a strange shiny tube that gets glued to your head, rendering you incapable of controlling the boy. Sometimes you get these zombie children that are intent on shooting and killing you, but you can outwit them by stepping on a couple of switches with appropriate timing and knowing when and when not to jump:
The artwork behind Limbo makes me particularly curious, especially the choice to include two white dots for eyes on the boy. It works as an excellent contrast against all the darkness, and adds yet another layer of scariness to the game. The backgrounds also really remind me of a sumi-e painting, but with a lot more darkness. One person even had the brilliant idea of including No-face/Kaonashi from Spirited Away in a Limbo crossover. Many horror games today tend to go along the lines of realistic graphics, like upcoming titles The Evil Within, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, or Alien:Isolation. But Limbo is just as effective at being creepy with its minimalist character design and world backgrounds.
Enemy wise there aren’t so many things out to get you that are living-apart from the occasional freak spider, spiky rotating wheels of death, getting possessed by upside-down creatures with three heads-piece of cake, really. Another thing to watch out for are these electrical hotbeds that if touched, sizzle you to a crisp. What really disturbs the player is the consequences or repercussions of failing. The penalty for dying in Limbo is a harsh and gruesome death, whether it’s getting your head hacked off or being impaled by a spider leg, the presence of death is overwhelming and sometimes, very frightening. Every creature isn’t out there to get you, but because you learn to expect death so much, you also learn to fear anything that looks potentially harmful.
Limbo raises a lot of interesting questions-such as what it means to die, whether we’ve become desensitised to death, what ‘limbo’ actually means to each person, and the lengths we will go to to save somebody. What was its message? Personally, I think it says that life can be brutal, and you can feel lost sometimes, like you’re floating on the edge. But if you press on through the dark recesses of your thoughts and imaginings, you’ll wake up and see things in a different, more positive light. The sister could simply be a metaphor for life, and so the game states that we should always be chasing our life and dreams instead of just staying still within our own mind, or we will regress into nothing. That’s just one possible interpretation. What do you think?
WHY YOU SHOULD PLAY IT:
Limbo is dark, it’s haunting, and is filled with a ghastly kind of beauty that not many games possess. It’s also a very interesting in terms of the way it affects the human psyche, by submerging the player in a world of bleakness and constantly making them ask themselves, “How do I get out? How do I survive?”. If you tend to sway towards psychological/horror style games, and want high quality original gameplay with fiendish challenges, Limbo is the game for you.
- Highly atmospheric and creepy
- Slow game controls assist with building tension
- Brain galvanising challenges
- Surprisingly deep undertones from simple story
- Puzzles extremely hard most of the time
- Repetition of failed sections can be frustrating
You get Limbo from Steam for $9.99, from the App store for $6.49, for Xbox 360, and PS Vita. If you like Limbo, then make sure to check out the trailer for Inside, Playdead’s latest title which we can expect for release next year.