A Game Worthy Of The Tate Gallery – LIMBO Review

LIMBO (2010) – PLAYDEAD

It’s never explained what LIMBO is – like most great things, it’s left to your interpretation

If you are searching for a Tolkien-esque narrative in a game, then LIMBO is not the title for you. Similarly, if you have a fondness for relentless action, then you would probably not give it a second glance. You see, LIMBO is about 1% story, 2% controls, 7% puzzles and 90% overwhelming style. If ever an argument was to be put forward for a game being a piece of art, then this would surely be at the forefront.

LIMBO offers next to nothing in terms of a plot to draw people in. You start the game waking up as a small boy in a dark forest…and the rest of the game has you proceeding forward via increasingly tricky scenarios required you to utilise objects such as boxes to climb obstacles and evade traps. There is no speech, and minimalist ambient music; just you and the bewitchingly dark world Playdead have created. The game is presented in monochromatic colours only, combined with a grainy filter which makes it quite reminiscent of film noir (albeit without the sleazy saxophone soundtrack). The result is an eerie and quite beautiful aesthetic that is rarely seen in video games, and half the joy of LIMBO is just observing the world around you. Some parts are downright grim (you have to hop over corpses of other children at one point to avoid drowning in a river), but at the same time it is highly intriguing and makes you want to progress. It proves the old adage right; sometimes less really is more.

As far as control is concerned, Playdead created LIMBO specifically to be easy to play, and as a result you need only four buttons; the directional keys to move left and right and to jump, and the Ctrl key to move about objects and press buttons. There are no tutorials to be found, but the way that the game progresses naturally expands upon actions performed in puzzles previously, allowing for some quite complex puzzles to make their way into the game later on. Early tasks will simply have you moving boxes around to get to higher platforms and jumping over traps, whereas later problems will have you racing against rising water levels and playing with gravity. Some of the set pieces, particularly a chance encounter with a rather large spider early on, have already become favourites of the gaming community.

‘Row row row your boat, gently in the dark…’

Sometimes however, the lack of any instruction means that you will perish from time to time. In LIMBO, you can be severed by bear traps, shot by poisonous darts, electrocuted, crushed and drowned amongst many other fatalities. Not to worry however, as death was intended to be a way to deter you from solving puzzles in a certain way (Playdead refer to the game as a ‘trial and death’ experience), and there are numerous checkpoints featured throughout the game that can let you have another crack straight away. You are never told exactly where the checkpoints are though, so the encouragement is there to progress as far as you can before meeting a grisly end.

LIMBO is not without its critics however. Even myself, who has consistently proven to be pretty rubbish at puzzle games, was able to race through this game in about two hours, and there has been criticism that it is far too short for the money that you pay for the game. I disagree on this aspect; for one I got LIMBO cheap as part of the latest Humble Indie Bundle, but more importantly in a world which has been filling up with mindless FPS clones, games that attempt to be different like LIMBO does with its art style are a welcome break from the norm and worth the investment. For sure, it’s a small game, but I enjoyed every second of it and didn’t particularly feel short changed by the end.

To wrap up, LIMBO is a great representation of what the independent games community can create. It’s simple to pick up, and worth playing to observe the art style and eerie vibe alone. There is little in the way of replay value, so savour it first time through for the best experience.

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