Limbo Review -
The Definition of Atmosphere
Limbo is the adventure of a young boy who… probably wants to escape from the hellish world he awakens to find himself trapped inside. There is not much to the story of Limbo, and there really does not need to be one. The small visual cues tell the player everything that needs to be said. While there is solid gameplay and clever puzzles throughout the short game that is Limbo, the real triumph is the mysterious atmosphere of the indie hit.
Limbo visually comes across as a relic from the early days of cinema. Black and white and everything in between are the only colors that will be seen on your screen from start to finish. White light is a rarity in Limbo, but when it appears it brings with it a breath of fresh air and a strange feeling of hope. The vast majority of the game is dark and that darkness usually indicates death and evil. Throughout my time with Limbo, I was impaled, electrocuted, beheaded, mutilated, and crushed. The first time through many deaths will result from a failure to identify deadly traps or objects (since many of them are just black shapes).
It was surprisingly graphic for how sparsely the game visually presents itself. The young boy’s journey begins in a woodland area but gradually becomes more and more industrialized flowing into factory settings. The background is almost always gloomy and speaks of other boys who lost their lives to the grown men who inhabit Limbo or committed suicide. Mysterious men place traps and snares, at one point even giving chase with guns to hunt down and kill the young boy. In the background, you can see faint outlines of tree-houses, industrial complexes, swampland, and steel girders.
The overall tone of the game is very muted; silent and hopeless. The sound composition of the game follows suit to enhance the feel of Limbo. There is almost no music in the game and for the most part, the only sounds that you hear are some ambient noise and the sound of your own interactions with the environment.
All of these things would not matter if Limbo did not function as a competent platformer. In this area it falls a bit short, but only in certain nitpicky areas. For the most part, Limbo performs admirably. The best platforms are those that take basic skills learned throughout the game and apply them in interesting and challenging ways. You can interact with the environment, move right and left, and jump. That is it. However, moving through the game reveals other tools, boxes that can be moved, gravity machines and magnets, ropes, and bear traps. One of the most interesting involves a mind-controlling slug that attaches itself to the boy's cranium and forces him to travel in a single direction. There is not a single repeated challenge or puzzle that I can recall. I can remember being frustrated by difficult puzzles, but never enough to make me want to stop playing. These are all points to Limbo’s credit.
The one area where I felt uncomfortable with Limbo’s gameplay mechanics was the gravity of the game. It seems very floaty and slow. That might just be my own failure to adapt to the game, but it caused some deaths that shouldn’t have happened; getting crushed under a slowly falling box, ruining timings, and under or overestimating how far jumps would send me. This is a very minor complaint and dying does not really negatively affect the enjoyment of the game since after every major obstacle the game automatically saves, but I thought it was still worth mentioning in this review.
To finish up, Limbo is an artistic marvel. It oozes the qualities that people are going to be citing as proof that video games can be art. The game is very short and can be completed in one or two sittings the first time through. Due to how short and artistically appealing it is (especially the ending, which reeks of existential symbolism) Limbo practically demands multiple playthroughs.
Is It Fun?:
A young boy attempts to escape a hostile environment
A black and white artistic masterpiece
What sound there is adds to the atmosphere effectively
Simple and effective, if a bit floaty
The indie game crowd
Review originally appeared on www.gameinformer.com 1/08/12