Thanks to PSN Plus’ monthly bundle of “free” games I finally got around to playing Limbo – the indie darling that took the world by storm back in 2010. Limbo has been on my gaming radar for quite some time, thanks to all the critical acclaim its garnered, but until now I hadn’t gotten round to downloading it. I guess I was distracted by more “bouncy” releases such as Senran Kagura and Akiba’s Trip. With Limbo now crossed off my gaming bucket list I find myself penning a review that I suspect will fly against popular opinion. Sorry for being that dissenting voice, which questions the mainstream, but what exactly is so special about Limbo?
I usually like to begin my reviews with a synopsis outlining the plot of the game I am covering. This isn’t possible with Limbo however, as the title is devoid of story. Playdead (who developed the game) claim that this is intentional, as they wanted to leave things “open to interpretation.” Frankly, I am not convinced. It seems to me that the creators coded a platformer, which is narrative free, but thanks to its eerie visuals players are convinced there is some deeper meaning behind it all. Of course I could be mistaken and am just too thick to appreciate Limbo’s subtle approach to storytelling. If so please forgive me. After watching too many Michael Bay films my brain has eroded to the point were scripts have to spoon-feed me exactly what is going on.
Extensive research (I browsed Wikipedia) has led me to believe that Limbo follows an anonymous boy who is searching for his sister. His journey begins at some woods located on the edge of hell and concludes at a factory situated in a ruined city. From the game’s title we can speculate that the young tyke’s quest is occurring after his death. My, the afterlife is not how I pictured it. I had always envisioned that I would end up living atop fluffy clouds or toasting down below with that horned chap who likes pitchforks. Evidently I was mistaken. When we expire we are destined to spend our days in a derelict urban settlement infested with giant bugs. Aside from the insects, our protagonist will also encounter other humans. Some will flee and commit suicide upon spotting the youngster. Others will try to brutally kill him. Why? Um… that’s open to interpretation.
Limbo is a no thrills puzzle platformer that has you overcoming obstacles by leaping over dangers and interacting with objects. The brainteasers are designed in such a way that you won’t get stuck on them for too long, but you’ll still feel suitably brainy once you suss them out. The game is at its most enjoyable early on, even though I didn’t care for its trial and error style of gameplay. On your initial play through you’ll often perish at the hands of hidden traps, so progress is more dependent on memorizing where ambushes are placed rather than on skill. My passion for Limbo began to wane towards the end when the puzzles were gradually phased out in favour of sections that demand precise jumping to survive. Thankfully checkpoints are plentiful so there isn’t much backtracking whenever you inevitably die.
My rating for Limbo is three stars. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but I can appreciate that it is competently designed. The film grain noire graphics steal the show and I give props to Playdead for having the guts to make a game were children are not spared from gruesome deaths (immediately making the title more ballsy than Fallout 3.) It is hard to recommend playing the game today, as it has since been surpassed by other indie titles. In terms of similar games, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons elicited a more emotional response from me. The under rated Nihilumbra is also worth checking out, as it boasts similar aesthetics to Limbo in addition to having more creative puzzles.
Overall I don’t know what to think about Limbo. It’s not terrible, but the abrupt finale that comes out of nowhere left me feeling unsatisfied. That said, had the game lasted longer than four hours I might not have had the stamina to complete it. Perhaps my expectations were too lofty? Had I played it back when the indie market was less rich I may have been more impressed. On the flip side, had I paid full price for the download I may have felt more aggrieved and given the game a lower score. Much like its title, my feelings on the game are in a state of limbo.