“Get into Limbo.”, my boss said. “Hell yeah!”, I replied. “I’ve already hand-written my suicide note.” [That's purgatory, you idiot. - Ed] Why I got a strange look soon became apparent.
LIMBO is a puzzle platformer available via the Xbox Live Arcade and represents the first game produced by Playdead, an independent game studio out of Denmark. The tagline for LIMBO simply reads: “Uncertain of his sister's fate, a boy enters LIMBO.” and that’s all you need to know. This is a game that is best discovered and not explained, so if you’re reading up on this game to help you determine whether or not you should buy it, you can stop right now. You should buy this game. “I don’t know; it’s pretty expensive.” Just shut up and help support independent developers already.
Once you descend into LIMBO, the first thing that hits you is the stark, monochrome aesthetics and bold, uppercase text. While there are some greyscale objects in the distance, the foreground is represented in silhouette. It gives enough detail to be sufficiently expressive, without being distracting. It's a style that demands attention and I think it looks fantastic. Next, you’ll notice the ominous, barely-there music. Once play begins though, there's no music to speak of. From time to time, there’ll be some eerie ambient sounds, but that's it. A game as dark and unsettlingly quiet as this is best played alone at night with the lights out.
Gameplay sees you take control of a small, nameless boy who you must guide through constant puzzles and obstacles. Are you journeying deeper into limbo or are you making your way home? Who knows. The moment that little blank boy opened his white dotted eyes and stood up, he instantly became one of my favourite video game characters. I never did stop feeling terrible each and every time I got him killed.
There’s no health bar, no HUD, no loading screens, no lives tally. Without these distractions, I found the experience incredibly immersive. My housemate walked into the room, observed the screen for a moment then actually asked “Are you controlling him?” Of course I was, but it just looks more like one of those foreign shorts you see on SBS than a video game.
You have endless lives, so feel free to experiment with any and all dangerous apparatus you encounter. After each obstacle, there are invisible checkpoints which you will return to should you sustain a fatal injury. And you shall indeed sustain many a fatal injury. This world our young protagonist finds himself in is fraught with peril, and becomes increasingly hazardous as you progress. Dangers are not always obvious, but intuition should keep you out of trouble for the most part. For me, trial and error was the order of the day. As bad as I felt for doing so, my curiosity insisted that I toss the poor boy down every pit I came across in case there was an egg down there.
“An egg? What a strange thing to say.” Let me explain: There are ten eggs hidden throughout the world. Crush an egg underfoot and you’ll be rewarded with an Achievement and another few drops in your Gamerscore bucket. Not to mention smug self-satisfaction. +[The kind of self-satisfaction that wont
send you blind.]+
You can exit a game and return to it later, but you can only have one game on the go at a time. Once you start playing, you won’t be interrupted with levels or load screens. There’s no hubworld or mapscreen, just continuous gameplay.
Thankfully there is
a chapter-select screen available from the main menu which is handy if you're dipping back in to find any eggs you missed on your initial run.
Playing through LIMBO, I was reminded a great deal of my time playing Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. Both games create a sense of adventure and danger beyond what other softer platformers typically achieve. By the way: If you haven’t played Abe's Oddysee or its sequel, you really must rectify that. Last time I checked, they were available on Steam for USD$10 and via the Playstation Store for $12.95 apiece. Off you go.
The puzzle and platform elements in LIMBO are blended extremely well. Puzzles are well varied, their difficulty and complexity ramping up nicely as you progress. Although overall they could have been a tad more challenging. +[Being this good at videogames is a curse really.]+The length feels about right. I was left wanting more, but only because it’s such a great game. And while I did find the ending to be a little anticlimactic, it was appropriate given LIMBO’s minimalist motif.
LIMBO easily earns a solid score of nine bear traps out of ten from me, and I eagerly await the arrival of Playdead’s next production, whatever it may be.