It was only two years ago we were all going unanimously mental for Braid. The artsy side scroller combined frustratingly satisfying puzzles with a story in which everyone seemed to interpret differently. It was an instant hit. So, it was inevitable when comparisons were brought up when the Danish developer, PlayDead Studios, gave us a glimpse into the world of Limbo. The simple question on everybody’s lips is: is it worth the higher price point? And my simple answer is: Hell yes.
While Braid used a narrative style that outlined the basic story, Limbo leaves you with nothing to work with. Apart from a small blurb in the game’s description: “Uncertain of his Sister’s Fate, a Boy enters LIMBO”, Limbo leaves you to make up your own mind. Is he dead? Is he dreaming? You are never given a context of who you are, what you are doing and where you are heading. All you know is that you are a small boy lost in the monochrome world of Limbo.
From the get go, Limbo has such a thick and gloomy atmosphere to work its way into your psyche. You don’t quite know exactly why that crate has flies surrounding it, why there are bear traps laid out or what exactly is going on with those dead bodies hanging in the background or floating in the water? What is clever is how you really feel about using crates, bear traps, or even dead bodies to your advantage and how you’ll deal with that.
At one point I was forced to pull a dead body out of a small pool of water and use it to solve a puzzle. Pull legs off of bugs and set bear traps to clamp down onto hanging pieces of unidentified rotting meat. This is after dying numerous times in all sorts of unfortunate ways – something you’ll have to get used to very quickly in Limbo – death is part of the learning process.
The puzzles are clever, intuitive and extremely difficult. If you enjoyed the challenge Braid offered then Limbo will certainly be the puzzle game you’ve since been looking for. It’s all about learning about the worlds rules. With magnets, gravity, mine carts, crates, bear traps, water puzzles and so many other ways the game tries to test your mind, there are no two puzzles truly alike.
The animation is fluid and style simple but effective. The grass dances in the wind, the water creates waves when disturbed and the lack of music really opens up your senses to every step the boy takes (or crack of his bones). It maybe be entirely black and white but that is exactly what makes Limbo’s sense of dread and impending doom so effective. Maybe you can’t see that giant spiders eyes or fangs but you sure as hell can see those freakish legs slowly creepy their way towards you. Caught in a bear trap? You can’t see where our little champ is getting dismembered precisely but isn’t that the worst part? Not seeing the sheer extent of his injuries, leaving your sick and vivid imagination to take over. His small, glowing white eyes slowly close as he takes his last breath after you carelessly drowned him. One of the most terrifying section in the game was walking blindly into a pitch black cave with only his eyes as a source of light. Will you meet your untimely demise or maybe find a secret or two? You’ll never know until you take the risk.
Thankfully Limbo is extremely forgiving. You’ll never be pushed back too far after dying as the checkpoints are thankfully frequent. Even a long puzzle is broken down into sections saving you the painstaking time of repeating early sections. Something you’ll appreciate much later on in the game.
The platforming is simple, you have two buttons to learn: Jump and Pull/Push. No menus to dig through or messing around with combinations. It’s simple, stylish and satisfying to play.
Depending on your puzzle know-how, Limbo can last anywhere between four and eight hours. Once you know what you doing then the game can be blitz through in two. While the experience will mainly be savoured as a one time affair, the game can be replayed to pick up many white eggs hidden around the game. The achievements only link to certain eggs so there are many more hidden around.
Limbo is in no way a confusing or colourless waste of time. It’s an exciting, part infuriatingly fun, part mind-blowing 2-D puzzle experience, leaving the player to discover everything alone. No tutorial, no hints, no narrative, no levels: Limbo is a back to basics adventure of puzzles and gruesome happenings with nothing but the outside world (or at least the Xbox) to interrupt the atmosphere. It’s a must have!