Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on the PC and the PlayStation 4. There were no noticeable differences between versions. The screenshots are from the PlayStation 4 version.
One of the first of the long line of “minimalist indie platformers”, Limbo wrote a lot of the rules for indie games that are still in use today. Yet does this game still hold up, or has the new swarm of indie gems surpassed it?
“Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters Limbo.” This sentence, which only appears in the description of the game, is the only real clue as to what Limbo’s story is about. For the most part the game is left up to interpretations, and the various threats the boy meets in the woods are never explained with any kind of definitive answer. Similarly, the game just sort of stops at one point, the sudden cut to black serving as the ending. For those that are interested in this style of storytelling they should find a lot to love in Limbo, while people who prefer a more cut-and-dry story will be annoyed at the lack of any explanations.
Another thing that Limbo popularized is the silhouetted art style. It looks fantastic in Limbo, and helps lend towards the creepy and unsettling atmosphere very well. Every area could be something completely normal, like a lake or a forest, but the art style makes it look almost overwhelmingly creepy. Adding to this is the soundtrack: something that is nice and quiet for most of the game yet just eerie enough to make me feel uncomfortable. Limbo is fantastic on this front and is probably still the best example on how to best do this style of game.
Limbo is a puzzle platformer and required me to move objects around and do basic platforming on a 2D plain. The game offers no instructions, but the only real controls are to move, jump, and grab things to pull. Despite the simplicity of this, the game makes some effective enough puzzles that use the mechanics well. That said, a lot of the time I would learn about how to advance by getting killed. Often I would only figure out there’s a threat in front of me by being killed by it. The trial-and-error gameplay works thanks to some generous checkpoint placement at least.
The types of puzzles I had to solve varied throughout the game. Early on it’s as simple as dragging a boat onto land so it can get to a higher platform, or catching something in a bear trap to hold it down. This is also when the gameplay is at its best, letting me absorb the creepy environment and think about the mysterious story while still providing enough challenge to entertain. The game also switches up how it works sometimes, occasionally a brain-leaching parasite will attach itself to the boy’s head and force him to walk in one direction, requiring me to make quick reactions rather than having me think about how to solve things. It’s an occasional welcomed break.
That said, Limbo does have a few faults. First it’s on the short side, only about 3 – 4 hours long. Second, and probably my biggest problem with Limbo, is that the last section of the game isn’t very good. The game starts to put in these weird gravity sections that sort of work at first, but by the end don’t really fit in with the rest of the game. The last puzzle in particular was a real pain, feeling like it was accidentally dropped in from a different game that requires more precision than Limbo gives. Still, enough of the game is worth playing that I didn’t think it ruined Limbo.
Five years ago Limbo showed what could be done with an independent game and paved the way for many of the ones we see now. Today it still holds up very well, and is still worth playing. While it’s not perfect, and there are games that does what its done better, Limbo is still an amazing adventure into an unknown world that shouldn’t be missed.