Not everything is black and white.
The boy catches a glimpse of a woman, but she disappears. He catches a glimpse of a man, but he runs away. The spider does neither; it hunts. The boy is searching for something as well. Perhaps they are not so different, the boy and the spider. If the spider manages to catch its prey, they will in fact be one and the same.
Limbo takes place in a sinister world. Even when you can’t see a dead body hanging from a rope or floating in a pond, the buzzing of flies reminds you that decay and death are still present. Everything that is alive in this world either runs away or tries to kill you (or both). As you progress, the dangers take on different forms that are less deliberate, but just as menacing. It is certainly a cold and hostile world, and even though it is full of activity, I still felt isolated and alone not unlike similar feelings in wandering The Forbidden Lands in Shadow of the Colossus. Also like Shadow, the protagonist is required to do some dark deeds to progress that only add to the foreboding atmosphere.
The graphics and sound play a huge part in creating these emotional responses. The film noir style visuals are gorgeous and perhaps the best use of black and white in video games. Bloom lighting effects and a graininess to the texture only add to the impact. The way the graphic artists sometimes created stark, hard edges and other times blurred the lines of background items really stood out to me. The soundtrack takes a minimalist approach and is barely noticeable at times. When the music crescendos, something is going horribly wrong and it is a very effective tool in creating palpable tension.
While I was expecting Limbo to play like a traditional 2D platformer, I was pleasantly surprised that the gameplay focus was on physics-based puzzle solving. I felt that most of the puzzles required some thought, yet never felt overly frustrating. Some deaths are unavoidable, as the developers actually refer to the style of play as “trial and death”. Checkpoints are frequent and a couple of tries were usually enough for me to glean the solution and progress to the next puzzle. There are definitely some cheap shots by the developers though, such as a bear trap hidden in some tall grass, but each death is a learning experience and I rarely made the same mistake twice. The one complaint that I have, and it is a minor one, is that while the puzzles toward the end of the game were among the most interesting and creative, they didn’t feel like they fit in with the rest of the world.
And now for the big sticking point – Limbo is only three hours long. I am not a speedy player and I barely crested that mark. I feel that the quality of the experience outweighs its brevity, but the money spent per hour played ratio is sure to turn off those looking for more value for their hard-earned dollar.
I like to think of Limbo as the offspring of a less whimsical Tim Burton and LittleBigPlanet’s evil twin. The puzzles are solid and creative, the atmosphere is menacingly beautiful, and the entire game oozes personality. If you care more about quality than quantity, there’s no reason not to give Limbo the art house round of applause it deserves.
Tested on 360