I awaken on a forest floor. Slowly pushing myself up and standing aloft I begin to explore my surroundings. The scope of my capabilities is revealed by nothing more than exploration. I learn that I can pull things by the fact that my hands are seemingly drawn towards them; begging to be pulled, but I only remember how by fighting with my newfound body. This is the introduction to Limbo.
The game can be best summed up in one word: minimalistic. The art style uses only shades of black, white and gray. Everything is only depicted as a silhouette. There is no dialogue; spoken or otherwise. In fact, the only text in the entire game is inside the menus, of which there are– perhaps predictably– very few. The music for the game is honestly mostly non-existent except for small strums or clashes here and there; I have no clue what this game’s OST might sound like.
Sound effects are one of the elements that are really brought to life through this minimalistic approach. Wearing my headphones, I could hear each sound quite distinctly as it cut through the silence. The electrical buzzing of a neon sign whose wires seem to be exposed to the late night rain. Sawblades violently whirring to life giving chase (and probably dismembering you on a number of occasions). Somehow hearing the sound of flies as I stood over the limp silhouette of a body floating head down in the water which I had to climb on top of and float upon to make my way forward was more powerful than seeing an extremely detailed character model. When you are usually surrounded by so many stimuli, it is easy to not pay attention to the atrocities in front of you. But here there is no hiding it as you are directly confronted with the nightmares of this hellscape, even as the details themselves are hidden behind a silhouette.
Similarly, while the story of this game is exceedingly ambiguous, it really begged to be paid attention to a subtle, alluring way rather than being something you are hit over the head with like many other games. I wouldn’t put this up there with some of the great stories in gaming history, but it leaves you thinking after the credits in a good way.
The gameplay itself is extremely simple at its most fundamental level: you can walk, jump, and the contextual button also makes it possible to grab and pull objects around or hit various switches. Thankfully all of these parts work rather well together. While I have never played a game that has made me so abundantly aware that 2D platformers guide you from left to right, I would not really say that is a bad thing as the game constantly keeps you engaged with the physics based puzzles thrown your way without ever feeling clumsy or clunky like some of its peers. Despite a dearth of unique mechanics, the game was still filled with many great puzzles, but I don’t want to ruin any of them.
One of the only places the game is particularly extravagant is in its creative death sequences and honestly, this was one of the few places that I was not really enjoying the vibe. I know this world is supposed to be a horrible place and that the deaths are supposed to hammer home that brutality, but I just couldn’t get behind seeing my young protagonist getting decapitated, dismembered, impaled, electrocuted, drowned, or any number of other horrible things. Perhaps this hit too close to home because I have a couple nephews that are roughly the same age of the game’s protagonist, but I really felt that these deaths sequences were gratuitous in a game that was minimalistic in so many of its other facets. The sequences don’t really serve as a means to encourage you not to die as the game’s approach to punishing the smallest mistake is almost always death. In fact, it relies so heavily on this that puzzles sometimes devolve into trial and error. The game was clearly built with frequent deaths in mind as it had frequent checkpoints and fast respawns. An argument could be made within the larger narrative that places these deaths into context, but the sheer number of graphic deaths could both be disturbing and annoying.
All in all, Limbo is a great game filled with intriguing puzzles and wrapped in an alluringly dark and mysterious art design that permeates all facets of the game. If you are at all interested in any of this, then you should definitely check it out.