Limbo is a 2D side scrolling puzzle platformer developed and published by Playdead Studios for the PC, Mac, Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2010. This review will be covering the Steam version that was released for the Mac because I sadly do not have a PC nor do I have an Xbox 360 or PS3 to compare versions.
The story begins where the player controls a nameless boy who wakes up within a forest that is within an area called The Edge Of Hell. The character is looking for his sister who has gone missing within the forest. Whilst searching for his missing sister, the nameless boy runs into very few humans who are alive and these humans either attack the boy or will help the boy with his progress.
I think that the lack of story in this game adds another layer of mystery because it allows the player to interpret the story in the way that they wish to. There have been some games I have played where I expected more story because there was an expectation of story, however Limbo offers a complete air of mystery and the interpretation of the story will vary from player to player. I also think that the fact that the character that the player controls is also nameless adds another layer of mystery to the story. The game offers the framework for the story without needing any cutscenes and the player can even make their own stories, which very few games allow to player to do. I think that Limbo is one of the rare cases in video games where there is no concrete answer to what the true story is and leaves it up to the player to think about what the game conveys to them in terms of story. The lack of cutscenes with the main character and other humans also allows for the player to think deeper about what is going on and why certain situations occur.
The interesting thing for me personally is that if the game had a lot of narrative and an expansive story, then the story I feel would not have had this level of mystery and depth to it. Most platformers have a story to give the player reason to care about what they are doing in the game’s universe and this adds to the player experience. Limbo does the opposite of this and gives the player little exposition, but a lot of questions about what the player is experiencing throughout the game. Instead of throwing cutscenes at the player to further develop the story, Limbo I feel would have been hindered by these because it is all up to how the player sees the action in the game and how the player makes sense of what is happening.
Limbo is a 2d side scrolling puzzle platformer where the goal is to solve puzzles that will block the player’s way and sometimes will require backtracking to previous areas, however, the game is linear and there is only one route and one solution to each puzzle. The puzzles use a wide variety of different mechanics with anything from water physics, through to momentum based gravity physics required to progress through the game. The game is split into screens where once the player hits a certain point in the game, the player can then go back to that screen from the main menu. This is also the only way the player can continue when the player leaves the game.
The puzzle mechanics in this game I found to be spectacular because there is always going to be another puzzle ahead of me, but never felt that aspects of previously solved puzzles were recycled in later puzzles. If anything, I felt that the game was designed in such a way that the earlier puzzles game me a feel for the sort of differing mechanics that the puzzles would require of me. There were some puzzles that required an element of trial and error, but the checkpoints in the game are extremely fair, meaning that I would not have to repeat large sections of the game over like some puzzle platformers.
I think that the variety of different mechanics is also astounding because some puzzles will require more than one mechanic to solve, such as momentum and gravity physics in one puzzle. There is one section of the game where the player is always be moving forward because of a mind control seed. The player would have to slow down and speed up to avoid certain obstacles and after a set period of time, the player would then change direction and walk backwards. I found this section initially to be very annoying, but once I understood how the mechanic worked, I found it to be quite a unique idea. The reason why I found it so unique is because within the mind control section, there were obstacles and a puzzle to solve, meaning that if I hadn’t progressed far enough then I would back into a pit. I feel that this puzzles stood out to me simply down to the fact that I haven’t seen a mechanic like this used so efficiently within the realms of a separate puzzle.
The graphics in this game are simply unique because they are monochrome, meaning that the bright whites are a depiction of light bursting through. The detailing on the brightness of the white and the contrasting darkness work like a dream because it feels like an old silent film. The game feels like it was drawn using a pencil, and this feeling is emphasised by the shading used to depict shadows and outlines of backgrounds. There is simply a unique art style to this game in a way that it is minimalistic, but also extremely detailed. The lack of colour drew me into the experience more and I feel that if there was a lot of vibrant colours, then the atmosphere that the game was conveying would have been lost. Also, the framerate of the game is extremely stable throughout and I had no issues of any slowdown at all.
The controls in this game are great and are very responsive even on keyboard, however I feel that this game would be much more suited to a controller. The keyboard controls are extremely simple and effective with left and right movement being A and D or left and right direction buttons. The space bar is the jump button and the CTRL button and a direction will let the player grabs an object. I think that the controls work very well, although using CTRL on a Mac keyboard for this game can be difficult at time, but that is just my keyboard and it won’t be a problem for Windows keyboards. I definitely think that the controls for keyboard are great, but I think an Xbox 360 or PS3 controller would be a lot more suited to the controls of this game.
The music in this game is fantastic because it adds an extra level of atmosphere to the environments of the game. The music isn’t a typical orchestral score, but more built on ambient moving layers of music to create what are known as soundscapes. Soundscapes are pieces of music that are built solely on adding atmosphere to a scene or in this case, a game and soundscapes are notable for movement rather than traditional orchestral chords. The music in this game does an mesmerising job of adding a layer to the game that was needed because there is not a lot in terms of sound design, which I believe is deliberate to add to the feeling of loneliness trying to be conveyed. The only game I feel that comes close to achieving the ambient swirls and the soundscapes of Limbo is Silent Hill 2, which is considered to be a masterpiece of sound design and scoring. Limbo achieves this in spades and the score adds so much to the experience rather than just being there because the game needed music.
When I first playing Limbo, I admit that I was nervous because the game had been critically acclaimed for years by critics and players alike and I was worried that the game would not resonate that same feeling with me. I have not also played that many PC games in my time, which I also felt could have affected my time with Limbo. Safe to say, I was wrong because this game is a masterpiece of simplistic design and minimalistic soundtrack. The way that the game blends the monochrome graphics and the soundtrack makes for a truly unforgettable experience. The graphics are unique and really shows that simple backgrounds can have high levels of details if the developers know how to achieve this and Playdead Studios did achieve this. This is one of the best puzzle platformer games that I have ever played because there was and always will be this sense of mystery and wanderlust that the game portrays and a lot of this is because of the low amount of story. I think everyone who even has a passing interest in video games owes it to themselves to play this game because it is such a unique experience in a genre where there a lot of games being released. Limbo stands out for all the right reasons and is a rare occasion where I could not find a single problem with the game. I simply adore this game and what it was able to achieve through the design, soundtrack and story.
Copyright ©2017 Liam Piper. All Images Used Under Fair Use