In an era where bigger is taken as better, Limbo is a delightful well-polished small diamond
The world around you is awfully dark. You wake up in the middle of nowhere. It would be hard to tell exactly where you are if it wasn’t for a few shy rays of sunlight breaking through the treetops right above you. It is a dark forest where the only sounds that can be heard come from the occasional whispering wind, the cracking of a branch, and the distant murmurs of nature. Due to the darkness, everything standing in front of you has no color, or face; you can clearly tell their shapes by their distinct shadows, but it is impossible to see if that platform made out of a piece of trunk is safe to walk on or if that human-shaped form is just another child like you or a bizarre human-like creature that is set to attack. Limbo is all shadows, mystery and atmosphere; it has the dense air one would expect from a more realistic thriller, but instead, here, the creepiness and the constant feeling that there is something lurking out there somewhere is wrapped with a platforming gameplay and is pleasantly contrasting with cute cartoonish lines.
Limbo is yet another platformer where one travels from left to right. Here, however, the concept of a stage is non-existent, turning the game into a constant journey from beginning to end. The world of Limbo is only one, it is a finite yet long string of obstacles that feature an amusing blend between puzzle and platforming. There are no loading times. The game is one cohesive stage and as one goes from forest to caves and from caves to an industrial site it is possible to watch as the environment slowly transforms, hence creating a very unique and immersive experience as the game draws players into its darkness with amazing efficiency. It all feels uncomfortably real and believable and due to that Limbo becomes an absolute blast to play.
The controls are as simple as the color palette the game uses: players can move, jump, and grab onto objects to interact with them: that’s it. The joy of playing Limbo comes from solving all of its puzzles and getting away from all of its traps one by one and moving on to see what is going to happen next. The puzzles go from straightaway block-pushing riddles to much more complex gravity-related obstacles that appear down the line. In total, going from Limbo’s starting point to its curious ending will take most players about four hours. However, the game has some nice achievements for those who are willing to do some extra exploration, something that is bound to extend the game’s duration for a short while.
Limbo is not exactly a challenging game, but it requires a lot of patience from players as most of its puzzles involve a trial-and-error process. It is nearly impossible to fully grasp the nature of most of the puzzles at first glance; a factor that will undoubtedly frustrate many. However, in a display of wonderful game design, Limbo features extremely well-placed checkpoints that steer the game away from frustration. Most of the time, players will be experimenting with different solutions only to end up being killed in absolutely horrific ways, which, despite being softened up by the fact that the game stars a faceless shadowy silhouette, still end up being surprisingly gory for a game of this nature. The gory deaths are no coincidence, they are here to add to the looming threat hanging in the game’s atmosphere and to tell players that even though Limbo has a cartoonish look to it, its world is a disturbing unforgiving place.
Given the compact nature of Limbo, developers had plenty of time to pay attention to detail, and they made sure to use it in a productive way. Every corner of Limbo adds to game’s atmospheric vibe, and the its visuals are no different. Obviously, the art direction the game presents is quite unique and mesmerizes at first sight, but it is the animation that makes everything click together. Limbo is a slow moving game, and the way in which the shadow animations slowly progress in their very calculated, smooth and defined moves adds another layer of fright to this work of creepiness. The same can be said about the sound, which replaces music for very well-produced noise. The wind, the flapping of wings, the steps slowly advancing through the grass: everything comes off as amazingly realistic and close to players.
Still, Limbo could have used a few punctual improvements. As atmospheric as it may be, the game loses a bit of its dark value once the character leaves the forest and steps into an industrial site. In a game that is so sensitive, it is hard to pinpoint exactly why that happens, but it may be due to the fact that the strange kids that appear in the forest and try to attack the protagonist through a big portion of the game’s opening act simply disappear once the title gets to an area that should be more populated. Besides, the ending might end up leaving a few questions out in the open that some players would have loved to see answered. All in all, though, Limbo is one stunning piece of software, and in an era where bigger is wrongly taken as a synonym of better, it is delightful to see a small, but ridiculously polished adventure, shine so bright.