During our venture to E3, a creepy little email came to my inbox. In it was just a simple picture of a little boy, cloaked in shadows with glaring white eyes in front of a giant spider. It did leave some questions that what in the world this game was all about. By the end of the Expo, LIMBO left with quite a few nominees from us and a few awards at that. And for good reason: LIMBO is an enthralling puzzle game.
First and foremost, this game has a very immersive feeling. With no real story or lead-in whatsoever, you are a boy who wakes up in the middle of nowhere, which can only be described as a nightmarish location. You have no real incentive to do anything at this point. You could just lay there in the grass or whatever, but as soon as you start moving, and you avoid your first trap, you realize this really isn't a place you want to stay and just want to get out of there as fast as you can. The environment that PlayDead Studios created immediately sucks you in. You get this feel of dread near the very beginning of the game and it only snowballs as you progress further into the world. What adds greatly to this feeling is that there are no load screens after the initial load and there are no cutscenes present in this game. It submerges you into this world completely with this feature and adds to the experience playing the game. There is also no indication that your progress is being saved throughout the game. At one time, I was literally afraid to stop playing the game out of fear that I would have to start all the way from the beginning if I quit. Thankfully the game does have an auto-save feature. Also absent from this game is any kind of musical soundtrack. What you hear throughout the game are a series a hums and singular piano tones. It makes the setting even creepier and at times unnerving.
The puzzles present here are quite engaging and in later occasions, quite unforgiving. There are times where if you fail a certain section of a puzzle the only thing to do is wait for death to take you, and believe me it will many times over. LIMBO has a trail-and error style playing system for it, so once you die you will be brought back to the place before you die and will have a chance to try again. The puzzles are some of the most challenging ones I have ever faced. They are a combination of simple platforming to gravity-bending, physics-based, and motion puzzles. These puzzles will challenge you in ways you never thought your brain would work. It really feels like those episodes of TV shows where after they try everything they can think of, in a fit of rage they throw something somewhere and the chain reaction gives some sort of clue as to how to get them out of the situation they are in. LIMBO has times that will test your mind to think in very creative ways and drain you of everything you have and once you feel that you can go no further and once all hope seems lost from the situation, you will lose it and open up a whole new avenue of thinking. These puzzles are really frustrating at times, but it is so much the better once you solve them.
The lighting and art-style really adds to the effect of the game. The dreary black and white graphics sets the tone for the game. The environment instills a fear in players with each step you take. At one point you will be walking and the next a rope swings down and bear trap snaps your head clean off. The deaths you experience are quite heavy and gruesome at times and the art really nails it home. There was one such occasion where the protagonist was cocooned in webbing and was stab by a giant spider. It was already clear that I had died, but, what really cemented the scene was as the boy was carried away on the spider's leg, you could see the blood slowly seep through the webbing. There are also times were the deaths you see are tame such as dying from a large fall, but they are still haunting. Watching the boy go limp on the ground and his white eyes close are subtle, but still spook you a bit. The black and white color palette was a risky choice, but it seriously added to the feeling of dread for the entire game. Perhaps the only setback the art-style has going for it are lighting issues. There were parts were the traps blended into the background and I had to make a leap-of-faith and hope I survived.
The lack of story here is perhaps the biggest downside this game has going for it. There is no real reason for what is going on here. You are thrust into this very dreary situation and you have no idea why. It would have been better to know why I was being put through the ringer like this. And as for the ending, it just leaves the players wanting. Not necessarily wanting more of the same thing, just wanting something more than what is offered up.
LIMBO is quite an amazing game. The setting is very captivating and really brings you into the story. The art-style is very impressive and supplemental to the entire presentation and the puzzles are at times mind-bending. However, the lack of story and shortness of the game hinders the overall package. 1200 Microsoft Points does feel like a steep price to pay for this game, but the game deserves a playthrough.