I honestly can’t tell you why I never played LIMBO. It came out almost six years ago, so I really have no excuse. Perhaps it was because Bastion came out on consoles at the same time. Regardless, I was finally able to pick up LIMBO when it was available for free on Steam and Xbox One a few days ago, and so I figured now was as good a time as any to finally play the game that shook the industry and proved that indie titles could be more than just a few hours of faintly memorable gameplay: they could be works of art.
The Gameplay: A Perfectly Puzzling Pursuit
Upon its release, the 2D platformer LIMBO quickly became critically acclaimed for its simple gameplay and unique art direction. You only have four controls in LIMBO: walking left and right, jumping, and an “action” button, which is used for moving/grabbing objects and other interactions. These minimalistic controls are used to great effect throughout the game, thanks to the constantly increasing complexity of the puzzles that you encounter, always ensuring the game is never repetitive in its level design. I wouldn’t go so far to say the puzzles were especially difficult, per se; thankfully, none of them required a disproportionate amount of platforming skill or timing to be successful. You just needed to be clever with the resources around you.
The Art: Fifty Shades of Gray
The art style draws as much on simplicity as its controls. Drawing from the old film noir genre of media, LIMBO‘s monochromatic color scheme conveys a sense of bleakness that one would expect from a purgatory. Furthermore, the setting of the game consists mostly of natural areas: caves, rivers, and forests, with the obvious exception of the industrial area in the latter half of the game. That’s where the genius of LIMBO‘s subtle design choices comes in: it’s not a horror game, and as such you shouldn’t expect a spine-tingling atmosphere and creepy backdrops. LIMBO is a place where not just hope goes to die, but all emotions go to die. The land is fairly barren, devoid of verdancy. It’s harsh, it’s cruel, but most of all it’s completely unfeeling.
The Story: oh my there doesn’t appear to be anything here
One of the most polarizing aspects of LIMBO, however, is its scarcity of any form of plot. The only backstory we get about the game is in the game’s summary: “Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters LIMBO.” It’s never explained what “Limbo” is, or what happened to the boy or his sister. We even see other humans in the game, and either they are irrationally territorial or they have some reason to want to hinder the boy’s progress. Either way, we have no clue what their motivations are. Countless fan theories on the correct interpretation of LIMBO have been posted to various message boards, but only developers Playdead know the true meaning. However, in my opinion, this isn’t a bad thing. When you’re done playing a game, it should leave some form of lasting impression on you that left you in either a better or more emotional or enlightened state than when you started playing. With LIMBO, your brain tries to put together the events of the game in some logical interpretation so that you can make sense of it. However, without a story, your brain is simply left to interpret on its own, allowing you to craft your own meanings behind the game based on your own personal experiences.
The Impact: Making Bleak Chic
With LIMBO‘s unquestionable success in the indie game market, it has secured itself a niche in the game industry that many have tried to duplicate. Any game that attempts to create a darker atmosphere using a monotone art style will very likely look to LIMBO for inspiration, and for good reason. Even the developers of LIMBO themselves, Playdead, are looking to build upon the success of their hit game with the new title Inside, previewed at this year’s E3 and up for release on July 7th. Sporting similar dreary (although not monochrome) thematics, Inside will likely be forced to find its footing within the increasingly cutthroat indie game scene to ensure that it isn’t swallowed up by its predecessor’s enormous shadow.
The Final Score:
And now, it’s time for the final score of this review, which is about as close to irrelevancy as you can get thanks to how old this game is. But hey, that’s what you get when you’re last to the party! Anyway, I suppose simply for the purpose of formality: