When Limbo was released on the 360 last year, it became an indie sensation, and by year’s end, it wasn’t surprising at all to see it on numerous GOTY 2010 lists. It’s finally out for the PC, which means I get to play it and experience what all the hype was about.
Unfortunately, it looks like it was just that: hype, and not too much else.
In Limbo, you control a boy. There’s not real reason given as to why; you just do. There’s no true narrative, but you’ll find yourself platforming across various environments, all while figuring out how to make it past a wide array of obstacles. That’s pretty much Limbo in a nutshell, but of course, there’s more to it than that.
Or is there? The graphical style is certainly striking; it’s presented in a black and white, grayscale setting that exudes a sense of calm nervousness, where you don’t feel like anything is going to kill you, yet something feels off. It’s used to great effect; the lack of color is actually what gives the world some semblance of life.
This sense of false security leads into one of the main draws of Limbo: the surprisingly violent deaths. The boy is just that, a boy, and as such he’s not exactly very resilient. Water will make him drown, spikes will impale him, rolling boulders will crush him, and a persistent spider will rip his body from limb to limb. It’s definitely a shock to the system, and certain things you’ll encounter in Limbo are surprisingly morbid, but after a while they feel as if they’re an unnecessarily controversial motivation to solve the numerous puzzles you come across.
The puzzles of course are the meat of the game, and as a huge platforming puzzle fan, I was excited to tackle them. Unfortunately, the puzzles weren’t nearly as creative or fulfilling as I’d like them to be. They essentially boil down to trial and error affairs, and most of the time the only reason why you’re lost on a puzzle is because one of the objects needed to solve the puzzle blends in with the background so perfectly that you miss it constantly. That’s not to say there aren’t rays of brilliance in the game; there’s a few puzzles involving brain slugs that I truly enjoyed for their creativity. Overall though, the puzzle aspect was lacking.
It would’ve helped had there been some sort of narrative to Limbo, but until the last five minutes, there’s absolutely no semblance of a plot. You’re just a boy that’s woken up in the forest, and you have no clue what to do except just go right (and occasionally left). Combined with the mediocrity of the puzzles, the plot (or lack thereof) truly hurt Limbo has a full product.
The best phrase to describe Limbo would be “lack of direction”. The entire game felt unnecessary, and as hard as I tried to remain attentive, my mind would wander to other things. Limbo felt like one of those assigned reading assignments in high school, where you’re forced to read a piece of literature that doesn’t interest you in the slightest. While you’re reading through it, you realize you’re thinking of other things, like the comic books that you haven’t read through yet, or what kind of shirt you should wear the next day to maximize your awesome appeal. By the end of the assignment, you realize you don’t remember at all what you read through, and instead want to go play God of War instead. That is Limbo, a disappointing hype machine that’s unfortunately already been forgotten in my eyes.