It’s been a little over a year since Limbo launched to enormous critical acclaim on the XBox Live Marketplace. Now, the game-meets-art title is coming to the PC and the PSN, with a small amount of additional hidden content, for those that haven’t yet had a chance to experience it. I immediately started writing this review upon finishing the game (which took approximately four hours in one sitting) and, while I know which components I liked and disliked, I’m not sure if I’ll ever settle on one opinion of Limbo as a whole.
The first thing that will strike you about Limbo is the art style. The entire game is masterfully presented in black and white with a film grain filter that enhances the game without ever obstructing. The main character, an unnamed boy, wakes up in the forest. He is presented entirely in silhouette, with only glowing eyes to symbolize his sentience.
Throughout the game, you will encounter devilishly difficult puzzles, which are extremely enjoyable to complete. You will also encounter platforming and timed sections, which are far less compelling due to the floaty and imprecise controls (regardless of whether you use the keyboard or a gamepad). Traps litter the environment and the landscape is filled with perilous surprises. Be warned that you will die an uncountable number of grisly deaths during the game. I was often unprepared for how graphic my untimely ends were.
As you proceed through the game, the musical landscape will grow from dead silence, but never reach beyond minimalist. Through careful use of effect timing and instrument choice, it is often pleasantly unclear whether you are listening to a soundtrack or the melodic thrumming of the world around you.
All of the pieces were there for me to unequivocally enjoy Limbo, but the narrative presentation was an enormous barrier. It was not until after the game that I read that the boy is on a search for his sister. This is never presented in the game, though you do encounter a female character (in fact, the only person not trying to kill you in the game). It would have been useful to somehow introduce this plot element to the player.
As I mentioned, I played the game in one sitting. I largely enjoyed it as I was playing. It pulled me forward but only lead me to a dead end. I cannot forgive Limbo for its failure to actually tell a story. I expected that after surviving the forest, urban landscape, and industrial environments that I would be rewarded with the answer to one simple question: “Why?”
Instead, I was left hanging. I felt completely unfulfilled when I completed the game. The designers have stated that they wanted to leave the end open to interpretation. I believe the fundamental flaw in this is simple. In order for a conclusion to be drawn about the outcome, there needs to be an understanding of the circumstances leading up to it. The player is told nothing. There is no explanation of why the boy wakes up in the forest, why traps litter the environment or even why other people wish to murder him. Put simply, it is not possible to draw a conclusion.
Limbo will stay with me for a long time. It’s art style and sound design are strong enough to have left a mark. I can guarantee, though, that I will not replay the game. There is nothing to draw me back. I had no connection to the character and, in this case, I do not believe the journey was more important than the destination. Where Limbo succeeds, it is a glowing example of all that is right with game design. The places that it fails, though, cast a gloom over the entire work.
Review copy provided by publisher.