GAME REVIEW: Limbo


Limbo is a sidescroller puzzle game published by Playdead in 2010 with a very sharp visual style. Your character is a silhouette of a boy interacting with silhouettes of environmental objects with a grayscale background, trying to safely traverse a dangerous environment to… well, the game never really explains that. You wake in a field of grass and then you get the controls, no explanation, text, dialog, anything to give you a story other than the events of what you see on the screen.

So, you make the most of things and start wandering, and soon you discover that this is a very dangerous place when you get chopped in half by a bear trap, fall onto spike pits, and get speared by the leg of a giant spider.

This is a sidescroller puzzle game where most any mistake has deadly consequences. Expect to die. A lot. Don’t worry about it. Sometimes with everything as silhouettes it’s hard to tell what an object is. I thought the first bear trap might be a different kind of grass until it cleaved me in two. I thought I might be able to dodge past the first giant spider until I tried and failed a few times. Suffice it to say, if I woke up in this strange twilight place in real life, I’d have been dead a minute or two after I woke.

As you progress through the game you enter different regions that each have their own sort of puzzles. In the first section, avoiding the giant spiders is the major focus. Later on, you have to avoid traps set by malevolent humans who are hell-bent (for no reason I could discern) on seeing you dead. Later on you are in a giant factory and have to avoid giant buzzsaws and maneuver through giant gears without getting crushed.

The pace of the game varies from less deadly, more thoughtful puzzles, to tense chases during which the slightest slip will result in certain doom. Most of the puzzles are fairly well contained, mostly taking place in the space of a couple of screens. There might be an object or two to eliminate, and without a carried inventory this limits the possibilities enough that I never felt like a puzzle was too complex or unsolvable. If you die, it sets you back just before the puzzle so you can take another shot at it. Some sections of the game I breezed right through. The most difficult puzzles might take me a half hour or more of frequent dying to work my way through.

Even once the game was over, I really had no idea what it was about. Searching online for clues, I found some theories about it, as well as some references to a film called Oddboy that this is supposed to follow after. Maybe that film is why the blurbs I’ve seen for the game mention that the game is about trying to find your sister, even though the game never seems to tell you that, and you get to see your sister for seconds at the end when it still wasn’t clear to me what this was supposed to be about.

Visuals
I really enjoyed the look of this game. The stark contrasts of the silhouette objects with the more varied and lighter shades of the background made for an awesome, moody atmosphere.

Audio
I didn’t use the audio most of the time when I was playing this game, but when I did there wasn’t much of it. Probably suitable for the setup of the game, I suppose.

Challenge
Reasonably challenging, with some puzzles requiring many tries, and those ones would have me thinking about how to beat them even when I wasn’t playing the game so they had their intended effect.

Story
Apparently there was a story, but you had to see an unreferenced short film to catch any of it. Would’ve been nice if the game could be packaged as a standalone, or if it could at least tell me “Hey, go watch this video and things in the game might be more meaningful”

Playability
Just arrow controls with one additional button for manipulating objects, easy to maneuver, more difficult to master and get all the timings right.

Originality
A neat look and clever puzzles, but didn’t offer anything that I thought was particularly novel.

Playtime
The full game took me 3 hours of playtime from start to finish.

Overall
The game costs $10 on Steam, which is a little more than my general rule of thumb of wanting at least an hour of entertaining gameplay for every dollar. It was enjoyable while it lasted and had a really sharp look, but for the cost I would’ve liked it to last longer. Still, the puzzles were fun, the mood and atmosphere were great, though I would’ve liked to see some story explained in the actual game. I’m glad I played it, but catching it when it’s on sale might not be a bad idea.

3 thoughts on “GAME REVIEW: Limbo”

  1. Yeah, you can often find it on sale on Steam. I did really enjoy the game — it was moody and atmospheric and the spiders were creepy as heck. I played it on my PC, but I plugged in a 360 controller — I tried using mouse & keyboard initially but the controller made it much easier, especially on some of those later puzzles.

  2. “I would’ve liked to see some story explained in the actual game.”

    Spoiler:

    My interpretation is that you (the boy) and your sister died and it was your fault.

    Limbo is you trying to save your sister when in fact you are lost yourself to death and cannot save her. The last nearly impossible feat you perform at the end represents what you where trying to do which resulted in the deaths…and completing the feat triggers the realization of what you have done and what you have lost.

    Writing the story down like I have kind of ruins it which makes me think is the reason why the devs left it more mysterious and unexplained.

    I agree dollar per hour played it is an expensive game….that said World of Warcraft and GTA4 and 5 are cheap….yet i can hardly remember those games. The haunting imagery and story of LIMBO on the other hand stays with me. Journey is another game that stays with me where others have not.

  3. Joshua–I’m fine with the game not spelling out the story in excruciating detail. I get that overexplaining can ruin the effect just like explaining a joke renders it unfunny. But, until I reached the end of the game I didn’t know there WAS a girl as there had been no mention of her in dialog, no image of her on the screen. And when he did reach her I wasn’t sure who she was, what she represented, whether she was the goal or whether this is a stranger. To me that wasn’t masterfully showing glimpses of a larger story, that was just leaving it out entirely.

    Certainly the dollar-an-hour metric shouldn’t be the only factor, and there are certainly plenty of examples that are “cheaper” by this metric while being less remarkable. But to me I do expect a minimum of solidly enjoyable playtime for the dollars I lay down so that it is but one criterion, but an important one.

    I haven’t played World of Warcraft, I’m not into subscriptions and not into MMORPGs.

    I thought that GTA4 was no better than a mediocre game, Rockstar coasting on their brand recognition, not something I’d recommend unless a person had never heard of the GTA series–and even then I’d recommend most of the other entries in the series before GTAIV. In particular the “friends” in the game I found a constant irritant where you had to constantly go out and do things with them to maintain perks. I often play games in short bursts, when I just have a few minutes–I don’t want to spend that time playing awkward fake billiards with my character’s brother in a game. If I’m going to play billiards I would rather just play them in real life–if I’ve booted up Grand Theft Auto, that means I want to go do some violent crazy stuff. Haven’t played GTAV though I’m sure I will.

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