It’s hard to get an indie game noticed. Money talks in the gaming industry, and indie studios don’t have it to throw around for excessive ad campaigns and massive show-floor displays at trade shows. Of all the hundreds of brilliant, enjoyable, and original indie games, only a few get the exposure they deserve. Thankfully, after getting some attention from grabbing two IGF awards and being picked up by Microsoft as part of the Summer of Arcade, LIMBO is one of the few indie games getting such attention.
LIMBO follows a young, nameless boy. To say he’s nondescript is a bit of an understatement, as aside from his black outline, the only thing you can see on him is his eyes which glow like bright beacons in the black and grey world. The boy is seeking his sister in this horrible and dreary world, and that’s all I’ll tell you. Really, that’s all there is to tell. The rest of the story of the world is in the world itself, and while there’s a ton of nuance and detail, much is left to the imagination of the player.
Exploring the world of LIMBO is dangerous, and you will die… a lot. The game is entirely a 2D sidescroller, and the boy’s only abilities are jumping and grabbing. Much of the game’s challenge is in timing and quick reactions. The world is mostly linear, and there isn’t much option for exploration. You progress from left to right, solving puzzles and platforming through hazards as you go. The game is extremely challenging at times, generally due to challenges of timing, physics, and precision. Often you’ll see death before it hits, but you may not be ready or able to get out of the way fast enough. LIMBO is brutal, and getting that achievement for less than five deaths in a single playthrough is going to be nearly impossible for most people.
The puzzles themselves are mostly physics based. LIMBO may not have a gimmick of rewinding time or jumping through portals, but it is no less brilliant for the lack of one. While the first half of the game is relatively straightforward, the puzzles and use of the environment always feel clever and creative. You’ll die plenty, even in this early part of the game, simply due to the precise timing and use of physics required. The game often makes clever use of momentum and weight in both the puzzle-solving and platforming, so be prepared to think outside of your abilities to jump and pull. For example, you may need to use a combination of gravity and magnetic switches to move metal blocks to clear your path, or use your own weight to break a necessary item loose.
Around the halfway point the puzzles start ramping up enormously in difficulty, to the point that some individual puzzles can stump people for several minutes. The last few puzzles in the game especially can really bust the brain. That said, the puzzles aren’t as challenging or multifaceted as, say, Braid, so don’t expect the most mentally strenuous game. They are exceedingly well-designed though, and many feel truly unique. The fact that the boy is so powerless makes successful advancement through such an insane and murderous world feel all the more rewarding. Again, much of the challenge of the game will come in the physics and platforming, and your ability to execute the solution once you’ve discovered it.
Gorgeous, sublime, haunting, superb… where’s my thesaurus? I need more words to describe LIMBO’s graphics. The best word may be unforgettable. It’s hard to believe a completely grayscale game could feel so alive. LIMBO is beautifully crafted and full of incredible detail. From the disturbing deaths and imagery, to the way the grass is brushed gently by the disquieting wind, the game is anything but simplistic. The atmosphere is grim and dark, and the world itself is the boy’s sinister enemy. LIMBO is absolutely a game best played in a dark room with nothing else on and no one around.
As much a part of the presentation as the visuals, the minimalist audio is perfectly attuned to the game. Every step and every sound echoes conspicuously in the gloomy and evil world. At any moment some new threat can appear, and powerful and loud sounds kick in at the absolute perfect moments to drive terror and adrenaline. What music there is ranges from short and eerie little pieces to booming and aggressive compositions, complimenting moments of extreme danger. There is no voice acting, nor is there any written story, and it shouldn’t be any other way. It is a perfect example of how less really can be more.
There are certainly longer games on Xbox Live than LIMBO. It is 1200 MS points and about 3 hours long. The game can be beaten faster if you die less, or get stuck less on some of the puzzles. There is an odd bit of added value in the achievements. LIMBO’s achievements are clues to the location of little white baubles, which unlock the achievement itself. If you don’t look up the location, you can actually get a solid treasure hunt out of these. Otherwise LIMBO doesn’t have a ton of reason to replay aside from increasing your completion percentage by continuing to gather achievements and explore the world. There are online leader boards which compare your percentage to other players around the world.
Ah, the wrap up. How can a game like this really be summarized? I’ll try this: There’s nothing else like LIMBO on Xbox Live… no, there’s nothing else like it anywhere. It may not be the longest game ever made, but every second of the experience is of the highest quality. LIMBO is a hauntingly unique and unforgettable experience, worth every minute of your time.