‘Limbo’ Review – Stuck In The Middle With You

“Limbo” is a tough sell. Looking at the above screenshot, you can see why. It’s a game that only features blacks, whites and shades of gray. There aren’t huge explosions and there’s no online multiplayer. It’s different, and different can be scary. And, in the case of “Limbo,” different can make for a fantastic game.

The Basics

The story treatment in “Limbo” is intentionally very light. There’s no dialog, no opening cutscene, no nothing. The game just begins with a boy waking up in a forest which, we’ll assume from the title, is some representation of the afterlife. The game plays out as a quest for survival, as the boy must dodge traps and solve puzzles to make his way to…well…somewhere that’s not where he currently is.

Although people might assume that “Limbo” is similar to 2008’s “Braid,” a closer comparison would be to side-scrolling platformers like “Out of this World,” “Flashback” or “Oddword: Abe’s Oddysee,” with a heavy focus on psychics puzzles.

The Highs

The Atmosphere
“Limbo” features a consistent, grim world. It’s always made up of grays and heavy blacks and is disturbingly quiet. It’s not a pleasant world, and yet, it draws you in like very few games are able to. You can feel the grit beneath the feet of the boy, the stink and humidity of the swamp. The game transports you to this place.

Zero HUD
The reason the game is so effective at bringing you in is the fact that there’s never anything on-screen that doesn’t exist in the world. No floating help buttons telling you how to drag items or swing from ropes. The developers designed the game in such a way that you’re able to learn everything as you go. Sometimes this requires a death or two, but without any significant punishment for death, you’re quickly able to correct your mistake and move forward. It’s purely the world of Limbo being shown and it does wonders for immersion.

The Puzzles
Generally puzzles in these sorts of games lead to frustration, but I never felt a hint of that through my journey. The puzzles aren’t nearly as difficult as the ones in “Braid,” and yet they’re equally as satisfying. Perhaps most important, they make sense when you think about them. If you just sit for a while and examine the world around you, the answer will come. The balance between challenge and accessibility in this sort of game is perhaps the hardest part of development, and the folks at Playdead kept that balance perfectly.

The Lows

Price vs. Length
So here’s the thing: Do I think “Limbo” is worth $15? Yes. Absolutely. It’s one of the best games I’ve played this year and should be enjoyed by as many people as possible. And therein lies the problem. For a “different” game like this, the $15 price tag is going to scare people away, especially when they hear that the game is only about 4 hours long. There’s a tiny bit of replay value for those trying to get achievements, but for the most part you’re going to plow through “Limbo” very quickly. Personally I think $10 would encourage far more people to take the plunge/risk, but that’s not really something I can fault Playdead for. “Braid” had the same quandary, and at the end of the day you try to make the decision that’ll ensure the folks who worked hard on this game get paid.

The Verdict

“Limbo” is one of the best XBLA games I’ve ever played and should be experienced by anyone with an Xbox 360. Despite its length, the brilliant puzzles and atmosphere make “Limbo” an experience that you won’t soon forget.