In a word, brilliant.
In a few more: trial and error
platform death, getting harder and harder and becoming diabolical, with
a surprisingly poignant (albeit somewhat abrupt) end.
In a lot more: Limbo is a
minimalist black and white platform game that – despite the lack of
dialogue, text or any sense of what is going on – manages to create a
little piece of gaming magic.
I had no idea what this tiny
little bright-eyed boy was doing or where he was going, but he clearly
needed to get there. Driven doesn’t do him justice. Not spiders, not
bear traps, nor rolling boulders nor buzzsaws were going to stop him.
Slow him down yes, kill him of course, but he would just get right on
up, look them in the eye, and do it again, and again, and again, until
he triumphed. And then he moved on and got killed again.
Avoiding death and moving
inexorably onwards is the focus. The only way to avoid it though is to
succumb to it, to think about how it happened, to look at the
environment, and work out a way round it. This will involve jumping,
timing, running and more dying. Often dying will tell you something more
about how not to die – often it’s just a mistimed jump.
You get to die in all sorts of
gruesome ways. Stabbed by a giant spider leg, crushed by flaming rocks,
impaled on sharp spikes, each one rather spectacular and at times
incredibly icky. It’s quite impressive how “alive” some ambient sounds
and a flat 2D background can make death become.
What you see is what you get.
Limbo is one long side-scrolling scene. No cut scenes whatsoever, no
voiceovers, no screens loading, no nothing. Just a little boy running
and jumping and climbing and swinging, seemingly in search of something.
As well as the jumping, etc.,
there are some fairly elaborate environmental manipulations required.
One involves trapping a hamster type critter in a giant wheel in order
to generate power which makes it rain, allowing you to manipulate a pipe
to fill a reservoir with rainwater runoff which will allow you to leap
onto a floating log and then hop across to the other side of the chasm.
Assuming of course you moved the log into the right place before you
started. At least in this one you aren’t at risk of drowning, unlike
some of the other environmental conundrums.
Speaking of which, watch the
little burst of bubbles if you do slowly sink to the bottom of a watery
grave. Or squirm as the large circular saw crunches its way through the
dismembered bits and pieces if you fail to judge your jump properly.
These little things make a difference.
Abode of the souls
There are other “people” in the
first part of the game, none of them friendly, but they are certainly of
use. There is more than one way to trigger a trap, and dead or alive, so
long as it isn’t you, it doesn’t matter who it is. So put aside your
squeamish tendencies and lure them on.
They stop appearing later in the
game, in keeping with the bleak industrial wasteland you are working
your way through. Perhaps it was too much for them, or perhaps their
objective simply wasn’t worth the effort.
The little boy is incredibly
lifelike. Pulling and pushing crates and other items, scrambling up
ladders, grabbing hold of ledges and then heaving himself up – it’s
quite amazing how “real” a little black shape can be.
The whole game is played with
four fingers, one each for the left and right arrows, one for the up
arrow for jumping, and one for the control button to take hold to push
or pull, or to manipulate switches. You will need all of them; not all
at once, but occasionally in a symphony of organisation that will
surprise even you.
It isn’t easy, and if twitchy
timing isn’t your thing then stay away. Patience is also a virtue, as
even when you know what to do, the sequence of events will have you
cursing when failure at the next to last means you have to start again.
will autosave (you can’t save at will), usually after having overcome a
possible dastardly death, which means you won’t often have to redo
something you have already overcome. Not always though, and there are
some quite complicated multipart solutions that will trip you up halfway
through and compel you to start again. The game returns you to just
before the deadly sequence, and you try again. At times it can be
frustrating, but the desire to get the little boy just a little bit
further along kept bringing me back.
I have to confess there were
times when elation didn’t adequately describe having successfully
navigated a particular sequence, and the dogs were startled more than
once by a triumphant whoop.
West Indian dance
The whole thing is cloaked in a
smoky, smudgy pall that suits the mood and the temperament of the
endeavour. Death is gloomy, whatever the motivation, and so is
There are some “bright” moments.
A butterfly here or there, a tree suggesting life. And a fleeting moment
about three quarters of the way where perhaps you have reached your
objective, but it is quickly snatched away.
It took me weeks and weeks to
get to the end, although there is probably about 4-6 hours from start to
finish if you know all the “solutions” and don’t mistime a sequence. I
found the last 4 or 5 chapters particularly difficult, and had to resort
to YouTube to help me through. They are though incredibly clever (and
intricate) in their design, utilising things like changes in gravity to
walk on ceilings for the brief moment you need to clear an obstacle.
The gravity changes near the end
are among the more difficult timing puzzles in the game. As well, up is
now down, and the trained reflexes of those particular fingers have to
“switch” to do the opposite, then switch back in time for another well
If you don’t get to the end, you
can still enjoy a lot along the way. However it would be a shame not to
see the end, so at least check out YouTube if the game overwhelms you.
It remains simple, unstated, and unsaid, and you can make up your own
mind, but I thought it was near perfect after everything that had gone
before. It reminded me of Ico, in a completely unrelated sort of
is what it is, and within that context it is, as we started, brilliant.
I played on:
OS: Windows 7
Processor: Intel i7-3820 4GHz
RAM: 12GB Ripjaw DDR3 2133 Mhz
Video card: AMD Radeon HD 7800 2048MB
PS - but wait, there’s more.
Being into boxes and things as I am, I bought the special edition, which
comes with some rather excellent postcards and a little boy sticker,
which will adorn somewhere suitable as soon as I sort out where that is.
More interestingly, by pressing shift-3-D and donning the included 3D
glasses you get a not half bad 3D effect that isn’t at all essential,
but certainly adds a little something now and then.