Genre:   Platformer

Developer & Publisher:  PlayDead

Released:  December 2011

PC Requirements:  

Any CPU with 2 GHz or more.     

RAM:    512 MB     

VGA:    Any VGA card in last 5 years. ...




by flotsam


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.

Limbo 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 everything here.

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 timed leap.

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 way.

Limbo 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.

Limbo can be purchased via download from the game’s website or from Steam


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