After debuting as black and white concept art three and a half years ago, LIMBO has finally arrived and the wait has definitely been worth it. The grim black and white world shown there has been retained, and winds up being much creepier and unsettling than it ever could have seemed on paper - literally. The final product uses atmospheric visual effects like background fog and film grain, along with environmental sound effects that create a mood that is always a little fear-inducing.
LIMBO’s visual style harks back to the black and white era of film, and its gameplay is a throwback to the days of Out of This World and Flashback - a pair of early ‘90s puzzle-based platformers that paved the way for LIMBO. All three rely on a well-balanced blend of puzzles that require a lot of trial and error, but are done in such a way that the game itself doesn’t become frustrating, and also require you to do some platforming as well.
Despite only using two buttons, one for jumping and another environmental interaction, LIMBO offers up a wide variety of puzzle types that manage to stand out from one another despite sharing some common elements (like box dragging and jumping), and build off of one another seamlessly. Early on, boxes are just used to get from a lower area to a higher one. Later on, they’ll be used to absorb machine gunfire, and then after that, to get to a higher area and avoid gunfire within seconds of each other. The evolution of the puzzles is one of the most amusing things about the game because one puzzle that, at first, seems completely out of place (like the first gunshot-blocking one), later makes complete sense as you have to make use of the skills put to use there to solve a part of another puzzle later. The seamless progression doesn’t just involve the puzzles, but also LIMBO’s world as a whole. As the adventure begins, you’ll see sets of gears in the background, which doesn’t make much sense given the forest you’re in at that time, but later, you’ll see that the gears you saw then were the ones you have to traverse now.
Physics-heavy are here as well, including one that requires you to rope-swing over the ground after you’ve electrified it, and the only way to do that is to climb the rope, set it into motion, and then time your jump perfectly so that you’ll land on the rope in mid-jump. Gravity plays a part in the gameplay too, as there are puzzles where you’ll have to set certain items into motion with a gravity-altering switch, but not others, and then also have to time jumps so perfectly that you have to hit the gravity marker in mid-jump to send yourself in the other direction - the one that doesn’t have a spinning saw blade preparing to slice you to ribbons.
There also a few puzzles that require you to go backward before you can go forward, including one that had me hopelessly stuck for an hour before I just happened to go backwards and find the bear trap that I’d previously jumped over to get to the new area and realized that it should work well at snapping the mechanical arms that were swooping down and impaling the lead character. Despite all the trial and error that goes on when solving the puzzles, the end result is always worth it. The sense of satisfaction after finally overcoming the seemingly impossible task placed before you outweighs any of the frustration that results from the puzzle itself.
LIMBO’s A/V work is an example of getting a lot out of seemingly very little. It’s an entirely grayscale game and there’s no voice work, or even much music to speak of. The devil’s in the details here - the graphics amaze due to little things working so well at creating an unsettling atmosphere. The completely grayscale graphics build the mood in a subtle way - with shadows playing a large part visually, the reliance on many shades of gray leading to a completely blackened area to strike fear in players. LIMBO’s graphics stand out instantly in still shots thanks to its grayscale world, but its dim world shines brighter in motion thanks to the fluid animation and things like the aforementioned film grain effect that isn’t noticeable in screens.
Musically, LIMBO lacks in quantity, but makes up for it by delivering a few songs that build tension and make the adventure even more unsettling. They aren’t the kind of songs that you’ll be humming after playing, but they will stick with you when you play the game. Despite the lack of music, there’s still a lot to take in when it comes to LIMBO’s sound design. Atmospheric sound effects like rain hitting glass that you have to walk over carefully, or hearing rusty gears creak ominously in the background. Sound effects play a major role in building up the suspense, and can even be the key to toppling some puzzles - like gravity switches that require you to listen for a particular sound effect to know that it’s safe to proceed, or one involving climbing aboard an insect that relies on you walking through water without the splashing sound startling it.
LIMBO’s one of the most unique-looking games ever, a fine example for the “games as art” side of the fence, and the most enjoyable puzzle/platformer game I’ve ever played. I applaud Microsoft for starting off the Summer of Arcade with such a unique and memorable title. It would have been easy to go with Hydro Thunder or Lara Croft to start it off with a more well-known and established franchise, but they instead chose to shine a bright light on a dark game that dares to be different. Despite lacking glossy 3D visuals, LIMBO is one of the most visually striking games of its generation, and easily the most memorable puzzle/platformer due to its visual style. Fans of the genre longing for a new genre entry after Braid have found one.
The only possible flaw I can really find with it is that it is over relatively quickly - it took me about six hours to beat it. However, in that time, LIMBO delivered an incredible experience from beginning to end, had no filler, and provided more memorable moments in that short time than many games of a far greater length. Its relative brevity left me wanting more, but I’d rather have that than a game where I can’t wait for it to end because it has long worn out its welcome.