Genre: Puzzle platformer
Platform reviewed on: Playstation 4
Also available on: Xbox One, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Mac, PC, Android, iOS ($9.99)
Developer & Publisher: Playdead
Release Date: July 21, 2010
Limbo is like everything you've played, and nothing you've played.
This is the best way I've come up with to describe Arnt Jensen's macabre masterpiece to the few remaining video game enthusiasts that haven't yet played the now five-year-old title. Blending simple mechanics (there's only an action button and a jump button) with interesting physics puzzles and an art style that is the stuff of nightmares, Limbo tells a minimalist story that begs reflection from the player, even as they're tasked with seemingly mundane objectives.
You begin the roughly five-hour experience as a nameless boy, visible only as a silhouette with gaping white eyes. There is no speech, or explanation as to why you're in the middle of a frightening forest populated by bloodthirsty spiders. You simply pull left on the thumbstick, because that's what you're expected to do as a gamer, and watch the life-threatening puzzles unfold before you.
Playdead is careful to offer subtle visual cues that never make puzzles seem impossible to solve. I'm not a puzzle game aficionado, but I was able to solve most of Limbo's roughly 25 set-piece puzzles by carefully inspecting the world around me. A flitting butterfly, or cascading water from a pipe in the background, are usually all you need to observe in order to move forward.
Putting the pieces together to move forward can be a frightening prospect, however, as you'll often watch your young, innocent protagonist die in horrific ways before figuring the puzzle out. Like most of its contemporaries, however, load times are quick and checkpoints are frequent. You'll never find yourself backtracking more than a minute or so after death.
The widely praised game is not without its flaws, however. The monsters that appear early on in the game are quickly forgotten once you reach the latter portion of the game, which takes place in an industrial factory fraught with bandsaws and electrified floors. I missed the monsters, who provided much of the early suspense in the game. Some wonky physics puzzles in the factory section also are a bit more twitchy based than the mind-benders in the forest section, making the second half of the game an ultimately weaker experience than the first couple of hours.
But once you hit those final moments of Limbo, when you discover what you've been chasing and whether, in fact, you've actually attained a so-called “happy ending,” those shortcomings become a distant memory. With so many games today trying to emulate the blockbuster Hollywood film, it's refreshing to see an independent Danish developer accomplish such powerful storytelling so subtly. If you haven't yet played Limbo, there are now so many ways to dive in to the experience – whether it be handheld, console or computer gaming – that there is simply no excuse not to do so.
Verdict: 5/5 stars