Developer(s) – Playdead & Double Eleven
Publisher(s) – Microsoft Studios & Playdead
PEGI – 16
First released in 2010 after an extremely long-winded development cycle of six years, Limbo took the industry by surprise, garnishing a very positive response from critics and gamers alike, and going on to win many awards in the process, becoming arguably one of the most prominent examples of how art can be portrayed through the medium of video games. To me, although I did find it to be a very abstract and interesting experience in terms of artistic value, I found the most important aspect to me, the gameplay, was not lacking in creativity, but in substance.
Graphics – 10/10
The visuals of the game, as well as the general atmosphere present throughout, is wonderfully dark, gritty, and morbid. The settings are also superbly varied, taking place in dangerous factories, rainy city streets, and eerie forestland. Whilst playing, the entire experience made me feel both unsettled and captivated at the same time. It made me think back to the game Heart of Darkness to a certain extent since unlike in the late 90s, developers can no longer get away with a teen rating for showing explicit child death scenes. This game is also much more disturbing than the former, since Heart of Darkness felt more like a video game variation of the film Labyrinth, whereas this title feels more like playing through Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Gameplay – 4/10
Limbo is a traditional 2D side scroller, but with a twist in terms of its mechanics, along with a strong puzzle element. Whilst I found it legitimately challenging in the end, and that many sequences did extremely well to add to the tension of the game at times, it did leave me wanting so much more overall. Although Dino Patti and Jeppe Carlsen’s perseverance ended up paying off greatly in both a commercial and critical sense, reading about the development cycle itself makes me think that like other indie games, too much time was spent considering what artistic direction they wanted to take the game in as opposed to focusing the majority of their attention of what is, in my opinion, the most important aspect of any game; the gameplay. Although I also admire the fact that one of the developer’s goals was to not have the game hold the player’s hand throughout, it still wasn’t enough for me to label it as being one of the best.
Controls – 10/10
As a 2D side scroller, there would have been quite a few issues if the mechanics hadn’t been handled right, but thankfully they have been, and the game poses no unnecessary complications or frustrations. But more noticeably than that is the fact that the game’s unique mechanics have been implemented into the title flawlessly, only adding to its level of outlandish abstraction and wonderful sense of ingenuity.
Lifespan – 1/10
One thing that I’ve noticed there seems to be an ongoing dispute amongst critics concerning Limbo is its length. Some have labeled the game’s lifespan as being ideal, whilst others have said that they believe it’s far too short; especially to have warranted a six-year development cycle. Personally, I agree with the arguably latter opinion, no matter how brutal it may seem to others. I certainly found it far too short and far too lacking in gameplay substance to warrant another playthrough. Another playthrough would, of course, be even shorter, since I spent the majority of the time on the SG88 Plays videos either scratching my head or dying. It’s certainly so far the worst and most tedious YouTube series I’ve ever recorded by my own admission.
Storyline – 8/10
The story of Limbo reminds me very much of that of Journey; an abstract tale into an unknown land wrought with wonder, danger, and adventure; except, of course, this game is much darker and morose than the former. There has been a whirlwind of debate about what the many different settings and elements of the game bring to the story, and how it all interconnects with the idea of either personal torture of the seven circles of Hell that possibly await the character after traversing through Limbo, and even parallels have been drawn with Dante Alighieri’s take on the Inferno.
Originality – 7/10
The game also doesn’t lack uniqueness and new ideas, as they are present throughout what small a course there is to it. It’s an extremely interesting take on the 2D side-scrolling genre, and it does extremely well to present an in-game world beyond the many stables and conventions that are synonymous with the industry these days, and what there have been before the modern generation of the medium. Although I don’t believe it’s deserved of nigh-on perfect scores as many critics have seen fit to bestow upon it, I can at least understand why they have so much admiration for it, and why it had become as popular as it has become.
Overall, despite Limbo’s overwhelming abundance of artistic value, I consider it to be a much worse game than what the rest of the gaming media would suggest it to be. It’s a moderately enjoyable gaming experience marred down by the fact the developers prioritized abstraction and cryptics over substance in gameplay.