The text in this review shouldn’t be necessary and should almost certainly be ignored. A glance at the 10/10 at the bottom and a browse through the screenshots should be more than enough to guarantee a press of the “confirm purchase” button. It would be ideal, too, because it would leave the player free to experience the entire game for themselves with no preconceptions, no hints at what’s to come, nothing ruined.
“Uncertain of his Sister's Fate, a Boy enters LIMBO.”
That’s some plot information from Microsoft, some plot information which hasn’t made it into the game because words aren’t important. The game begins with a Boy waking up in a forest, there’s no explanation as to what he’s doing there, no instruction as to what to do, no words. Come the end, it’s up to the player to interpret the events they’ve just experienced, while sitting in awe at the quality of the game they’ve just played.
With no words, the only thing that makes the player walk right at the start is that they’ve been walking right in platform games for twenty years but the compulsion to continue is almost immediate. The Boy's journey continues seamlessly as though the world were a single level. He passes puzzle after puzzle by manipulating objects in the environment to form traps or enable passage, or by performing various platforming feats.
Soon (very soon) after that first step left, the player will encounter their first death, and it’s explicitly clear that the dark tone of the game extends past the graphics, and that the PEGI 18 is warranted. To elaborate on even a single way that the Boy can meet his end would mean that there was one less for the player to experience for themselves which would be unfair.
Unfair is something the game certainly isn’t; any death is followed by a return to an invisible checkpoint fairly close behind. The player will never lose much progress because frustration is not what this game’s about. Dying is not met with any extravagant sound effects, or flashes of colour. They simply happen. The effect is downbeat, haunting, almost beautiful in its simplicity.
The whole game, of course, is beautiful. What’s not obvious from screenshots is how incredible it sounds, or, doesn’t sound. There’s very little music and so when something like it appears it changes the atmosphere dramatically, usually upping the tension. The sound effects also have a sparse feeling to them which heightens their impact when they’re used.
What’s perfectly obvious is how good it looks, and how it must have been the easiest game in the world to take screenshots of. Stand still literally anywhere in the game and you’re guaranteed a gorgeous screenshot. Every single moment in the game oozes beauty, and in motion it’s even better. In a game with no colour at all, getting the lighting right was important and it’s perfect with the foggy, blurry backgrounds particularly intense at times. The path blends from black to grey and back, and shadows and rays of light look incredible. The Boy has a simple look to him but he fits into the style perfectly as he runs, hops, climbs and dies through the world. His eyes, his eyes…
There’s no getting away from the fact that LIMBO is short and complaints about its price are as guaranteed as they are unwarranted. A competent puzzler will beat the game in around three or four hours the first time through and there are only a few occasions which will take more than a few minutes to pass. This is partially down to the incredible design of the puzzles. There’s no trial and error whatsoever, and everything the player needs to get out of whatever situation they’re in will be right at hand, it’s just up to them to work out how to put it all together. This is reassuring in that it means there’s never any frustrating or annoying moments because the game is never out to trick the player. Confusion is only possible if the player lets themselves be confused.
Fortunately, to offset any perceived notion that the length of the game means that it isn't worth every penny, achievements are used to tremendous effect to prolong the experience. Rather than offering points for progression, LIMBO has a number of areas off the beaten track which contain puzzles that are far harder than those on the main path and there are achievements linked to these. Another for completing the game in one sitting, with five or fewer deaths won’t come easily either; the puzzles are rarely hard but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to execute the solutions.
Throughout this review, LIMBO has been described as an experience, because that’s what it is. It’s short-lived as a game but it sticks with the player afterwards as they remember what they did, what they saw, what they experienced, and ponder the questions that the game doesn’t ask yet leaves unanswered. The length is irrelevant, the price is irrelevant, the experience is everything and everything is beautiful.