Phew I'm back. No seriously. You've been here about 5 hours, which is about how long it takes to play all the way through Limbo. So there you go, one criticism down: it's short. But I am a man who cares more about quality than quantity, and for this game, the quality packed into that five hour time span I spent with Limbo is worth more than many mainstage, 50 hour behemoths that are shoved down our throats by big name game companies.
LIMBO is the super-stylized side scrolling platformer from developer PlayDead set in, I guess, some sort of limbo world where a small boy must find his sister. That's the story. No word on why you're there, even exactly where "there" is, just that you wake up there and must find your sister. Your sister who is equally dark and morose as the world you inhabit.
Most immediately apparent in this game is the art style, which is monochromatic. The characters, environments, and hazards are all black and white and various shades of grey in between, which not only serves its purpose to display a dark and dreary world, but also makes the hazards more difficult to overcome. "Is that a bunch of grass or a bear trap?" Literally a thought I had in my head while playing this game.
This game is most definitely about being trapped alone, as everything else in this game is out to get you. The human antagonists are wonderfully childish in appearance yet adult-like in brutality, killing without a moment's hesitation, and in gruesome ways. Likewise, your character, the Boy, is not exactly the most innocent of children. There can be no doubt that this game is dark, as your character does some pretty intense things to reach his sister and stop being alone.
Where this game shines the most though, is not in its art style or its over-arching themes of loneliness and progression, but in its gameplay, which in this case means puzzle-platforming. Or platforming-puzzles. Solving puzzles whilst jumping on platforms. The puzzles start out soft and cuddly, but quickly ramp up in difficulty as you progress through the game. Though they start out short and sweet, even the most simple of puzzles gives a wonderful satisfaction once completed, that "Aha!" moment crucial in puzzle games where you have been staring at a problem for a few minutes and then the solution just comes to you. This game is just one "Aha!" moment after another, and the puzzles never seem unfair in difficulty to the point where I felt the game was cheating.
That doesn't mean that I never thought the game was cheating. At first I thought that several traps (and you'll know the ones I'm referring to once you reach them) were so unbelievably cheap, impossible to comprehend on the first go round, and just put in to frustrate me that I almost dropped the game. But then I realized something: the game knew that I was going to fall for that. This isn't some sort of "This game is psychic!" baloney. The game developers knew exactly what a player would do when they reached this point in the game, and so they put a trap in at that exact spot to undermine our attempts to proceed. What this in turn made me understand is two fold: Limbo understands that it is a game and embraces that aspect, and it also highlights another aspect of loneliness, that of our own powerlessness in a harsh world. When I saw that I was but a mere pawn in the hands of the game developers, that they could know my next move without even knowing my name, I realized then how powerless not only my character is but how powerless I am, in many aspects of my life.
So, after many months of therapy to bring my self-esteem back up, I was finally able to come back and beat Limbo. And in all honesty, I was a barrel of mixed emotions. The events that lead up to the end of Limbo are wonderful, epic moments that truly convey a sense of finality to the game: this is the last portion of the game and you know it. After many trials and errors, I finally breached the last puzzle and... was greeted by a very stereotypical, shockingly bland and expected ending. I was expecting there to be some tremendous end to this boy in his quest, but what we got was just an end. It felt like all the struggles I had up until this point were really unfulfilled. I won't say anymore, but I also know this is one of the most contested aspects of Limbo, some people praise the ending, others want to set it on fire. I am of the latter group.
This is not the only gripe I have. There is one more. Ok, so two gripes on a game this amazing is pretty good I would say. The game can be divided into two very obvious sections, the first being a sort of jungle/treehouse civilization mess. This is my favorite section, as you are pitted against traps, both natural traps and man-made traps, faceless killers with a variety of weapons, and the source of every person's fear in the world who suffers from arachnophobia.
Prepare to cry. And scream. A lot.
And the second is a faceless machinery/factory environment, completely devoid of personality, which is the definition of a machine I suppose. The first environment had character and flavor due to its interaction with the other "people" and the deliberateness with which the traps were placed. Those traps were put there to kill you, to stop you. For some reason, you are important enough to be kept out. But the traps and deaths in the machinery stage seem more incidental, like an accident that you just happened to walk into.
All in all, this game provides a wonderful look at games themselves, not being afraid to recognize what it is, and forces us to examine our own aspects of our lives that are reflected in the character we control, made all the more poignant by the fact that we cannot see his face, we put our own in its place. Its only lackluster moments are towards the end where it feels like the developers needed to put something there after the last puzzle was complete and kind of just threw something together. When the ending could have made a great final statement, instead it sort of fizzles out on itself, not unlike yours truly after a long night of darts, tobogganing, and chasing laser pointers.