Originally published on Trevor Trove on February 16, 2017
TL; DR(eview) – Limbo is a dark and dreary puzzle platformer from Playdead. The stark art style and trial-and-error puzzling keep the game confined to a fairly simple premise that tends to stick to a neutral middle ground, rather than explore a full range of highs and lows in its pacing and gameplay arc.
When I wrote about Inside last year, I floated the idea that, based on other voices in the industry, Inside was probably a great game for the person who liked Limbo. But as I hadn’t played more than a few moments of Limbo, I couldn’t speak to that. Now, as someone who didn’t exactly like Limbo, I still can’t.
Perhaps it’s due to the game being a victim of great expectations, but Limbo – like Inside before/after it (before for me, after for the rest of the world) – was supremely underwhelming. Featuring an even more bland palate that never escapes assorted shades of grey, Limbo’s design seems to cement the notion that I just won’t connect with Playdead’s aesthetic. Inside at least had the occasional pop of color but Limbo would up feeling all too one-note throughout my few hours with the game. While I appreciate it as a choice, it is simply one that did not resonate with me.
In a similar vein, I can very much now see how Inside comes across as a more refined version of Limbo when it comes to gameplay. Unfortunately for me, and the order in which I played the two, that means Limbo feels worse as a result. Specifically, I think Limbo is a game built around the player needing to learn through trial and error. In a first pass of the game, many of the death traps that await the Boy are barely visible or near-impossible to avoid without knowing they’re there. This echoed Inside’s morbid fascination with the many ways to brutally kill a young boy as I was destroyed by bear traps, drowning, electrocution, crushing rocks, impalement, etc.
The game’s linear path through puzzle after puzzle was pretty straightforward with only or two puzzles actually tripping me up for any sort of extended period. And even in those cases, my issue ended up being that the game’s inherent darkness made it difficult to see the solution on my dark flight home from PAX South.
Thinking back on the game now a couple weeks after playing through it, very few moments, images, or puzzles stand out as particularly memorable. The whole game just sort of blends together, with minimal peaks and valleys. In fact, the only real highlight that sticks with me was a complete fluke of timing. The final moment of the game involves time slowing down as the boy crashes through a wall of sorts. This just happened to coincide with my plane touching back down in Phoenix. A pretty cool moment to be sure but one born completely out of random chance and not by design.
Given that most of my grievances from Limbo and Inside seem to echo one another, it would seem to track that your enjoyment of one will be a decent indicator of the other. And with Playdead already teasing a next game on Twitter in recent months, I think I may just skip this next one rather than hope that the third time’s the charm.