Tense, challenging and eerily atmospheric, Limbo is a platforming masterpiece that everyone should have in their collection
From the moment you start playing Limbo, you’re never quite sure where you are or why you’re there. It’s dark, and everything exists only in silhouette. The mute protagonist is a strange shadow-child with glowing white eyes, racing through a landscape that’s even more obscure than he is. Your only discernible objective throughout this platform-puzzler is to stay alive as you move through an increasingly hostile world.
Everything seems out to get you, including the landscape itself. Threats are everywhere, from a spider the size of the house, to strange children who attack with dart guns and glowing worms that burrow into your skull and force you to walk off platforms to your death. It’s amazing how much gore it’s possible to imply when the entire game plays out in greyscale; one of the earliest experiences of this comes with a spurt of black blood and a sickening crunch as you fall into a pit of spikes, but that’s only the beginning. A wealth of potential death awaits you, with decapitation, drowning and dismemberment as just a few of the options for your untimely demise.
Then again, it’s not like you don’t get your revenge. The poor spider meets a sticky end, dismembered by your hands, the worm ends up as plant food and the dart gun children are easily goaded into spike-filled pits or under crushing weights, but you’ll have to work hard for each victory.
The puzzles are a genuine challenge, requiring fast reflexes and keen observation as much as pure problem-solving. It’s easy to think you’ve found the right solution and then fail because you’re in too much of a hurry to escape the menacing spider behind you or jump off the rope you’re pulling on. Progress hinges on realizing that what at first appears to be set dressing can be manipulated, using the rotten trees, small animals and corpses that litter the road ahead to navigate each screen. An excellent physics engine makes interacting with each object feel very believable, from the way logs (and bloated corpses) float in water to the momentum of the silent protagonist swinging from a rope.
Limbo is made all the more haunting by the absence of a soundtrack. The world around you makes a lot of noise, from the sound of wind whistling through the grass to rain pouring down around you, but there’s no music. This actually makes the game even more eerie than it already is. Everything makes a sound; chains clink, traps snap shut and your feet squelch in wet grass.
You’re likely to get frustrated in a number of places, most often by puzzles that require precise timing, but this only increases the sense of satisfaction when finally working it out. In Limbo, you’ll often learn by dying, as the cost of trial and error is usually fatal. Fortunately, there are regular auto-save points. We were also pleased to find that our saves were shared across the Steam network so that we could pick up from where we left off on any computer.
Limbo only takes four or five hours to complete, but it’s a gem of a game: a strange, hauntingly beautiful yet surprisingly scary journey into darkness that’s definitely worth its £7.