Early concept art for Limbo.
Limbo is a platform game made by developer Playdead in Copenhagen, Denmark, with heavy emphasis on ambience. The game is entirely monochromatic, with nothing more than black and white and shades of grey filling the world. There is no map, no HUD, no dialogue or descriptions - indeed, the only word that appears outside of menus at all is the word "Hotel" which appears on two signs. There is also very little music throughout the game, with it only being heard in specific locations and maintaining the minimalist approach in its composition. The game also contains no loading screens, and can be played continuously from start to finish without pause. It was released on July 21st, 2010, the first game to appear on Xbox Live's Summer of Arcade 2010.
The story in Limbo is never properly detailed in the game. The only written source of the game's story can be found on the internet. "Uncertain of his sister's fate, a young boy enters Limbo..." This is never stated in the game itself, and players are left to interpret the narrative for themselves.
A puzzle in Limbo.
Limbo is a puzzle-platformer. The game only uses two buttons in addition to movement controls, one to cause the boy to jump, and one for contextual action, such as dragging boxes, pulling levers, or pushing buttons. The boy can grab onto ledges within reach and lower himself from platforms, climb ladders, push and pull objects and also swing from ropes found in the environment. Limbo features a lot of what developer Playdead describes as "trial and death" gameplay, requiring players to die frequently (and gruesomely) in order to fully understand the puzzles. Limbo has an extremely generous checkpoint system with almost instantaneous reloading, usually bringing the boy back to just before he set off a trap or fell into a chasm, minimizing (but not avoiding) player frustration.
Limbo focuses mostly on physics-based puzzles. These puzzles involve the player pulling or pushing objects with true momentum, affecting fluids, and manipulating electromagnetism and gravity to move objects as well as the player. The game introduces a number of different types of puzzles as the game progresses. A frequent puzzle element involves brain slugs which burrow into the boy's head and force him to walk forward, leaving him unable to stop or turn around until he walks into a bright light, which harms the brain slug and makes it turn him around to flee back into the dark. When afflicted by a slug, previously benign areas and easily-avoidable hazards turn into horrific obstacle courses and death traps.
Nice and safe in this huge, creepy forest.
Limbo's environments change as the protagonist journeys through a number of different locations throughout the game. The player plays straight through these environments without any pause or loading screens.
The first environment of the game. The boy first wakes up in the forest where he then continues on to cross a large river on a boat, battle against the giant spider and first encounter the psychotic natives of Limbo, who appear to be murderous children. The Forest covers the first four chapters of the game. The Forest area has no industrial traits and differs quite a bit from locations in the game's later chapters.
The environment then begins to change when the player meets the murderous children. In the background, broken old shacks and trees are seen. Objects that are used in the environment are broken objects like old crates. Crows are seen perched on the old buildings. The player encounters violence from the natives in this area of the game. They chase the boy, trying to kill him using their darts. There are various wooden structures seen throughout this area, obviously built by the natives. Forestry from the opening environment can be seen dotted around the area. The brain slugs, which force their host to walk in one direction only, make their first appearance in this area.
The game's areas begin to degrade.
The wasteland areas then move into the caves. The caves' main theme is water. Many of the puzzles seen throughout the caves involve using water to advance and also trying to avoid drowning in said water, as the boy appears to be soluble. Many waterfalls can also be seen in the backgrounds of some areas in the caves. The caves are also the first area of the game where the player goes indoors. The industrial traits of the game begin to appear here. Cogs, levers and metal platforms are seen in the caves, replacing the old wooden structures of the wasteland area.
This is the first area of the game to involve a modern/urban theme. When players first enter this environment, they are greeted by a large "HOTEL" sign which must be navigated over to continue. The player then breaks into the hotel via a glass ceiling and continues on their journey. This environment contains puzzles involving elevators and electricity. After the player travels through the Hotel, they exit back outside for a short time before entering the next enviroment, the Industrial Mill.
The "HOTEL" sign.
This is the final environment in the game and takes up the most chapters and most of the latter parts of Limbo. There are a number of different concepts which appear here, navigating cogs, gravity puzzles, spinning rooms, avoiding fire from incongruously-placed machine gun turrets, and using electrical magnets. The Industrial Mill differs greatly from the Forest area at the beginning of the game. This area contains less of the strange atmosphere which defines the early part of the game, and focuses more on puzzle-solving then building atmosphere. Once the player breaks free from the mill, by blasting their way through a glass window, they are greeted with the final moment of the game.
Secret Underground Level
A hidden area that can only be accessed after finishing the game and finding all of the other eggs, the majority of this area is entirely in darkness, forcing the player to navigate by sound alone. It is one of the most difficult sections of the game. It was added to the PS3 and PC releases, and is tied to the " Ding!" trophy/achievement. It has not been patched into the 360 release, to punish 360 players for getting the game first.
The ending to Limbo is quite abrupt and is open to much interpretation. After finishing the final puzzle, the boy is thrown through a pane of glass. On the other side, the boy finds himself in the forest once again. After travelling for a moment, the boy comes across a young girl, the only female seen in the game, and most likely his sister, outside of a treehouse. When the young girl sees the boy, she stands up. The game then abruptly ends and the credits begin to roll. When they player is returned to the main menu, they realize that the scene which has always accompanied the main menu upon loading the game depicts the same area as the ending, but with a decrepit treehouse and flies buzzing around something on the ground, with the most cynical interpretation being that it is the corpses of the boy and his sister.
The ending of the game has a number of interpretations that can be drawn from the proceedings. Since the game is named Limbo, it is reasonable to assume that the game's dream-like world is the religious idea of limbo. It is believed by some that the boy completes his journey by returning to the place where he once started; a single circular loop, like limbo itself. Some believe that the two children have already died, hence the menu screen, and that meeting each other in the end is the last task they must complete before they can continue to the afterlife. A number of theories exist on the matter and the developers of Limbo have said nothing officially on the subject of the ending.
Limbo has received very positive critical acclaim. Reviewers applauded the game's graphical and audio presentation as they have not been seen in many games before. Limbo's "noir" qualities are also a common plus point for many reviewers. Some reviewers praised the game's lack of a proper narrative and that it is shrouded in mystery, but many found this lack of narrative unappealing. A common criticism made on message boards and in reviews was due to the lack of value for the initial $15 asking price. Such complaints were levied against the linearity of the title, the short length (most players are able to complete it in about three hours), and the lack of replay value endemic to puzzle-platformers. Some reviews noted the game's second half abandoned the initial focus on ambience and organic placement of game elements in favour of the introduction of new mechanics and disjointed puzzle areas, leaving the player with an unoriginal yet still technically well-executed platformer. Limbo has scores of 90% and 92% on GameRankings and Metacritic respectively. Brad Shoemaker awarded the game a maximum five stars and included it in his game of the year list.
Limbo has 2 avatar awards to unlock in the Xbox 360 version.