LIMBO review

April 14, 2012

I promised at some point that I would review Incerpare’s English Country Tune but instead I’m going to review LIMBO right now because I just played it and have some quick criticism to throw out at the game that perhaps tie back a little into my pending ECT review. But first a screenshot which I think is statistically proven to reduce attrition (tldr;) rate in this type of post.

I remember being totally washed away when I saw a trailer for LIMBO two or three years ago. Indie games have come a long way since then which also means it takes a lot more to impress me. I did see some gameplay for LIMBO at indiecade 2010 in particular when those kids started chasing you with blow guns and you use the traps in the stage to kill them. That was freaky back then, and the idea is still freaky to me now, but playing through it just, perhaps because I knew what to expect, left a pretty lukewarm impression on me. There was this other trailer I saw sometime after the first where the zombie worm thing attaches to the boys head and seemingly becomes mind controlled. Suffice to say, I was a little more than disappointed that the ultimate result of that was little more than a jammed controller. In this respect, I was perhaps most impressed by that rather persistant spider whose ultimate fate is an ellipsoidal stepping stone.

I’m making pointless statements here, so what is my point? LIMBO by all means, was actually a pretty good game. The puzzles were original, compelling, rewarding when solved (for the most part), and well integrated with the atmosphere which was definitely the selling point of the game. Maybe I’m just too cynical now and destined to hate everything creative ever made. I did just play one of those artsy pixelly flash games recently. I think it was about serial killer. It had this twist where you’re rapidly pressing SPACE to fornicate with this girl behind a previously transparent brick wall except it turns out you’re actually raping and strangling her and yawn. I don’t remember what this game is called anymore. I wonder how I’d feel about cave nowadays if it were possible for me to play it objectively.

So the best I can do here is offer another theory at why LIMBO was lukewarm at best.  Limbo’s presentation of little kids dying and killing each other and mind controlling wormy things actually ARE compelling but at the end of the day we must ask what does it all boil down to? In this case, the latter is really just a puzzle mechanic, the former a game mechanic (a kind of annoying one too). These are puzzle and game mechanics that do actually tie in superbly well with the world that is LIMBO but, and here’s the issue, neither tie into the narrative which (spoiler alert) doesn’t really exist.

Now the astute reader, having perceived the contents of my yet to be written ECT review, will note that I stand here complaining about pretty much the same thing. These are both games with, gameplay that hints at narrative in a very compelling way but no actual narrative. So I ask why LIMBO had failed in this respect so much more gloriously than ECT that I’d find myself sitting here trying to force a review out of myself. Perhaps the catalyst for this review was the first time the girl is introduced (which is apparently the boy’s sister according to wikipedia and not his girlfriend). I think at this point I had decided that there would be no grand twist unveiling the true nature and story of  the game and should I have been more articulate on the spot, I should have declared “OK if you don’t have a narrative than PLEASE don’t throw me the most archetypal game trope at me”. At least Braid did it in a sort of ironic way.

ECT in all its modesty had really good and solid building blocks for a really compelling narrative. LIMBO in all its ambition succeeds even more compelling moments repeatedly throughout the revelation of its world. ECT never promised a narrative, I just wanted one and it was cock-teasing me just to be funny (ha ha Stephen Lavelle). Limbo does promise one and completely fails to deliver in favor of this open ended interpretation type way which I might compare to me handing you a book with 10000 blank panges telling you it’s open for interoperation. Again, the astute reader will note that I am also very disappointed in ECT for not being what it could of been, but here LIMBO is not what it should have been.

Duly, I give LIMBO 0 out of 1 star.