Your mind is the scene of the crime.
Inception is a 2010 movie directed by Christopher Nolan (most famous for the 2002 film Insomnia, of course) with Leonardo DiCaprio and a band of dream invaders. They’re on a mission to…and you should probably skip this one paragraph if you haven’t seen the film yet, and you should perhaps be disappointed in yourself if you haven’t. Well they enter the dreams of the rich heir (Cillian Scarecrow), and then enter the dream rich heir Cillian Scarecrow’s dream in the dream world, and then enter the dream of the dream of the dream rich heir Cillian Scarecrow…and maybe everything that’s happening is already someone else’s dream. Or maybe it’s all in the subconscious of a vegetable, or perhaps it’s a metaphor for the stylish heist fantasies of Christopher Nolan. Or maybe it’s all part of an ongoing attempt by Dicaprio to star in the manliest movies possible in his eternal struggle to make people forget about Titanic. I don’t know. It’s a very ambiguous concept of a film.
The only actual plot of note in the game is that you are a boy looking for your sister. This is revealed in the Xbox Live Marketplace purchase screen; there is no form of text or exposition to be found within the context of the game. It’s a ballsy design decision, and I can respect going old school with an all gameplay, no story approach. But between this and Braid, I’m a little tired of video games using “rescue the Princess” as a metaphor for something more ominous. (Inversely, Bayonetta uses Sonic’s rings as a less significant metaphor for collected angel scalps, or something more erotic. Now there’s a review I can’t wait to write.)
So the boy will navigate across different settings, from the woods to otherwise. His abilities include running, jumping, climbing, pushing and pulling. Thus he is on par with Sackboy, capability-wise, or at least minus the ability to transform into a mariachi singer or Old Snake. In this Limbo world, you’ll soon realize that everything is out to kill you. The giant spider from the game’s beginning will no doubt be the trademark villain in future ads and internet memes, (Limbo’s Abobo, perhaps) but numerous other hazards will make your journey feel horrifically perilous. Like Demon’s Souls, Limbo works because you feel like you are alone in a universe that hates you, wants you to know it hates you, and will kill you the moment you stop to tie your laces. Expect many sudden, unplanned deaths, though a very forgiving checkpoint system will keep your young angst in check.
You’ll almost always be in the midst of an event of note during Limbo. There’s no moments of walking long stretches of empty land or elevator rides or “kill all the enemies in the room to proceed” moments that artificially pad out a lesser game’s length. You’ll either be running from the universe’s attempt to kill you, make dramatic platform jumps, or solve many, many puzzles. Most of the puzzles involve some kind of physics-oriented toying of the world’s items, with a dash of abstract thinking and a hint of animal cruelty. I only found myself resorting to internet assistance 2 or 3 times during my playthrough, and I consider my brain as adept at problem solving skills as Sackboy is capable of successfully landing floaty jumps, so Limbo definitely felt like the right kind of challenge. The Boy himself is a surprisingly scrapping lad, capable of landing daring leaps of faith and barely grabbing on to many a ledge. You’ll rarely feel like the game screwed you over from a poorly timed platform event of death. If placed in Super Mario Crossover, the Boy would do pretty well for himself I’d think. At least do better than Samus, anyways.
All of the game is presented in a greyscaled, silhouetted style where all that you see are shadows, glowing eyes and death. It gives the game a staunch, surprisingly realistic visual style that had to have been produced on a budget many times smaller than Heavy Rain or Uncharted 2’s. People will make quick comparisons to Lord of the Flies with certain shocking visual elements, though the game plays with a much different set of themes and concepts. The only part of the game world that feels cartoonish is the Boy himself, or rather, the gratuitous deaths he will face. His body will often crumble and tear, like a ragdoll filled with blood and a spinal column. Some of the death animations come off as so goofy that they pulled me out of the dreadful tone of the game’s universe. I fully expect a rowdy editor to make a Youtube compilation of Limbo death sequences, possibly concluded with keyboard cat. Really, most of my issues are rather insignificant nitpicks. Like the leech that digs into your brain and forces you to walk in one direction, while making for more unique puzzles, feels rather contrived as a premise. Just as one or two saw blades that are capable of floating in the air. But the fact that I’m even bringing up such obtuse issues should demonstrate how highly I think of the game’s thick layer of immersion.
All of which is concluded by a rather abstract ending that leaves plenty of room for interpretation. Much like the actual plot of the game, what makes the ending so profound in Limbo is ever so easy to miss. At 3 hours of length, many aggressive players will finish Limbo in a hurry and be up in arms over the game’s brevity and the strange nature of its finish. You can hunt for hidden eggs or attempt to finish the game in a single session with few deaths to collect achievements if achievements make you feel like a bigger man.
I saw Inception with a friend, and she was outright enraged over how the events unfolded. Without (poorly) spoiling anymore than I already had, she assumed that she had this open-ended film interpreted in the most short-sighted, abrupt manner possible. She would probably hate Limbo too. People who need measure their experiences in quantity or need straightforward stories where the hero stops the villain and gets the girl will probably dislike Limbo. Those people can screw off and get back to Uncharted. For people that want something a little more substantial, an experience where every moment in a game feels thought out as something more significant than time-filler, or even just people that can appreciate a solid platformer, Limbo is a haunting diversion that should be supported.