You've probably heard a lot about Limbo. This critically acclaimed platform-puzzler won a few awards here and there. Yet, I felt disappointed when playing way too often.
It's a very bleak game. Starting from gorgeous greyscale visuals, which set the game's tone. There's no literalness in this aesthetics, every object is represented just by its silhouette. It leaves a room for imagination - which is always good in games. There's absolutely insane attention to detail: tree branches sway in the wind, spider's web leftovers remain sticked to the boy's body after getting free of the web, small rocks fall down when you're sliding down the hill... A separate sentence is needed to cover the boy's animation: it's unbelievably fluid, goes from one animation to another with no visible seams; the boy always puts his foot adjacent to the ground. Every detail is so damn good that you'll stop noticing it after a while. Everything works like it should, you won't see a single graphical glitch in the whole game. Hats off.
Audio adds depth to the atmosphere. Most of the time you'll only hear sounds of your own footsteps and environment. There are no words in Limbo. No human voices. Almost no perceptible music; it makes you feel lonely and hopeless.
Audio and animation is almost exactly what I'm aiming for in Cavery... Enough gushing, let's get to the gameplay! And the disappointment.
Warning - MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!
Uncertain of his sister's fate, a boy enters LIMBO.
That's all we know about the story and setting. You start in a forest. It's quiet, calm and somewhat unnerving. You learn how to run, jump and die. You will die a lot, in gruesome ways. The boy doesn't scream, he almost always dies in absolute silence - which makes deaths even more unsettling.
Then there's the spider.
If you're still reading this, you've probably finished the game already, so you know about the spider. It's absolutely phenomenal, terrifying and is the thing you'll remember the most from Limbo. I was scared, felt completely helpless and absolutely vulnerable facing him. This spider embodies fear and proves that we're all at least a little arachnophobic. There's something... disturbing about its movement. Also, there's no dramatic music when you're trying to run away - it actually strenghtened my adrenaline rush. Interesting.
All of a sudden, I see some people. They're looking at me, but I can't reach them. They run away after a while. Oh, the spider again. Am I running away from him, or am I chasing these people? Seeing them lightened hope in me; I thought there's some kind of settlement and I'll be safe there, with them.
Oh, so there is the settlement. Burning.
Who set their village on fire? That wasn't the spider... So there's something even more ominous in this world?
I can see them again. But... they're running away. From me. Am I the one they fear? They even set some traps to kill me...
Somebody's sitting there! He won't run away. I'm going to talk to him. Is he wounded? Maybe he needs help?
Planks broke under my body and we fell down, but this man had a rope wrapped around his neck. I killed him... I didn't want to, but I did - and felt bad and guilty about it.
Let's recap: after spending a hour with Limbo, I felt fear, vulnerability, curiosity, sadness and guilt. When a game made you actually FEEL such things? Yeah, I don't remember as well.
This is where Limbo was brilliant.
And then? You enter some kind of a factory and solve physics puzzles. Stacking puzzles. Water puzzles. Gravity puzzles. There's no background story attached to it (like with the spider, people and their village), they're just obstacles you need to pass through. And it goes on, and on, and on... Yes, the game made me feel something again. Frustration.
The puzzles itself are actually inventive and pretty hard at times, but you're forced to repeat them many times, because they often involve an arcade challenge as well. A timed jump, quick run and jump, choosing the right ladder to jump on... There's nothing entertaining in repeating an already solved puzzle, just because you failed at applying this solution. I had to force myself to get through all these challenges. Boring and frustrating task!
It's worth noting though, that Limbo pulls it all off without any inventory and with just a single action button. The amount and diversification of activities is quite impressive.
Suddenly the game ends. You go straight from an arcade challenge (repeated about 15 times in my case) to the final scene. You fall in beautifully slow motion through a mirror (?) to a forest.
Am I again at the point where I started? The boy lies down, but stands up after a long while. I go forward. There's a ladder leading up and a girl; looks like she's digging in the ground. Is this my sister? She notices me and the game ends.
But after the credits there's another scene, looking similar. There are some differences: a rope is hanging from the ladder, and there are swarms of flies in places where they stood a while ago.
I think they're both dead, one of them hanged herself. Judging by their positions, it was her. So, the boy died in some circumstances, and she hanged herself from grief? I don't know. But I like when a game (a movie, a book) asks questions and forces me to think.
But was it neccessary to put me through all these puzzles and challenges? It felt so out of place, so game-y; where the rest strives to innovate. That's why I'm so disappointed.
Still, it's a game you should play. And share your interpretation with me!