Sunday, August 14, 2016

Limbo (500k Views Special)

To celebrate 500k views, I'm looking at a very cool indy game. It was either this or Shovel Knight, and...well...Limbo just feels right.

The game begins with your character waking up in the woods. This intro is interesting because nothing will happen until you start pressing buttons; this will stir your character awake, followed by him sitting up and moving. If the game started with your character hopping onto the screen and immediately being available like most games, it wouldn't have conveyed the same mood. What we get here is a quiet, eerie beginning where your mind is left to wonder. Is a cutscene on the way? What's happening?

Your character is this creepy little kid. He runs and jumps through what are essentially the silhouettes of environments. Presumably, the kid is dead and finds himself in Limbo now. In Christian lore, Limbo is essentially the gateway to Hell. Or the edge. The word Limbo itself is derived from "limbus", Latin for "edge". It's also known as Purgatory, a place where people end up if they're both not good enough for Heaven and not bad enough for Hell. The neutral ground where you're stuck unless the powers that be intervene on your behalf. This Limbo is quite frightening, though, and given the abundance of death-traps, it's hard to imagine that it's anything but the edge of Hell.

Near the beginning, you cross a river to continue with the game. This is the only river in the game, and again I find this interesting. The River Styx is said to be the river you cross to get to the underworld/afterlife, and I have little doubt that this is supposed to be a reference to that. Question is...where's the boatman?

Nowhere to be found, because your character seems completely alone in the world for the first few minutes. It was a pretty calming experience...until I stepped on one of those bear traps on the ground. Playing for the first time, you're almost certain to do the same thing, resulting in a gruesome death that shows us we aren't playing a game intended for little kids.

Speaking of gruesome, I'm just going to Nope right on outta here.

A good portion of the early game has you running from this giant spider. It's probably the most iconic part of this game.

Eventually the spider catches you, but only wraps you up for later. Our, uh, hero is resourceful, and manages to escape by hopping around.

Eventually he breaks loose, crossing precarious platforms that probably represent the precariousness of his life. So far we've seen his fears play out (loneliness, spiders) and I suspect that a lot of this world consists of metaphors to help us get to know this blank slate of a character.

That's right. I'm going full art-house on this game.

Continuing on, he encounters a lot of other humanoids...all of who run in horror at his approach. It almost seems like they're just defending themselves against him. If it weren't for this hanging person that is evidently a victim of the humanoids, I'd think that they were innocent targets of our "hero". Why is this kid in Hell (or en route to it), anyway?

Wait, the spider has caught up. This thing is relentless. Luckily, our little murderer has a trap in place...

 He unleashes a boulder down a hill that slams into the spider, crushing it so that he can move in for the kill while it's helpless. Most video games are pretty simple in their objectives: Fight this thing, 'cause it's bad. This game, though? I feel like my character is this awful person doing forced penance.
Things get more and more technological as the game progresses. You leave the forest and end up in a factory/city. Not entirely sure what this represents. The obvious answer would be "leaving nature behind in pursuit of wealth and social status in the city"...if this character were an adult. It could still be a fear of his, playing into the theme of this game being full of his fears.

The technology gets thick and oppressive as our little axe-murderer pushes mine carts and avoids giant buzzsaws. The game becomes more and more about puzzle-solving as it continues, with each area presenting a new conundrum to keep you from the goal.

There are some bizarre sections where you get a weird head-parasite that controls what direction you move in temporarily; this adds a new dimension to the puzzle-solving. As far as metaphors go...who isn't afraid of being out of control of their own body?

Later puzzles involve raising/lowering water levels and throwing switches to change the form of gravity. The game gets significantly more complicated in the last two hours or so. Took me four hours to get through the whole thing.

Okay, I don't know what the significance here is. HOTEL?

It's exactly the halfway point of the game, if that means anything. The letters are electrified, which makes hopping across them pretty hazardous.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thinking about this more since the initial post, I had a revelation. The Hotel is at the halfway point of the game, where the environments switch from mostly nature-based to mostly-mechanical. If this indicates a move from a rural land to a more corporate land, maybe the kid's family stayed in a hotel mid-move. When I was a kid I went through a move where we had to stay in a hotel between the old place and the new place, something that is often necessary for a traveling family.

The graphics are minimalist and colorless, but that doesn't stop them from being impressive. The sparks that shoot off of these saw blades are very realistic-looking and high-res. Everything about this game looks way too good.

Eventually, I end up back in the woods, where I...

...catch a ride on an unwilling mosquito. THIS IS SO WEIRD WHAT DOES IT MEAN

Back to the machinery, as I lock gears together to cause the entire area to rotate.

Momentum, inertia, and gravity are all very real things in this game, things that you need to use to solve puzzles. For instance, you need to summon this rope towards you from the right side by pressing a switch. As soon as you move from the switch, the rope starts descending back to the right down the zipline. I kept summoning it all the way to the left and trying to jump onto it, but it'd roll away faster than I could reach it. The solution was to summon it most of the way up, so that it'd still have forward momentum when I got off the switch (rather than being stopped). This moment that it needed to come to a stop and slowly begin moving backward was enough time to leap onto it.

...hopefully that made sense. The puzzles in this game are well designed.

Things get very apocalyptic later, with the HOTEL signs revisited but now lopsided and in ruins. This is one part of the game that I really can't figure out the significance of.

As if all of the above elements weren't enough to make the puzzles interesting, the last area introduces magnetic surfaces to the mix. This forces the player to think outside the box, since you can use these surfaces to draw (non-fixed) objects upwards or downwards. There are puzzles that involve pushing crates around on the ceiling.

The very last room of the game features the most difficult jump, one that I can't even adequately describe here. You get infinite shots at it, and success sends the boy crashing through a glass window. Okay, this is definitely significant.

After going through the window he falls over, then wakes up in a scene reminiscent of the very beginning. The thing that seems apparent here is that perhaps he died in a car accident (hence the glass) and he just relived it. Is Limbo a place where he'll have to relive it over and over?

This might also explain the gravity-based final area, where you find yourself frequently out of control as the level turns over repeatedly. Maybe that was a metaphor for a car tumbling off the road, especially considering it culminated with the glass wall.

Now, for the entire game he's been following a little girl, and here he finally catches up to her. I was expecting a heartwarming reunion with his (presumed) sister, but instead she just sits up in what might be fear while he stands there creepily, and it fades to black.

...I don't know what to make of any of this. Lots of theories are coming to mind already. All I can say is that it's a truly bizarre game and one I'm not going to forget any time soon.

Before I go, I give you... Limbo + Diplo.

1 comment:

  1. I had only seen the forest part of this game before so this was quite a treat.

    I think you'll enjoy the new game from Playdead, Inside. The couple hours I saw definitely felt like this game.