TA Playlist Wrap-up: Limbo

The TA Playlist Team - June 7th 2022

Welcome back to another month of TA Playlist, the monthly gaming club for the TrueAchievements community.

Before we launch into a discussion of this month's game, we want to start by highlighting our theme for May, Mental Health Awareness Month. Millions of people around the world struggle with some form of mental health issue, and the month of May has been selected by mental health organisations to raise awareness, de-stigmatise these conditions, and promote resources and strategies to help people manage their mental health. With the pandemic and lockdowns of the past couple of years, there has been a renewed focus on mental health problems, as people who may have already been struggling suddenly found themselves isolated and alone, without the typical routines or support structures that they might have relied on to manage their condition.

Video games have been a source of comfort for many people during the pandemic, allowing for a social outlet through online gaming interactions, as well as a bit of escapism for those who find themselves overwhelmed by current events. However, video games don't just provide a welcome diversion… many games explicitly focus on themes of mental health problems and psychological trauma, providing a new medium to explore these issues and raise awareness about these conditions.

Probably one of the most famous examples is Ninja Theory's 2018 action-adventure title Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, which garnered critical acclaim for its portrayal of the lead character's experience of psychosis. Hellblade wasn't eligible for this month's poll, however, since it was the featured game of the month back in December 2018. That still left us with plenty of good candidates, though, and after a very close back-and-forth battle in the polling, the dark and moody puzzle/platformer Limbo emerged victorious.

Limbo was developed by Playdead Studios and published by Xbox Game Studios, with the Xbox Live Arcade version releasing in July 2010. The game quickly found success, and updated versions were eventually published for Xbox One, Windows, and other platforms.

Limbo is a 2D puzzle-platformer presented entirely in black and white. Upon pressing start, you find yourself in a dark and gloomy forest… no sound, no colour, just massive black trees fading into a gray, misty background. The silhouette of a boy sits up from the grass, and his bright white eyes blink open, indicating it's time to start off on your journey.

Uncertain of his sister's fate, a boy enters limbo. That's all the narrative this game gives you, and one gets the sense that Playdead wouldn't have even said that much about Limbo's story if they didn't need some sort of description to list the game on the Xbox store.

There's no text, no dialogue, nothing to say where you are going or why. There are no onscreen prompts to show when you should jump or how to push or pull objects on the ground… the designers prioritised setting the mood and the aesthetic of the game, and making the player figure out all that other stuff for themselves was an intentional choice. You're on your own, alone, isolated, with nothing to aid your journey, just like the nameless boy.

Titan Eric said:

For sure on the slightly creepy side, putting you on edge while you worked your way through the black and white forests. The aesthetic was beautiful, and a great example of a game that will hold up. Looking back on screenshots from the 360 it holds up great! A prime example of a game that will continue to be played for years to come. Fantastic game.
The creepiness only increases when you encounter your first death, most likely at the hands of one of the bear traps scattered about the forest, or by falling from a long jump. The deaths in the game are visceral and graphic, with surprisingly detailed animations of the boy's body being broken and twisted, chopped in half, or crushed. Since there's no background music to cover up the sound effects, the crunch of bones snapping or the squelch of metal slicing through flesh echoes in the player's ears as you wait for the last checkpoint to reload so you can try again.

xuxicroptop said:

This seemed like a low completion time game (which it somewhat is), but lord did I underestimate what these puzzles were going to be and how much you have to die to progress.

There's no blood or gore, but the art style and sound design make those deaths feel every bit as gruesome as any you might see in a first-person shooter. And that's not even to mention some of the larger challenges later on in the game, such as the giant spider, buzz saws, and machine gun turrets. In short, you'll be confronted with seeing the boy's on-screen death quite a lot as you make your way through, but those deaths are a necessary part of the learning process.

Piston Toyota said:

Limbo on the whole is an interesting game. If judged on just the merits of its core gameplay, it isn't particularly special, being riddled with cheap deaths that you almost couldn't possibly see coming the first time through, but that honestly fits with the sort of hostile and oppressive tone of the game is going for.
Spa1h said:
I went through the game without a guide. It was nice to just scratch my head in order to proceed instead of playing along with a video or text. I got stuck on two puzzles where I read a text on how to proceed […] but apart from that I really like the game's puzzle design.
It was a nice experience, I can now really understand why this game set the standards for indie platformers a few levels higher.
My first playthrough took around 3 hours, and I had around 40 deaths. Let's see how this list continues ;)
The first enemy you encounter in the forest is a huge spider, its legs reaching out at you from behind a tree-like giant, sharpened claws. You also meet a tribe of older boys or young adults who attack you with spears and traps, and then disappear into a primitive village. From there you journey on into a more modern city where environmental hazards such as drowning and electricity become the biggest obstacles. In the later stages, you enter what seems to be a giant factory, filled with huge buzz saws and giant cogs that can literally rotate the world around the boy, and machines that can manipulate gravity itself.

FruitofPassion said:

I gotta say, playing this game has been very creepy for me for several reasons:
1) Arachnophobia. Dreading the fact I have to do this again now xD
2) Surprisingly graphic. Don't like seeing myself mutilated by sawblades!
Along the way, you'll also encounter strange, glowing slugs that drop from the ceiling and attach themselves to your head and inhibit your control of the character. With a brain slug attached, the boy can only move forward in one direction, and while you can still jump and influence the speed of his advancement, you can't make him stop or turn around. Being handicapped this way turns some relatively minor platforming sections into challenging and sometimes frustrating scenes, as you helplessly watch the boy plod along towards his death because you missed your chance to save him.

Finally, you end up back where you began, in a dark and gloomy forest, but this time you approach a treehouse with a female figure kneeling on the forest floor. She sits up as you approach, and that's where the game ends, with no real explanation or resolution, leaving the player to interpret the game's meanings and themes for themselves.

For some of the commenters in our forums, this minimalist approach to storytelling was a big hit, giving them the incentive to go back into the game and look for more clues and details:
red MANS pryD3 said:

First time I played this I didn't even understand what the game was. Once I did another full immersed playthrough I was amazed at how heavy the themes really were once I put more thought into it. Loved every minute of playing this gem. Slowly anticipating the next game by these devs!
But other gamers found the lack of details and design elements left them unsatisfied:

Arcstar09 said:

The game wasn't really that bad, but I'm not sure I agree with the hype behind it after playing it. The puzzle/platforming aspect was pretty good. I enjoyed solving the puzzles and none of them were really too tough. However, there wasn't much in the way of music to set the mood or story that could be followed. It was up to the player to fill in a lot of the gaps that the game left. The game just felt a bit hollow to me.
Why is this boy in the woods? Who are the other characters trying to kill him? What happened to separate the boy from his sister? Why are there laser-guided machine guns and brain slugs? What the heck is that factory making that requires all those giant sawblades? In researching this article, I've seen lots of theories about the meaning behind the game, but there will ever by a definitive answer, because the developers don't want there to be one. The word "limbo" itself refers to a state of ambiguity, where the ultimate fate has yet to be decided, so even the title of the game is an indication that we may never know the true meaning of the story as the creators envisioned it.

In medieval Christianity, "Limbo" referred to the dwelling place of the unbaptised righteous dead – those whose souls were not condemned to Hell, but who could not be granted access to Heaven, and so existed in a neutral in-between state. Given its association with the afterlife, most interpretations of Limbo 's story assume that the main character has died – either by falling out of a treehouse or by being ejected from a car crash – and that his journey to seek out his sister (who may or may not have died in the same accident, depending on the theory) is his shot at redemption for his soul to move on to the afterlife. Others believe that the sister is the one who died, possibly as a result of the boy's actions (accidental or on purpose), and he intentionally journeys into the underworld to rescue her or assuage his own guilt over her death.

Playlist Trivia: At just 5 letters, “Limbo” is officially the game with the shortest title ever to be featured in the TA Playlist. Which game had the next shortest title, at just six letters? Find the answer below!
Of course, there are other possible interpretations that don't involve the boy's death. One theory states that the boy and his sister went on a camping trip in the woods with their parents, that the brain parasites represent some sort of illness that the sister contracted, and the game is the boy's interpretation of his family rushing out of the woods back to civilisation to find help. Some believe it's all a dream, or a product of the boy's own imagination, and the dangers he encounters are simply a manifestation of his own fears and anxieties:

FruitofPassion said:

Personally I got the interpretation that a lot of what happens is in his imagination. The quick-changing themes and things like the giant spider give me this feeling. I mean, it totally could just be a fantasy universe, but IMO it felt more like a metaphorical journey through fear and anxiety.
There are little story hints around like things like dead bodies in the background showing suicide or forced deaths by mind control, but again, I think it's all in this kid's head as he's scared looking for his sister who probably, in reality, isn't actually lost or anything. Just a scared kid in this forest.
It seems that there are nearly as many theories on the game's "true" meaning as there are players, and that's exactly what the developers intended. Creative Director Arnt Jensen began sketching out the first concepts of what would become Limbo back in 2004, and throughout the development process, he worked hard to maintain the integrity of his original vision, even when investors advised that he needed to make changes — such as giving it a more obvious storyline – in order to increase the game's appeal.

Other investor "suggestions" included adding multiplayer, increasing the length of the game, or giving the main character a moustache to avoid the optics of a young boy dying so gruesomely. Given the high critical praise for the final version of the game, and its enduring legacy as a work that successfully straddles the line between "game" and "art," it seems Jensen and the Playdead team made the right choice in sticking to their own vision.

Not everyone was completely enamoured with the game, of course. Even when it was released, some reviewers found the arty style to be pretentious, and the ambiguity of the story simply a result of the developers not really having a clear idea in the first place. One commenter from the forums this month believes that Limbo 's main key to success was being a relatively early hit on the indie scene.

Anxsighety said:

I think this game is severely overrated at this point. Inside is a better game in almost every way. I think it coming out when it did helped it a lot. If it was released today it would be lost in the sea of indies and never heard about again.
There's probably some truth to that, but it could also be argued that the success of a game like Limbo helped pave the way for that "sea of indies," by showing publishers that it could be okay to take a chance with more creative indie titles for niche audiences, rather than focusing solely on big-budget AAA titles with mass appeal. The original Xbox Live Arcade version of the game holds a Metacritic score of 90 – "Universal Acclaim" – so it seems that most reviewers appreciated Jensen's vision.

For the video game community as a whole, the black-and-white art style, the minimalist sound design, and the mysteriousness of the story are really what set the game apart, but for the True Achievements community, there really was one aspect of the game that became its defining characteristic: the five-deaths-or-less-in-one-sitting "No Point in Dying" achievement. Probably 90% of the substantive comments in our forums (apart from those that simply said "Great game!" or "Not for me, badge please.”) mentioned the "No Point in Dying" achievement, so it's fair to say that this limited-death run weighed heavily on the minds of many achievement hunters.

pezza888 said:

Went back to it just now for a quick blast. I do like the game and enjoyed my first playthough years ago. Unfortunately the "no point in dying" achievement really ruins the list and highlights some of the game's flaws - which in normal gameplay would not be so obvious. Requiring pixel perfect jumping and timing works fine in something like N+, which does have very precise controls, and has small levels which you can practice till you ace them. Limbo isn't as precise control-wise and requiring that kind of perfection across the entire game is a ridiculous ask.
RiBoP said:
Great game indeed! Finished the game on the 360 back in 2012 and apparently started Limbo again in 2015 after I got my first XBOX One [laugh]
I will probably not go for the completion as well. The No Point in Dying achievement was never very appealing to me in the 360 version and don't think I will go for it now. Like others said, some jumps are pretty tough to time with the controls not being as precise as in other games. Would be very frustrating to mess up some jumps unnecessarily.
Still, this achievement isn't quite as universally maligned as the flags from last month's Assassin's Creed, as several people said they enjoyed the challenge:

Piemanns Bakery said:

Heart beat going faster and faster as I got deeper into the game and the more that would need to be re-done if I make a misstep... it's one of those good/bad feelings that video games can cause!
masstermind13 said:
Great game, completed the xbox one version back in 2017, was fun and I'm gonna play the 360 version for the playlist this month. The "No point in dying" achievement was interesting for me, really made me learn the levels, and in the end I didn't die once the final run, see if I can remember the levels again this time haha
Sebacean Hybrid said:
Such moody and beautiful (if that's the right word) game. Going into it I was worried about the no death achievement. It's 100% do-able but I absolutely recommend having a video up to refresh your memory as you go through the sections. Take your time and breath and you'll get it done no problem.
For most, though, it seems this achievement is a mark against the game, even if they still enjoyed the experience overall:

SkoochMG said:

Limbo was a fun one. I personally enjoy these types of puzzle games a lot - games that bring some relatively unique elements, set up a few creative puzzles, and offer a relatively quick overall play time (see also: Hue, Pedestrian, Swapper, etc). Limbo has the creative puzzles and a really unique art style. Solid recommend for fans of the genre.

But as many have mentioned, achievement wise, kind of a bust. Not sure why so many games of this style add in the 'win without dying' style achievement - I assume (at best) to add a play variation once you've figure out all the puzzles or (at worst) pad play time stats? They give you 5 lives here, the full game run isn't insanely long, and I'm sure with a little practice and some luck this isn't unmanageable.But running through the entire thing without mistakes to try and hit that last jumps randomish timing - not particularly fun. Good challenge if you're into that, but I typically abandon these games around 90% completion and forgo the frustration of these "don't die" challenges.

More than one gamer even stated in the forums that they chose not to start Limbo because of the "No Point in Dying" achievement, fearing that it would prevent them from getting a full completion. This is a sentiment you probably won't find among your mainstream gaming crowd, but it's a concern that's all too familiar to achievement hunters on this site. One commenter wasn't having any of that this month, though:

Lukoster said:

I know I shouldn't talk people out of their philosophies, but it's a damn shame you'd let the worry over your completion miss out on something like Limbo. It's a very dynamic, fun and short experience, well worth your time. I definitely recommend it. ;)
And for those who did make the attempt, many reported that the five-death achievement really wasn't as difficult as it was made out to be:

PuckJunkie said:

I remember skipping the 5-death achievement the first time around on the 360. Once I did it on the Xbox One, I went back and finished up the 360 as well. It's not nearly as bad as you would think.
Piston Toyota said:
A small tip for anyone trying for the low-death run: Stage memorisation is key. A good chunk of the traps in the game are things you need to more or less know are coming ahead of time, but if you do, they aren't particularly difficult to avoid. After I did it on the 360 version I immediately started the One stack and thanks to having most of the game crammed into my short-term memory I was able to do it in that version with no deaths at all.

Speaking of stacks, it's a good time to discuss our TA Playlist stats for the month. We had 799 gamers join in by unlocking an achievement in one of Limbo 's three stackable versions this month, popping a total of 3,212 achievements – an average of just over four achievements per gamer. 549 of those gamers were starting a version for the first time, with 70 getting credit for a completion. In total, these achievements were worth 225,875 Gamerscore, or 370,171 TrueAchievement Score – a TA Ratio of 1.64.

Given the above discussion, no points for guessing which achievement saw the fewest unlocks during the month… "No Point in Dying" was only unlocked 67 times across all three versions of the game. The second-fewest unlocks was for the "DING!" achievement, which was popped more than twice as many times during the month (137 total unlocks), despite the fact that the achievement only appeared in two of the three versions.

The secret area, which opens up after gathering all the collectibles in the Xbox One and Windows editions, offers by far the toughest platforming of the entire game, with the character literally dodging moving sawblades on a pitch-black screen much of the time. Thankfully, the checkpoints in that area are plentiful… just don't try to combine that secret area with your limited-death run!

Cylon 118 said:

I had a great deal of fun going through this one again and didn't even realise that the Xbox one version of the game had an additional section for that 13th chevo and boy that section was tough, I actually found it easier to close my eyes for some of it!! Got everything once again except finish it in one go less than 5 deaths as I just don't have the patience for that one but good luck to everyone else!
In my opinion, if you can make it through that secret area section, running through the rest of the game with five deaths or fewer should be a breeze, but the majority of gamers seem to disagree.
The Xbox One version of "No Point in Dying" stands at a 5.92 TA Ratio, with only 3,703 of the game's 129,564 tracked players (just 3%) popping that achievement. The ratio is a bit lower in the other versions, with 4,748 out of 84,490 tracked gamers (6%) getting the Xbox 360 version, for a 4.21 TA Ratio, and an impressive 12% of the Windows edition's 2,523 tracked gamers – 294 in total – unlocking the achievement, leaving it with a paltry 2.92 TA Ratio.

There are 32 entries on this month's Shout-Out List, for people who managed to unlock all of the game's achievements within the month of May. This includes 17 for the Xbox One version, 12 for the Windows stack, and three gamers who ran through the entire original XBLA edition for its 12 achievements and 200 Gamerscore.

A special Shout-Out goes to UpliftGecko for taking three spots on the Shout-Out list, completing the Xbox One version between the 15th and 16th of May, and then blasting through the other two versions the next day. Two other gamers get honourable mentions for completing all three versions during the month: Bitz started the Xbox One version back in 2014, but completed that and played all the way through the other two versions in May, while Catching ZZZs had both the 360 and Xbox One versions on their card prior to May, finishing them both and doing the entire Windows stack this month. Congrats!

Playlist Trivia Answer:

Limbo has just taken the top spot as the TA Playlist game with the shortest title, so which game did it knock down to second place? The answer is IO Interactive's HITMAN reboot/refresh, at six letters, featured in the January 2018 Playlist.

As always, a big thank you goes out to our community for participating in TA Playlist and discussing the games in our forums. We hope you're currently "having a ball" with June's Playlist choice, Katamari Damacy Reroll, and please drop by this month's Spoiler-Free and Spoiler Discussion Threads to let us know how your item collecting is going. We'll see you there!

Big shoutout to BetaSigX20 for writing this Wrap-up!

Track My Progress in LIMBO