Atmosphere is Not Enough: A Limbo and Another World Critique

I played Another World on Monday and Limbo on Tuesday and I wrote the post on Thursday. I had a post due and I missed the previous week pulling my hair out trying to get the follow up piece on Heavenly Sword written. It didn’t work out. It was quite fortuitous that I played these two games when I did and found a connection between them.

Another World is an amazing game. It’s hard as hell, but it’s short. Limbo is also difficult, or at least brutal and short, but isn’t as great. There’s nothing really wrong with how it plays, but we are long past the point where competency is to be glorified. I’m rather appalled that so much of the gaming community treats it as such. Years ago, in the last console generation I might have agreed that Limbo was great, but I can’t. We’ve come so far and I’m learned too much to see it as anything but a nice looking hollow shell. What makes it worse is that it could have been something. Halfway through the game there is a point where you see the girl playing the field, but then a brain slug drops down and forces you to go the other way. Once you get rid of it and return the girl is gone, but so is the field. It has been replaced by a set of conveyer belts. I questioned myself for a second of what I saw. That was a brilliant moment of foreshadowing and if Limbo had been more than a bunch of noir colored puzzles it could have been some grade A mindfuckery and metaphor. Right now I’d love to be parsing out the meaning of that moment and diving into whatever metaphysics of the world it reveals, but I can’t because it does none of those thing, because there is nothing to parse out.

People give Limbo a lot of flak for falsely convincing people it was meaningful, because it was black and white with a minimalist piano score. It took Indie Game Bingo as an instruction booklet rather than a criticism. However, that criticism too is reductive. Limbo falsely convinces people it’s meaningful partly through it’s aesthetics, but also in that first third of the game. There is so much there that could have paid off for something. Another moment after you’ve defeated a spider or two you see the legs of what looks like another in a similar set up to an earlier one. If you dodge the first leg you see it’s a pulley system with a child working it. That is wonderful imagery that never comes up again or pays off. In listening to  Limbo’s creators you hear them talk about puzzle creation and playtesting to make sure all the indcators worked for everyone to telegraph the solutions and all really interesting stuff, but when you hear Eric Chahi talk about Another World he’s talking about situations and story flow and interactive meaning. He talks about the buddy character and how technical limitations lead to creative decisions and world building. The focus is just different and it shows in the final work.

So, check my latest piece over at Nightmare Mode. Thanks to Fern for the title, I was completely blanking on that.

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