“Outside of the blogosphere, only a few sites bothered to review Limbo of the Lost, and most flunked it simply out of principle. The controversy overshadowed the rest of the game, although to be fair, the game is still awful. But it’s also awful in some hilarious ways.” –Kurt Kalata, Hardcoregaming101.net
Before we begin with this review of Limbo of the Lost, I’d like to direct you to that quote I made just now. Please take note of how it was presented to you. First, quotation marks indicated it wasn’t my own words, ensuring that you will not attribute them to me erroneously. Secondly, following the quotation is not only the name of the writer of the quote, but a link to their website and their own work so you may see the full body of their own interpretation of the game. I’d ask you to stay with me for now, but that article is certainly one of the better ones on this game I’ve found on the web. Lastly, the medium of writing allows such small quotations to be used by others so long as they follow this format, but stripping away those aspects can lead to a case of plagiarism.
Why did I begin this review with a lesson on plagiarism? Well, you see, the controversy mentioned by Kurt Kalata in that quote is the matter of the rampant and unabashed plagiarism found all throughout Limbo of the Lost. Developed by Majestic Studios and originally meant for the Amiga, the studio was falling behind with the times and it seemed like they’d never catch up as gaming in general kept leaping forward quality-wise. It would have been difficult to make up-to-date assets for the game and release it on time because, as the credits seem to indicate, there were only three people working on this game. There do seem to be a few more voice actors present on the staff but they were absent from the credits, and these short credits would also come back to bite them as gamers began to play the game and uncover the unusual way Majestic Studios tried to stay up-to-date without having to put in too much work.
Rather than creating unique backgrounds for the game, Limbo of the Lost decided to pilfer the settings from other PC games of the time, not even choosing to target the obscure and unknown. In fact, the plagiarism was first caught because it had brazenly taken an area from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and while I would not have noticed the plagiarism on my own, many people across the web started to notice pieces and places not only from games like Diablo II, Thief: Deadly Shadows, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein, but also text taken from the movie Spawn! Admittedly, some assets and backgrounds seem to have been purchased legitimately from places that license out models for game development, but when the plagiarism allegations began, the developers first played dumb and tried to blame a contractor… a contractor whose name was of course nowhere in the incredibly short credits. Perhaps they could have rode those claims to legal safety had the developers then not put their foot in their mouth by making claims about developing all the backgrounds and trying to explain how they did it, contradicting any idea that the stealing had been unintentional by telling blatant lies.
Many articles exist online doing an excellent job exposing the plagiarism in the game, and while I think it certainly deserves some mention, I won’t be spending most of my review on retreading the same ground. I will show a few of the more blatant examples, but if you want a better look, the Limbo of the Lost wiki has a pretty comprehensive assortment and an ongoing project to categorize what has been stolen, the page with most of them being found here. These following images are from that wiki, but the rest of the images in this article were screenshots taken by me during play. On the top will be the image from Limbo of the Lost, and the bottom image will contain whichever game the assets were taken from.
We start with an excellent example of just how blatant the plagiarism can be. Besides the character models present, Limbo of the Lost takes the picture from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, removes the original game’s HUD, and shifts the colors a bit and considers it a job well done. Even the bottles on the shelf are in the exact same positions! Oblivion certainly contains the most obvious 1 to 1 asset steals and was responsible for getting the ball rolling on finding other instances of plagiarism, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one to have some obvious pilfering.
Here we have a library from Thief: Deadly Shadows with a pretty recognizable design, one that must have impressed the Limbo of the Lost developers so much that they had to take it. Strangely, the library serves no practical purpose in Limbo of the Lost. It’s just one of the many areas you walk through and the books on the shelves are entirely meaningless. They could have just not had this area and avoided some trouble, but the sheer amount of other cases of background stealing surely show that they didn’t care whether the asset was important or not when it came to stealing it. Even those skulls they added to the bookcases were taken from Diablo II!
The last bit of plagiarism I’ll share though is the most impressive, and the one that puts the entirety of the game in a new light.
What looks at first like one of the more subtle instances of plagiarism actually ends up being the most egregious. Taking an area from Enclave, Limbo of the Lost initially mirrored the location to hide the fact that not only are they stealing a place from that game… but they took the puzzle as well! The lever in the image is completely useless in both games and the ropes must be destroyed to solve the puzzle. When I was playing Limbo of the Lost, at least the early chapters, I saw some puzzles that seemed like they could be part of a much better game, but learning that the developers stole one of the ideas for them from another game made each and every puzzle I liked suddenly suspect. Research would be necessary to uncover if anything else was lifted from another game, but this clearly showed the lows the game designers would go to when it came to getting a game out despite having hardly any ideas of their own to support it.
Now, if plagiarism was the only thing Limbo of the Lost was guilty of, it might not be that big of a deal. It would be an interesting story, sure, but taking art assets doesn’t necessarily make a game absolutely awful. Fan games use assets from other games all the time and can turn out pretty good, and the video game industry as a whole has had many cases where in-game music skirts the line of being tributes to famous songs or potentially just ripping them off entirely. Ignoring what Limbo of the Lost took from better games and looking at it based on the merits of its gameplay and design… Limbo of the Lost is still pretty horrendous.
Limbo of the Lost is a point-and-click adventure game in the style of a LucasArts adventure game like Day of the Tentacle, although it’s a bit of an insult to compare the two. Perhaps I should say it aspires to be like the LucasArts PC adventure games, but it carries over a few of the nice things from those games, mainly that there seems to be no ways to make the game unwinnable and save a moment near the end of the game, you can’t die. Limbo of the Lost is the story of Benjamin Briggs, the captain of the real world vessel the Mary Celeste which is famous for the mysterious disappearance of its crew. According to this game, the Mary Celeste took a detour to the Bermuda Triangle and its captain was hurled into the land between Heaven and Hell: Limbo. The game itself doesn’t really explain much of the story beyond that. Briggs wants to escape Limbo of course, so you end up helping him escape. Yes, much like the game Republique, you don’t play as the actual character in the game but a helper from outside the game world, framed here as a person helping from back on Earth. This is meant to play into one of the game’s features touted on the box: “The first adventure game where the players asks the main character to do an action rather than 100% control him/her.” Having just got off playing Hey You, Pikachu! and knowing the woes of Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures that both sort of used a similar idea years before this game was released, I was prepared for the worst… but this claim is a blatant lie. Briggs controls no different from any other point-and-click protagonist and is perhaps more responsive than some of them! He moves where you tell him and performs every action that can be performed, although on occasion he might say “Us mortals, we do have feelings you know” before doing it as a way of complaining about the order. Sure, there are some things he won’t do without proper items or situations, but this is true of many adventure game protagonists and it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s Briggs objecting to the request, just the game requiring certain actions to trigger it being available.
Speaking of the game box, the game comes with a DVD as well, one that I decided to put off until I had finished the game to watch for fear it might contain a complete playthrough of the game presented as a film. It turns out I was wrong, and while some portions of the DVD did contain spoilers, the DVD also contained the incredibly important opening movie for the game! For some reason they decided to separate all the plot’s setup from the actual game disc, meaning that if you only have the game and not the DVD you are entering it without a lot of context. On the DVD you view a movie filled with obviously stolen assets depicting Benjamin Briggs taking sail on the Mary Celeste. Two brothers named Fate and Destiny are then shown arguing over who is superior, and I suppose we are meant to sympathize with Destiny since that word has more positive connotations than Fate despite both being essentially the same word. They decide the only way to compete with each other is to screw over Benjamin Briggs, attacking his vessel with a storm and causing him to wash up on an island that never appears in-game. From there, a scene plays where someone is exploring the island’s buildings in first person and Benjamin is sometimes sloppily slapped into the scene to make it seem like the developers designed the place. Finding a book, Briggs pulls off its seal and is pulled into Limbo, the game itself beginning from here once you pop in the game disc instead.
Also notable on the DVD are the special features which show some behind the scenes aspects while carefully avoiding the plagiarism as best they can. Presented by way of what seems like a Windows Movie Maker project that wouldn’t look out of place in a high school classroom, you can view the Concept Art for characters that make most of them look far different than their in-game models, some of the processes of modeling the characters the designers decided to model, and a look at the game’s admittedly decent lip-syncing process. Almost all of these are mercifully short but still rather bland, but then the spoilers come in the form of the screenshot gallery, where the game basically presents the entire game by way of a slideshow, stolen assets on display shamelessly as it moves along. The DVD was certainly a poor idea, the special features bland and the fact they cordoned off the game’s context-establishing opening only making the game more confusing for people who might make the same mistake as me or simply picked up just the game disc alone.
Once you do start the game though, you’ll notice a few things that are a bit off. The game does mercifully start you off with a pretty decent theme playing on the menu, but that menu theme does not relent as it plays the start of the game, meaning you won’t hear the guy who seems to be saying something ominous and foreboding. The theme, imagery, and the guy you can’t hear over the song all seem to set up a pretty bleak horror game, something the game box pushes pretty hard as well, but the game starts by throwing Briggs in a jail cell and having a yellow man walk in on the ceiling and give him a worm.
Okay, perhaps this guy has just gone mad in the terrors of Limbo and the rest of the game will be serious… but then you see some other cells with the list of crimes on the signs including infractions like waking a guy up or clicking their fingers and you think this game might just be a silly, funny game. Thing is, the game can’t really ever decide which it is, definitely leaning in more strongly towards the humorous side but trying to put in moments of drama and dark imagery that wouldn’t have worked even in a serious game. This Prologue chapter not only introduces you to the weird tone of the game, but also gives you your first glimpses at some of the biggest issues with it. I can’t think of a game with worse sound design. Ambient sound effects are incredibly noisy and character voices often quiet by comparison, meaning you can miss important info as characters mutter under the loud noises the game fills most every area with. Throughout the game, a demonic voice chimes in randomly with “Join us, join us, join us NOW” and its’ perfect for covering up vital information, but then we have situations like bugs buzzing that are way too loud and never fade in volume. If you can hear the voices though, many of them are clearly the same few guys doing bad monster voices, with characters like the mayor of Darkmere standing out as incredibly awful examples.
The graphics are not much better either. When the game isn’t stealing a better game’s assets, its making 3D models that looked dated back when this game was released in 2007. Characters like the little girl in Darkmere plunge deep into the uncanny valley with their doll-like eyes and plastic faces, but it gets even worse when the game tries to make them show emotion. Faces are stretched during expressions and the faces rarely handle it well. While some characters are meant to look gross or weird, Briggs himself will have his face contort strangely during expressions or will attempt to roll his eyes and make the action look physically taxing and painful. Then we have characters like Onegus who appear to be wearing a tattered shirt from an entirely different art style and Miss Blackley whose hair passes right through her hood without a care. Most of the game’s monsters are gangling bits of hardly readable nonsense as well, with the Wood Gator, Glass Grub, and Stone Guardian all looking like train wrecks of 3D model design. The Blind Beggar is perhaps the pinnacle of bad modeling, with his model stretched with little logic to it to make him look grotesque but the game gives no real reason as to why he looks the way he does.
While in-game models are a bit simple and thus hard to read, whenever characters begin to talk, a small square appears on the screen to give close-ups with higher quality models to show their expressions, and boy do I mean close-ups. Perhaps the game is attempting to make more dynamic conversations, but the camera is constantly zooming in and out on the faces of characters as they speak. Little logic seems to go into when the camera zooms around, and oftentimes if it decides it is time to zoom in, it won’t stop at a logical point, giving you a good close-up of the bridge of a character’s nose. It does help hide the fact that the game often doesn’t know what to do with a character’s hands or body, and when it does try to do something, it fails stupendously at the animation. Slowly pointing… slowly hitting… everything seems like a machine being made to do an act rather than a living person, so no matter what direction the game goes for it seems bound to fail.
To interact with this world, the game only needs you to use your mouse, but it does mercifully let you use the Escape key as well to bring up the menu. The first thing you’ll notice about this menu though is that things aren’t clearly labelled.
The options “Back to Hell”, “Resurrection”, “Save Your Soul”, and “End is Nigh” are present, and they’re all cute names for their functions. Back to Hell just means click there to resume the game, Save Your Soul is how you access the save menu, Resurrection is where you can load your saves, and End is Nigh is the option to quit the game. Framing the save and load options as preserving you soul and reviving was a fine touch I feel, one helped along a bit by the fact that you can save most any time, thus alleviating some of the issues I had early on in the game where the game was constantly crashing, sometimes even in the middle of a conversation! Allowing me to save and load in the middle of a conversation helped make this early struggle to keep the game running palatable, and I made sure to have multiple saves going just in case as well, although they never seemed needed in the end.
The other touch to the game’s menu wasn’t so nice I find. To interact with the world requires you to right click on something unless its a door or other way onward. Right clicking, first of all, is a bit finicky at times, sometimes not triggering properly on an item, especially if you’re clicking it for the second time in a row. When you do right click anywhere though, the game has a Ouija board appear on screen! Most of the letters on it are completely pointless, but if you don’t want to use the escape key you can access the pause menu options here by clicking on the right letter, although that requires experimentation to learn. The other things on your Ouija board are four actions you can potentially take with an object: Sense, Look, Action, and Take. The game’s awful sound design returns here though, as putting your cursor on any of these causes a long sigh of the corresponding word to come out that can bleed into any dialog triggered by the action. Sense is almost entirely worthless, and Action is usually ignored in favor of triggering things by Looking at them or Taking them. The inventory, thankfully, is stored in a different area, one accessed by putting your cursor near the top of the screen. You can combine items in your inventory by dragging them into each other, and the game is made far easier if you just try and mash every new item with every old item since some mixes end up being a bit out there in design. You can also look at items for hints on their purpose, and on rare occasions you can perform Actions with an item that usually are hard to figure out since taking the Action is never proposed as an option and rarely used even once you figure that aspect out.
Walking in the game is usually done just by pointing and clicking on where you want to go, but if you’ve paid attention to the screenshots of the game thus far, you likely see that compass on the bottom right. The compass usually just spins wildly, but if you are hovering your cursor over an exit to an area, the compass tells you what direction it will take you… an aspect of navigation that I never felt was needed. Areas usually lead in pretty linear paths, this aspect of the game not helped in the slightest by the fact that many chapters pad their runtime by including long, boring, and sometimes identical pointless walking areas between points of interest. The compass just covers up screen real estate, and screen real estate seems to be a big problem. Some areas the game can’t fit entirely on the screen, so you need to pan the camera clumsily by putting your cursor on the edges. Even then, some areas have signs that aren’t readable because they’re still out of reach of the camera, and sometimes items will be hidden in these off-screen areas that you have no indication of whether or not they exist in a certain space. Even worse than that is when the items are incredibly small or blend in with the environment, requiring you to hunt for the right spot to click or looking around a bland environment for something that sticks out. Most items, thankfully, are super obvious, with the game mostly just chucking them onto the ground for you to notice, but there are a few, especially in Chapter 2, that are tiny and the same color of what they’re placed on. Most the backgrounds are static images that Benjamin Briggs only appears to be walking on, so other objects that were added to the scene sometimes stick out since they aren’t truly part of the environment, but it’s such a mixed bag of obvious placement and hidden nonsense that it’s hard to reduce the problem to one single issue.
Now, with other games, I rarely feel the need to go in-depth about the entire playthrough of the game. Even other Disaster Reports will usually just mention segments or sections that are particularly awful, but the six chapters of Limbo of the Lost all bring unique troubles and annoyances, and since the chapters are such a big part of this adventure game’s design, I feel taking a look at each one will certainly help you understand the real issues that make Limbo of the Lost atrocious even when you ignore the plagiarism.
The first chapter of the game is billed as a prologue despite not really doing much to establish the game world or story. If anything, it gives an idea of what lies ahead in the game that is completely false. Benjamin Briggs begins in the jail cell in Limbo and meets the upside-down man with the worm, as previously mentioned. He goes by the name of Arach and has a funny way of speaking, but besides walking on ceilings and eating grubs, his character never really has anything else noteworthy to it despite being one of the game’s few recurring characters. The other one is quick to crop up shortly after that, but not before you are shown a random spectral skeleton warrior who attacks the screen and elicits one of many shrugs Ben will be making to the camera throughout the game. It actually reminds me a bit of Benjamin from Final Fantasy Mystic Quest who did the same thing whenever something strange happened, but Benjamin Briggs will sometimes react to things with an oddly smug grin or a furrowed brow instead, not that the reaction usually matches up with what just happened.
The next recurring character we meet is Nilmates, and he’s by far the best character in the game. Initially he’s pitched as a huge chatterbox, and when the game would crash constantly during character dialogues, he was the main culprit in breaking the game. One conversation alone could have seven crashes during it due to how long-winded he is when you first meet him, but as the game progresses he loses that trait and the joke just seems to be he keeps cropping up. And, well, the fact he’s basically a living corpse and his body deteriorates more and more as the game goes on. This running joke was actually a bit charming, with Benjamin accepting Nilmates as his ally begrudgingly and giving the captain some much needed character. Briggs’s only other trait is he is a bit of a joker at times, but any joke that has potential is either ruined by his delivery or the fact the game moves so slowly through any joke or scene of impact that it robs them of their intended emotional weight. Still, even though Briggs grew tired of seeing Nilmates, he was a shining star amidst a cast that mostly can be boiled down to one trait and one bad accent each.
After meeting Nilmates, Briggs sets off to find his way out of the jail, meeting a shirtless witch with an offensive name as well as a head that rests beneath the foot of the sleeping jailer. All you need to do to escape is grab the key around the jailer’s neck, but apparently he’s not quite asleep enough yet, so you must make a sleeping potion to conk him out reliably. Surprisingly, the prologue chapter’s puzzles are pretty good, although making tequila by taking some water and putting a worm in it to give to the witch cook is suspect. I should also note the conversation with this witch has Briggs just assert he is mortal and everyone believes it, perhaps because he’s the only human in Limbo who hasn’t had a dash of ugliness thrown on their model so they look like they might have died.
This is the chapter that has the earlier mentioned stolen puzzle involving the ropes. Breaking them helps you free Nilmates from his cage, but the rest of it involves you figuring out how to combine items using the hints you glean from conversations and the item descriptions. One puzzle I quite liked was to get a functional torch you must take the damp one you found and apply some human fat you find near the witch’s cauldron. The container the fat is in mentions that the last time it was used as a cooking ingredient it singed off the cook’s eyebrows, giving you the idea that it’s flammable and inspiring its use with the torch. Sadly, this is one of the most inspired puzzles in the game, and the chapter itself has a few glaring flaws. This chapter begins the habit of separating every areas of interest with long hallways with nothing to do in them and what environments are important have weird flaws to them. Limbo apparently has a rather prolific typist working on all the signs as even supposedly handwritten papers all have perfectly spaced and consistent lettering that matches what you would make if you typed it out on a computer. The other odd aspect about the jail is you can look out the window and see you’re at the base of an enormous tower in a strange hellscape… but the next chapter will immediately take you to a different setting, making that establishing shot pointless.
Once you’ve got the ingredients to make a potion that will make the sleeping guard stay asleep for sure, you get the key and head off to the next area. All the walking and talking makes this area drag on much longer than it needs to, but at this point, the game seems like a flawed adventure game, but one with potential. The puzzles make sense enough even if they’re a bit weird, the game does a decent job of hinting at what you need to do. We’ve even met a few characters that had a bit of personality to them with room for growth… but most of this is abandoned as we move onto what might be the worst chapter of the game: The Lower Reaches.
Suddenly we’re underground, meaning that tall tower was pointless and we’ll never return to it again. An unusual fellow by the name of the Keeper of Lost Souls approaches, randomly turning into a monster for a second just in case you forget that the people of Limbo aren’t supposed to be nice humans. The Keeper offers you three items to choose from, only allowing you to carry one at a time but letting you go back and swap them out at any time, a problem exacerbated by the incredibly long areas of filler between any two points of interest. This is a barefaced artificial limiter as well, as a later chapter will absolutely stuff your inventory with items, meaning there is no reason you can’t take the three items with you and there’s not much narrative justification to not have all three besides the guy just saying you can’t. There’s some chloroform and saffron you need, but one of the items, the spyglass, is entirely pointless. There’s a coffin nearby filled with pirate clothes you can take too, most of it being meaningless and just further showing how the inventory space was never a problem.
After scrounging around some coffins for goodies, you need to cross a set of rotten wooden floorboards to continue. For some reason, the solution here is to lay a coffin lid across these weak floorboards, somehow making it easier to cross even though the lid doesn’t cover the entirety of the wooden bridge. Up ahead is a set of three hellhounds all chained to a wall and trying to get to their food bowls. It’s on you to retrieve rotten bones from the earlier coffins to feed them to open some paths onward. However, Briggs will only carry one at a time, insisting he’s already got a bone if you try to grab more despite knowing he’ll need them once you’ve figured out the puzzle. This means you’ll have to backtrack down the long pointless hallways two more times to carry a single bone, and as noted, the inventory system is not so restricted that this is a necessity. We even see later on in the game that three coins are all stacked in the same inventory spot, and Briggs certainly carries heavier things in the inventory than bones, so it’s not a question of realistic weight restrictions either! Anyway, on a return trip you can also crack open a special coffin and find… our good friend Nilmates! He gives you one of many items you’ll be lugging around this chapter and disappears.
Once the dogs are all fed, there are three paths ahead, and here, the meaningless walking segments get really egregious. You might contend the segments can usually sell the design of the place or make it seem more realistic, but here, all three tunnels you can take contain repeated identical areas that are only distinguishable based on what signs the game has placed in them. It’s not a puzzle of picking the right one either as they are all linear and never connect to each other or try to confuse you, they just look the same for laziness’s sake. The puzzles up ahead require a lot of backtracking too, hence why I billed this as the game’s absolute worst segment.
It would be a chore to try and list all the puzzles this chapter has in order, but had these puzzles been contained in a tighter environment and your inventory not so limited, this again could have been part of a good adventure game instead of this pile of rubbish. One puzzle involves getting a two-headed raven to stop pestering a stereotypical Native American so you can get a birdcage he’s made from bones. This birdcage is actually used to catch a wood eating bug called the Wood Gator who you must bait into it with some sawdust and then cover the cage with a torn curtain that is hidden off-screen in one of the seemingly pointless areas. To make the Wood Gator come out of containment though, you must get down a trophy that’s on top of a statue, requiring the only instance in the game where you push an object with Action to knock it down… even though the statue doesn’t budge when you push it. You fill that trophy with oil and pour it into a hole instead of onto the rusty chain you pull to open the cage, and it’s because of the statue and hole that I feel this is the game’s most unfair puzzle. Many point-and-click adventure games have a puzzle or two that is unfair or difficult to figure out, so this in a vacuum wouldn’t have killed Limbo of the Lost’s quality, but as you can already see, it’s certainly not the only flaw this game has.
The other puzzle and the one more people cite as the game’s most ridiculous one is the puzzle of taking one of the soul collector Onegus’s bottled souls by swapping in a similar looking substitute. You pour some water in a green vial and people seem to think that would be enough to match the green soul vial, but for some reason the water is blue instead of the color of the glass so you must add the saffron here. Thing is, I had already figured out that I should slam any new item in my inventory against any old item on the off chance they combine, and the saffron was in the vial before I even added the water! Pulling off the swap will let you pass a strange Stone Guardian who I couldn’t tell was meant to be speaking a monstrous tongue at first since I thought it just had a really bad accent. To translate it, you must use that seal Briggs took off the book on the DVD, the hint being that you can use the seal to talk to the dead. This is the only time you use the seal, the Stone Guardian doesn’t really seem dead, and the potential of that item description is utterly wasted on this puzzle as I thought it might lead to either me learning the history of corpses I found or potentially making the later mystery chapter more interesting by being able to speak to the victims. But nope, it just translates a weird monster.
There are a few small puzzles here and there this chapter such as getting a glass grub that Briggs refuses to touch as he suddenly has a fear of creepy crawlies despite lugging the worm around earlier. Turns out you just need the chloroform in a jar and he’ll do it then, and then the glass grub eats a glass sphere that contains a spear, becomes a fly you feed to Arach to get his fingernail, and you use the spear and captured Wood Gator on a rather basic door opening puzzle. All of this taking so much longer than it needed to as you have to slowly stroll to each location since Briggs seems in no hurry to leave Limbo. Before this chapter ends though, a giant troll that the developers bought from an asset store appears, dangles you around to empty your inventory of superfluous items, and sends you safely on your way to the next chapter: The Sewers.
Despite being called The Sewers, Chapter 2 only partially takes place there, with the other part taking place in a swamp that somehow seems to be above ground even though we got here by going deep underground. There’s still tons of walking through pointless areas to get to places with a purpose here, but its’ nothing compared to the previous chapter and there are fewer places to backtrack to. When I first saw three sewer grates blocking what looked like three paths I felt my energy drain, but only two of them are accessible, they’re smaller in design, and they are planned out better due to the main mechanic that’s being focused on here at the swamp.
A fellow by the name of Quagmire is gagged and shackled in the swamp, and just like everyone in Limbo for some reason, he’s friendly and your goal is to free him. Each time you unlock one of his restraints, Quagmire tells you how to open one of the sewer grates to access the next portion, meaning that the progression is a bit more straightforward despite a few return trips to certain areas. Problem is, when Quagmire tells you the codes for unlocking the sewer grates, he won’t stop shaking his noisy shackles and the swamp bubbling noises are just as loud. It certainly doesn’t help that each code is given to you by way of a hint instead of just saying it plainly, meaning that even if you heard it right, you still have to figure it out. There seems to be no way to get him to repeat the hint, a problem with any piece of vital info in the game save some outlier cases. What the sewer area does get wrong with its better design though is the most egregious cases of nearly invisible item pickups. A piece of small wood on a desk the same color as it and a key found on ground as grey as it are the two big cases, and funnily enough, the key had a glitch where I was able to pick it up a second time and the game displayed an error that thankfully didn’t hurt anything.
While we’re here, we encounter a few more characters, one who seemed like he had potential. The Worrymeister is a guy whose job is to simply worry about anything and everything, but the fun concept is buried beneath a cheesy German accent and the finicky nature of interacting with him. He can kick you out of his office for reasons I haven’t figured out and to reenter it, the game plays the same long cutscene every time. The sewer also has a strange lady with a ridiculous face who trains giant monster rats who you can learn to summon for the less straightforward part of the chapter’s main puzzle, and along the way we find our good friend Nilmates stuck in a bog and accidentally tear off his leg trying to save him, not that that bothers him at all. Somehow the cast seems to be on a declining slope with each chapter despite starting pretty low, but other aspects shift around in how much better or worse they are then the previous chapter.
For example, the main puzzle here is all about finding out the ways to free Quagmire and open the grates until you finally find a way out of the sewers. To head out you need to get a boat out on some water, but the puzzle to get the water flowing is a bit obtuse. Once the ball and chain on Quagmire is removed, it pops up near the grates, where you need to use a flute to summon a rat monster to pick it up. Somehow you are meant to know that the rat took the iron ball to the pump room, where you can blast it away with a bit of steam. This puts the ball over near where you meet the rat handler, and you call the rat AGAIN so they can put it in some device elsewhere to launch it into the canal to plug the drain. Then, the water can fill up and you can take your boat away from the sewer and really, away from most of the game’s challenge. So far, while the presentation and design failed the game in immense ways, there were still puzzles that required thought and consideration. Some solutions were silly or obtuse, but at least there was a bit of thinking involved in the gameplay. As we take the boat to the next chapter, we find that the city of Darkmere shifts the focus to a mystery and the game never really recovers from abandoning its original design.
To begin with, Chapter 3 was inexplicably where the game stopped crashing for me. I do not think I changed my computer all between the play session that ended Chapter 2 and the one where I started Chapter 3, but even going back to the beginning of the game revealed that the crashing was gone. Can’t speak for why this happened, but it made the endgame much smoother… and also made it far easier to see how so much of the difficulty disappeared in favor of just moving to the right area and picking up the obvious objects.
As soon as you arrive in Darkmere, a spirit called the Soul Taker kills the Worrymeister and an absolutely ghoulish looking little girl that is meant to be cute and normal looking accuses you of being the spirit you both just saw. You’re put in jail, see Nilmates through a crack in the wall, and bargain with Arach to get free, only to find that it was Onegus the soul collector who somehow got you free. Perhaps Arach had fetched him? Either way, Onegus suggests to the abnormally deep-voiced mayor that you should be the detective to investigate the Soul Taker mystery, and you’re put on the case, victims dropping left and right as you progress. The only thing is, even though the game suddenly becomes about solving a mystery… it’s incredibly boring. You do not really figure anything out during this mystery, you just move to locations and potentially things unfold if it was the right one. The other visual glitch I saw in the game was when one of the murder victims cropped up alive and well in his original location. Surprisingly though, this chapter does make a change I did like: the map.
Areas in Darkmere are not accessed by going through long pointless halls but by clicking locations on a map. The simplest way to figure out where to go next is by seeing which areas on the map you couldn’t go to before are now available. Unfortunately, despite throwing a ton of evidence at you to fill your inventory, almost all of it has no function and the way the mystery unfolds just involves progressing the plot instead of linking together clues. There are tons of characters to meet in Darkmere, perhaps to make the mystery of the four society members who are calling on the Soul Taker more intriguing, but so many of them are empty of any personality or can’t possibly be the guilty party because of their lack of development. There’s one character of note though who begins a coughing fit while you speak to him and proceeds to have the worst animation of coughing I’ve ever seen in fiction. His face is completely still as his lips lightly part to let out some horrendous sounding coughs that must be painful, but besides moving his head around a little, he just keeps his eyes open and moves his lips as if he was speaking normal worlds instead of nearly retching.
For the items with some relevance to the storyline and “puzzle” of this chapter, almost every piece of actually useful evidence manages to land where it does by slipping out of someone’s pocket. The characters who are implicated of the crime at the end are linked to it almost entirely by the fact that they just drop their valuables right after claiming a victim or visiting a place linked to the crimes. The biggest thing for you to solve is to intuit which random residence you have to go to once things dry up a bit, but choosing the right one triggers the next stuff quite handily. I guess you also have to know that a key with the letter S on it is probably used at the stables, which the game doesn’t directly tell you, but there are so many keys with letters on them and the solution is always “Which place begins with that letter” that it’s barely a puzzle. Of special note is the notebook you are given to help you eliminate places no longer of interest automatically, Benjamin Briggs playing the same voice clips constantly during this chapter when he investigates. Strangely enough, Briggs crosses out areas that you are required to revisit later in the mystery, but most places will lock and unlock based on their relevancy unless they need a key with a letter on them instead.
When you collect the last bit of evidence, Briggs calls everyone to town hall and tries to do a Sherlock Holmes style reveal of how he figured out the mystery, but it goes on so much longer than it needs to and the culprits are obvious and without twists. I do like the touch that Onegus from the previous chapter was one of the culprits, but the other three are new characters who were the only ones really capable of being tied to the crime. They try to make it a twist that the mayor is the Soul Taker all along but besides the dumb voice there’s no lead-in to that reveal and no weight since you barely know him. This mystery chapter had the potential to be the most interesting but ended up being just a series of errands. Walk to the right place, pick up the stuff on the ground, and hopefully go to the right place next or keep trying until you hit the mark.
At this point, your inventory is absolutely cluttered with items that did nothing in previous chapters and all the pointless evidence that didn’t serve as clues in any capacity, so once the city is freed of the Soul Taker and Briggs is ready to continue his quest to leave Limbo… the troll from earlier randomly appears and liberates him of almost his entire inventory.
While this chapter didn’t really deliver on its intentions, it at least had a theme and tried something new. However, as we leave Darkmere and head towards the final two chapters, Limbo of the Lost loses all its steam and inspiration, which is a bit strange as we are suddenly moving into the inside of a living machine.
The last two chapters are strangely short compared to all the others, potentially not even filling an hour and not really requiring any problem-solving in the slightest to complete. The Machine is the name of the next chapter, and strangely, this story that takes place in 1872 suddenly has electricity, light bulbs, and subway trains thrown into the mix, none of which this 19th century ship captain seems too impressed or bothered by. He does comment in the previous chapter that he was getting used to the weird sights of Limbo, but there’s a big difference between getting accustomed to seeing grotesque monsters and knowing how to rewire a broken fusebox without any instruction.
Once you get the fusebox working with the only interactive objects on hand, you can take the subway train around The Machine. At first, there was a daunting amount of destinations, but every area pretty much only has one purpose, that being to pick up an item or perform a task. For some reason, the game suddenly decides to make certain items unavailable for picking up until you need them, which I guess keeps this chapter from being even shorter and easier even though all the necessary items stick out in the environment. The destinations are also mercifully small, meaning that you can visit each one easily and grab whatever you need there. Revisiting places later is just as easy once those restricted items become available as well.
The way to escape the machine is bland and simple. You meet Jethro the Janitor in the Design room and he tells you a piece of track needs to be fixed so the subway train can make a full circuit. Visit every stop, grab every item you can, and lay down the track. Each stop you can count on Jethro saying the same line that could have been funny if it wasn’t repeated every time you get off at one of the ten stops. He even harasses you to go faster despite the items you need being at different spots, so unless you visit Design last by a stroke of luck, get used to the complaints over the speaker system. Once the track is fixed and the circuit complete, the Machine’s biological heart needs fixing, and now you can grab those items you were forced to ignore earlier.
And that’s it. One character, an easy and boring task, and soon you’re leaving the Machine… but not before the game realizes you hadn’t seen Nilmates and throws in a random reason for him to be there. Riding a robot that had nothing to do with anything else in the game, Nilmates fixes the Machine after it breaks arbitrarily again and gets cooked to a crisp. That’s all there is to his little cameo, and now, the game moves to its final level… The Citadel.
The Citadel, despite being the last level, is the least interesting area in the game, and that includes the previous area in that judgment. Realizing that Limbo should have some religious imagery, the final puzzles of the game involve door-knockers with the 7 Deadly Sins written on them and seals with the Horsemen of the Apocalypse’s names written on them. On pretty much every screen in this area there will be a door-knocker on the floor or something related to the seals. Coat the seals in red wax, stick them in the right order in a statue that is just a Lord of the Rings Ring Wraith figure, and get cracking on putting the door-knockers on easily indicated doors. After that, you’ll find yourself facing the final challenge of the game.
Suddenly, dark-robed figures who you had only seen if you watched the DVD appear, a giant swinging blade positioned above Benjamin Briggs and threatening to slice him in two. You, and this time I do mean you, go off to save him with a limited timer that is actually a bit tight. How do you save him? Enter the doors that the door-knockers belonged to and press some buttons within that correlate with symbols found on a shield. This was actually pretty okay, and while the timer didn’t make things feel intense, the fact you could get a game over here was interesting and figuring out which sin corresponded with which symbol was at least a puzzle. I cracked out a notepad to make it a bit easier and got it on my second try, the words DESTINY appearing and requiring me to write that out on the Ouija board. Suddenly, fire roars around Briggs, scaring the hooded figures off and opening a portal for you and Briggs to step through.
Could this be it?
Is this the end?
Has Briggs left Limbo?
…The screen is dark.
Briggs appears, confused as to what is happening, and then suddenly…
…He’s at a party honoring him.
Still in Limbo.
With mostly characters he barely knows celebrating him… in song.
I’ve mentioned the game’s silly tone before, but after that serious puzzle with some actual stakes, I expected a serious ending… and I was delighted with what I got instead. Nilmates, Arach, and all the others are singing a song about making Briggs the King of Limbo all of a sudden, and Briggs seems on board for the idea as well. I guess at some point his goal shifted to beating the hooded figures but I never saw the transition, but this incredibly goofy ending may stand as one of my favorite video game endings ever just for how out of left field it is and how the song they sing is actually quite catchy.
Unfortunately, the game pops back into serious mode after the song ends to remind you that this supposedly had something to do with a contest between Fate and Destiny. Again, these are the two guys you need to watch the DVD to even know about, and they decide to have a second contest… leading to an incredibly audacious teaser for Limbo of the Lost II: Flight to Freedom.
Not only does this seem to suggest Briggs is still trying to escape Limbo, but we know for a fact that this sequel will not be made after the rampant plagiarism in this game caused such a backlash and the eventual ruin of Majestic Studios.
Although the nonsense ending certainly threatens to endear this game to me, it would take something monumental to bury all the issues found elsewhere in the game. Never have I felt the need to tear down a game so much, especially one that most people just dismiss as awful since it stole the art assets of other video games. In fact, here’s a link to an image album so you can view over 100 screenshots I took of this game which I just didn’t have room for in this review: https://imgur.com/a/a7KAQ
Limbo of the Lost is amateurish, directionless, tedious, and ugly. It’s attempts at having personality fall flat and it sabotages all its humor with its inconsistent tone and poor execution. Puzzles range from brain dead errands to drawn out affairs in a world with an inconsistent design and plenty of boring repetitious hallways. What models and areas that aren’t stolen are boring or hideous, and the puzzles with interesting designs might not even have been cooked up by the designers themselves. Some puzzles could be salvaged from this mess for a better game, and Nilmates managed to endear himself despite the many obstacles in the way, but Limbo of the Lost was as ill-fated as its protagonist, but it had no peppy song waiting for it when it reached the end of its life.
Limbo of the Lost was eventually pulled from sale when the truth of its plagiarism came to light, the studio crumbling under the following scrutiny from all angles. While that aspect certainly makes Limbo of the Lost interesting from an industry perspective, let’s not forget there is an actual game to be discussed as well, one that is an absolute disaster on its own merits.