Thanks to platform exclusivity and the recession negating any chance of buying the XBox 360 again, I sadly missed the boat with Limbo. I still read the reviews, watched the videos and it stuck in my head and became indelibly imprinted on my ‘to play’ list. So with exclusive rights now gone, and the game now available on Playstation 3 and PC, I could begin to get this game off my ever increasing list, but I think even though its now done I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.
The first thing you notice in Limbo, and it will be the first thing that hits you, is how absolutely gorgeous it is. Never has monochrome been so alive, from the undefined physicality of your character to the animals that inhabit the world, everything feels solid and at the same time so very fluid in its movements. To say Limbo is dripping with atmosphere is to undersell it, very rarely have I ever been so taken in to a game and the relatively short playtime (expect around three hours) never feels anything thing less than exceptional. From the early forest levels through to the gradual slide into the industrial setting there is a fully realised feeling of a world that has declined into the shadows of its former self. This game world is truly tangible.
The colour palette is perfectly suited to the tone of the game, that of anxiety and of hope for that little bit of colour in this world where everything is out to get you and I do mean everything. Nearly every step you take will have to be considered, every animal or person will quickly be treated as hostile as you learn the harsh lesson that you are on your own. Bear traps cut you in half, worms leech into your brain, buzz saws make light work of your diminutive frame and the only other people in the world would rather see you dead than communicate. I was drawn back to the opening level of the seminal Another World where you are dumped in a strange land and chased by the hulking black animal, that sense of wonder, fear and trying to survive is exactly what Limbo is made up of.
In terms of gameplay it should be pretty bog standard stuff, left to right platforming, lift puzzles and box stacking are all here in abundance. However, every puzzle is infused with just that little bit extra that raises it from standard fare to very clever. Not since Portal have I had that feeling of frustration at my inability to solve a puzzle and then smiling when I work it out as I admire the genius of the level design. For all the obstacles and terrors that lie in wait for you in Limbo you’ll never feel cheated, there are no cheap shots or leaps of faith. It’s a lot like life in that respect, you are just trying to get through life until something unexpected happens and all you can do is dust yourself off and keep going.
The mechanics of the game are also as minimal as the colour with only a ‘jump’ and an ‘action’ button as your abilities to negotiate your way through this monochromatic nightmare. The screen is also completely devoid of clutter, you will not see health bars, timers, items or anything of the sort and it lends to both the minimalist feel but also to bringing you completely into this world that Playdead have immaculately created. In a similar vein the music is also minimal, much of your time is in silence with only the infrequent orchestral refrain but again it adds to the atmosphere as you become aware when the music pushes through the silence that something is lurking. It’s rare to see a game where so much is so painstakingly considered, from aesthetics to music, from display to controls and all from beginning to end.
Limbo is a game I’m not likely to forget any time soon and much like the other highly revered indie title Braid, it in many ways transcends the medium. It may sound trite but it feels that it can teach us something about ourselves. For all the darkness and despair that exists there is always that hope for something better just ahead, and even if we fail we have the ability to keep going and to learn. Limbo is possibly the most beautiful and wonderful nightmare you’ll ever have.
A walk in the dark.