Originally released in 2010 as an exclusive Xbox Live Arcade title, PC gamers now have the chance to lay their powerful fingers on a little grey gem called Limbo. Also called, stylishly, LIMBO, we are here concerned with the place the Catholic Church thinks doesn’t really exist anymore, where occupants, usually deemed good, had not performed or experienced the necessary attributes to get into Heaven. To be clear, we are not concerned with the sport your back will hate you for.
To be upfront about this new entity occupying my mind, time and attention, I’m quite fond of it. If I had to choose between LIMBO and a date with Megan Fox, I would choose LIMBO; if playing LIMBO meant I could never watch films again, LIMBO would trump without hesitation.
LIMBO is a game of creating beauty between spaces: between sounds and silence, between black and white, between the beginning and end, between heaven and hell. There is nothing to indicate a soundtrack, but there is something between background sounds and a steady rhythm or ceaseless drone of multiple notes. However, on one aspect, this game stands firm: It is a thing of beauty, long required by a medium increasingly becoming a cheap mimicry of Michael Bay’s wet dreams. Here, you can begin the game and have anyone overwhelmed by its stark beauty, its soft edges, and its glorious puzzles.
To call this a platform game would be like calling Leonardo da Vinci an illustrator: it’s insulting in that it leaves everything out. There is no introduction sequence. Instead, for a solid five minutes, I faced an unmoving screen getting lost in the grey woods and leaves that swam in a whispering breeze. Animal sounds crooned in the background, never to be identified. Then I pushed the Up arrow, and a small part of the darkness blinked its eyes and stood. I had found my silent avatar.
Jump, forward, backward, grab (use): those are the list of actions that you have in order to progress in the game. No ducking, no fighting. But this is a toolkit to create some of the greatest interactions with a game environment I’ve seen. There is no thousand-dollar engine so that you can blow up every wall, baby and chicken you see. Here is clear evidence that you don’t need a brilliant engine, a Hans Zimmer soundtrack, or EA’s dramatic intro sequence to make a brilliant game (That’s Crysis 2 BTW, although Zimmer only did one track on it).
In LIMBO, there are intricate puzzles at every stage. Aside from the Valve’s Portal series (and those are terrible right?), good puzzle games are hard to find today; but solving puzzles still brings that wonderful sense of accomplishment. It, for me, surpasses every shotgun blast to the face, every quest completed, every race won. Figuring out how to cross an impassable gap using a strange dog creature, a powerful weather machine, and some mushrooms is not just your room-mate’s acid dream: it’s a problem you must solve. If you want proof of the utter genius of this game, find a YouTube clip that shows this problem being solved. The last time I felt such a sense of awe was when I first crossed into Mexico in Red Dead Redemption. And that’s a universally acknowledged moment of game brilliance (as is the whole game).
The most horrible part of LIMBO is the problem with a good life: it ends. I chose not to research the story, and I urge you not to either. As is clear from the title, what matters here is not to reach the final stage but to experience what occurs in-between the beginning and the end. It’s not about getting to the end first, it’s not about trying to get the biggest headcount or trophies: it’s about experiencing LIMBO’s in-between beauty. LIMBO was a place, as we’ve noted, where occupants were not quite in Heaven, but not quite in purgatory. But in this environment is hostile. Creatures and fellow people-shapes lay traps, attack, and stalk you. In the end, they react the same way a carpet cleaner would upon seeing Charlie Sheen enter his store.
Perhaps my reaction to LIMBO is excessive and a result of my intense dislike of the Call of Duty series (the most overrated series, aside from EVERY RACING GAME EVER MADE). True, like Michael Bay’s films, LIMBO isn’t easily understood in terms of story but it’s largely irrelevant. Nothing intrudes unnecessarily: even its limited actions (no duckingâ€¦ seriously?) are testament of this. The environment is not some painted backdrop, as is the case even with big titles (hello Duke Nukem Forever). Here, the grass sways under your feet; water drips and fills containers, crates shift, the landscape breaks. Physics reasserts itself, sometimes like a drunkard awakening from a hazy dream – but it’s there nevertheless, and its glorious and essential to puzzle-solving.
But that’s all you need to know. Get this game, if you care about treating our beloved medium as a viable form of creative expression – for both ourselves and the wonderful people at Playdead. There’s a reason pictures exist of Tim Schafer handing them a GDC Award.
The only problem with this game is that it is short and it, therefore, ends. I want a sequel and that’s a rare thing for me to say. After Call of Duty: Modern World Warfare Ops at War – or whatever the hell it’s called – came out, it seems to me that developers dump their code into a box, shake it around, add new music, new (bad) script, get famous-actors (at gun point) to recite lines, and then stick the next number on it – usually with a man walking through smoke or holding gun or a variation on the two. Enough. Give me LIMBO. There are ways to engage with our favourite medium which doesn’t require blood or death, shiny cars or big dragons. LIMBO is a lesson to everyone: gamer and developer alike. We should care about quality and obtaining quality is not correlated to the budget. It’s correlated to how seriously you take the creative aspect of development and design. From LIMBO, you know this was a game made with care and affection; that everyone who was part of this game walked away with pride and love for their newest creation. If, as a gamer, you can detect this, it means your more than halfway to creating a great game.
Genius. But too short. More variety in terms of background might be something tackled in the sequel? Perhaps also allowing gamers to create their own levels ala Little Big Planet.
Design and Presentation: 11??
Perfect. Brilliant. Beautiful. If LIMBO was a woman, it’s the type that would make me rethink my antagonism toward monogamy.
This is what we should be paying for: quality and brilliance.
I’ve said what I’ve needed to say. Play this game. Buy it. And you will, by definition, love it.
Last Updated: August 15, 2011