I’m sure I’ve mentioned in previous writings how big a deal I believe atmosphere is in video games. As of late, developers seem to be thinking the same thing; indie developers in particular. What with the huge competition between the upcoming next-gen consoles, one of the big arguments between the PS4 and Xbox One is the overall support of indie games. It’s already very clear that, unlike Microsoft, Sony is supporting indie developers but before this turns into another Microsoft vs. Sony debate I should clarify why I even brought up the subject. With the obvious success of games like Journey, I think indie games should be respected and made available to as wide of an audience as possible. Without atmosphere and beauty, every game would be Angry Birds. And though I’m sure many of the 17 year old girls that call themselves ‘gamers’ on Facebook would be fine with that, the rest of us likely wouldn’t. Where many of the more artistic indie games lack in polished and diverse gameplay, they usually make up for with subtlety, emotion and mood. This, of course, may not be for everyone but I do believe it will appeal to much more than the games are marketed to. Where Journey told a very minimal story of beauty, Limbo does the same with sheer darkness.


Limbo was praised upon its release back in 2010 but has since seemed to have fallen through the cracks when compared with the success of Journey. It was games like these that paved the way for indie games to really take their creativity to the next level. Limbo isn’t without its flaws gameplay-wise, but it is near perfect in every other aspect.


The game starts with a young boy waking up in the dark and gloomy world of Limbo. There is no dialogue or tutorial, nor is there ever a real story driving you through the game. It is merely a series of puzzles, challenges and platforming that take you from one deadly encounter to the next. And by “deadly encounter” I mean you will die in Limbo. A lot.



You have no idea what you’re getting into.


A big part of this game is trial and error. Oftentimes you will not have time to avoid sudden and unsettling deaths before figuring out a way around it. Limbo encourages the player to die so often that a large and important part of this game is in fact the deaths. Every time you die in Limbo you feel it. Never is it a long death sequence with rivers of blood flowing; it’s much more effective than throwing gore at you. They are often quick, surprising and unnerving falls, stabbings or electrocutions. Because you play as a young boy these deaths become downright disturbing. It’s not everyday a game forces you to watch a child be decapitated. And because of the game’s shady, black and white art style it never becomes blatantly offensive.


You will encounter many interesting things in Limbo and I promise you one of them is not the controls. Most actions like pushing, pulling or climbing work just fine. Jumping however has seemed to have taken a page out of Ghosts ‘n Goblins’ book. That’s right, Limbo uses real life physics; meaning once you jump, you can’t change directions or even push your character further in the same direction. This combined with difficult timing-based puzzles result in far more deaths than were already present. What makes these deaths less forgiving is that they aren’t there to help the player figure out the solution to the situation at hand. They’re almost entirely because of mistimed jumps. There’s nothing more annoying in a puzzle game than knowing the solution but simply unable to pull it off. Luckily, these problems are somewhat interesting and challenging when tackling the game for the first time. My second playthrough, however, was where most of these problems became frustratingly evident.



So close.



Limbo is a work of art, without question. It manages to immerse the player completely without the need of dialogue or even music. Subtle tone cues accompany events within the game to great effect but that is as far as it will go with music. Trees rustling, gears turning, saws buzzing—the natural sounds of the game make it feel that much more real and enticing, albeit dark. Then the sight of the little boy being ground up like hamburger immediately smacks you right across the face.


There is so much to appreciate with this game that it’s hard to sum up within a few short paragraphs. In its short adventure it only manages to further the argument that video games are another form of art. Though bleak and oozing with hopelessness, Limbo is inspiring and gives me the assurance that the video game medium is pointed in the right direction. 


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