Posted by Sammy Barker
Heaven or hell?
An enchanting and minimal experience, Limbo is absolutely essential. Limbo's minimalism presents itself from the outset. The opening is bereft of button prompts and exposition, settling for a delightfully simplistic title screen and an opening in which our protagonist — a silhouette of a small boy with radiating white eyes — awakes from a slumber amid a grainy and macabre setting.
Limbo's minimalism is its defining factor. From an artistic perspective its up there with the very best work from thatgamecompany and Jonathan Blow. However, Limbo is much more grounded in straightforward gameplay foundations than its appearances may first deceive.
Arthouse releases have long been criticised for incorporating style over substance, but Limbo is as much a joy to play as it is to look at. By removing common video game hallmarks such as tutorials and button prompts, developers Playdead toe a risky line: isolation is good, but only if the world responds in the ways you'd expect it to. Thankfully Limbo is one of the most intuitive games we've played all year, with clever puzzle design lending itself to perfectly natural solutions.
Trepidation encompasses Limbo's campaign, with Playdead's ability to create genuinely terrifying encounters epitomised in the game's opening thirty minutes. As you slowly come to terms with the lonely world around you, you'll happen upon your first sign of life — a 15 foot long spider determined to slash you with one of its lanky legs. What's most terrifying about the encounter is just how little emphasis Playdead place on the situation. There's no abrupt orchestra swell, and the spider's outline is not even particularly clear. There's just the subtle pulse of the controller in your hands and the grain of the game's ambient audio backdrop to score the scenario. Playdead's execution feels closer to survival horror than any other genre.
Despite a number of tense encounters, Limbo is not a horror game. For the most part it's a puzzle game, packed with a variety of logical problems to overcome. The game incorporates a heavy emphasis on physics, requiring lateral thinking to navigate through its warped, industrial universe. Danger lurks at every step, with Playdead emphasising each flaw in your execution with a shockingly gruesome death sequence. Often these actually made us jump, managing something few horror games this generation have achieved.
It's the mystery that drives Limbo though. The questions that Playdead never answers: "Where am I? What am I doing here?" Limbo always keeps you at arm's length, leaving the meaning open to interpretation. What's brilliant is that everyone will perceive the game differently. The world is so ambiguous that there's no true answer.
The loneliness is encapsulated by the presentation, which is made up of thick silhouetted objects and clever uses of black and white. Limbo makes great use of the fore and background, hiding less important objects in the distance and bringing focal points to the front. This gives the game a very distinctive look, that's enhanced by careful implementation of grain and noise filters that distort the image. The presentation is underlined by a stripped back, ambient score that creates tension due to its sparsity.
Limbo ends abruptly and has little replay value, but in spite of this we'd argue that it's an experience worth having. With around three-hours of gameplay on offer, some might question the value of Limbo at its current £10 price-point, but it's such a well crafted experience from start to finish that the campaign's length feels somewhat of a misleading figure. Limbo's ability to craft tension is unmatched and makes it an absolutely essential experience.