‘Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters Limbo’
Darkness, terror, isolation and tenaciousness, these are some of the traits present in Playdead’s atmospheric platform adventure Limbo.
A contour of what seems to be an unconscious child lays lifeless, its form fused with the silhouetted landscape, the stillness is broken when the game is interacted with. A confirmation of life comes from two vacant white spots for eyes, glowing amongst the darkened surroundings.
Without an introductory animatic, one is immediately immersed in the game, with no precursors or guidance we are forced to proceed onwards. There is a clear reservation regarding the boy’s ambition until later in the game, raising questions about why the boy is there and where he is going.
Unlike other games, at no point does Limbo introduce the controls or objectives, it unifies the ignorance of the characters objective with the unfamiliarity of the player. This introduction sets the tone for the entire game, presenting the ambience and the vignette viewing screen through which we control the child’s movement.
The name of the ‘boy’is never mentioned, much alike the characters in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, preserving the anonymity of the characters throughout the novel; I’ve found that having nameless characters is an alluring feature in any game or work, it forces the viewer to take consideration of the context in which the characters are placed. This is imperative to the sophistication of Limbo’s storyline, given that it is incredibly bleak and minimal, the immersion the viewer has with the game is drawn on the journey, forcing a relationship to manifest with a very distanced and vacant being.
One notable attribute of the game is the bleak landscape, and the way that the boy must traverse it. The challenges present themselves when one must distinguish the threats from the safe routes, in order to progress onward. When presented with a spike pit or trap, the repetition of failure presents the solution which allows for progression, as the developer stated the ‘trial and death’technique is inexorable and part of the games mechanic. Admittedly, I’ve been compelled to abandon the game on a few occasions, certain puzzles in the game were a little arduous at times.
The desolate and noir landscape, with its harsh grain and distanced vistas is paired with an equally disturbing monotone soundtrack. The tension intensifies and the sound distorts when in close proximity with any other being. The use of harsh brazen sounds is complimented with a drone that is perpetually present throughout the development of the chapters. It’s almost as if it follows the boy through his cumbersome struggle for progress.
The latency of the tension is something to be admired, it seems appropriate for the horror element of the game to manifest sporadically; the first encounter with any being is with an unnaturally massive arachnid, which is only threatening when in near proximity. This notion of threat often comes from dangerous objects such as oversized hacksaws or bear traps.
On occasion, the game managed to make me jump, mostly from the abruptness and the harshness of the death animations, primarily from the exaggerated and accentuated sounds.
The aesthetics of the game are the most striking of its features, bringing focus to the developers style, redeeming the fact that the gameplay is relatively slow in some areas.
Publicly, the game has received strong praise with undertones of criticism, mostly down to the streamlined yet monotone nature of the gameplay. Most of the attention has been evoked from its aesthetic presentation and purely visual plot, supported by the immersive atmosphere and haunting ambience.
If you want a lengthy, aesthetically pleasing, artistic platform game, Limbo is the one to get.
Limbo is available to download for Xbox, Ps3, iOS and Android.