Every now and then a game comes along that irrevocably shatters your conviction of what gaming is all about. LIMBO is, without question, one of those games. I honestly wish that I could force every person I know to play through it just once. The premise is simple: “Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters LIMBO”. This deliberately minimalist approach to a storyline pervades the entire game: the control scheme is mapped to the analogue stick and two face buttons; there is hardly any music; there is no text and no speech at all; and there isn’t even any colour. Despite this sparse use of gaming conventions, LIMBO is a deep and moving experience.
The game is exceedingly beautiful to look at and the world that you are thrust into is both eerie and dangerous. Players take on the role of a nameless little boy in his relentlessly brave search for this sister. Throughout his journey you will have to traverse spike pits, bear traps and all manner of device that exists to stop your progress. And your progress will be stopped often; the world of LIMBO makes it abundantly clear that you are not welcome there. Despite the fact that you play as a young boy, that doesn’t stop the world and its few inhabitants from killing him in the most gruesome of ways. Before you reach the end of the title you will witness the child being impaled, squashed, drowned, burned alive, electrocuted and sliced into dozens of pieces by buzz saws. It is horrific, and a multitude of childhood horrors are brought to bear as well. This creates a phenomenal juxtaposition: the environment is gorgeous and you’ll want to explore it, but the impending, gruesome deaths that loom around every corner are horrendous deterrents.
Death is not the only obstacle however, as the game throws some fiendishly tricky puzzles at you. Fortunately, they’re those rare breed of puzzle that is not too easy, but not hard enough to make you feel stupid. That being said, you will get stuck at times but the best advice would be to realise that everything in the scene is there for a reason. And that just goes to show how much polish and attention to detail has gone into this game.
Of course, the title of the game carries a number of undertones – limbo is supposedly that first area of hell where un-baptised children are left for eternity. This imbues the protagonist’s sister with an enormous amount of innocence. What’s more, the fact that the young boy has entered limbo in order to find her creates all sorts of uncomfortable scenarios regarding how he got there in the first place. This type of information is left deliberately absent so that you’re forced to come up with background and reasons for yourself. In doing so you also become inextricably connected and emotionally invested in the plight of your young charge. At times the game is truly heart wrenching, and the lack of any audible feedback from the boy makes him all the more detached and his ordeal all the more mysterious.