Take that, Roger Ebert
Limbo is a strangely brilliant game. With its unique narrative and unconventional look, it's the kind of rare experience with the ability to restore my faith in videogames.
In Limbo you control a seemingly young boy who wakes up alone in the middle of a dense forest with no indication of where he came from, or where he's going to. The game begins with no tutorial, no explanation of what's going on, what buttons need to be pressed or why you are where you are. Things need to be figured out along the way, a conscious decision which plays an important role in sucking you into the game's atmosphere and world.
Atmosphere is in fact what Limbo lives off. Its audio design is some of the most atmospherically engaging I've ever come across, and its black and white look balances light and dark perfectly, transforming the game into one of the most beautiful downloadable titles out there. You are alone in this strange two dimensional dark world that's somehow alive. You just don't know what that means yet.
As you move along you catch glimpses of other children running from you, seemingly hostile in their behavior. Giant spider-like creatures block your path, and gruesomely lethal traps all around you are designed to hinder your progress. At the same time you're trying to move forward to figure it all out, to unlock Limbo's secret.
Being a two dimensional puzzle/platformer, for most of the relatively short adventure you move from left to right, with some occasional minor backtracking breaking things up. The experience's flow is never interrupted by loading screens, or on-screen instructions, and the only times when you'll be pulled out of your adventure are when you fall into one of the game's many death traps. And unless you get frustrated by some of the more complicated puzzles later in the game, chances are you'll beat Limbo in a single three or four hour long sitting.
Limbo concludes with arguably one of the greatest moments in videogame history. It's a moment I'll never forget, and one I still occasionally find myself thinking about over a year after playing the game on the 360. With that in mind, I think it's safe to say that Limbo is one of the best games I've played this generation, and one no one should have the indecency to miss. Good job, Playdead, what's next?
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Right now it would be fair to say my life, on quite a few different levels, is entering a state of limbo. There are few times in one's journey where spontaneously an art form perfectly intersects with with your own path. Limbo and I couldn't have met at a more fortuitous time. Granted, we had flirted earlier on the Xbox, but that was over the course of several weeks and I was never able to get into the flow or explore the game or the narrative.
This time, I sat and played through the whole game in around three hours, a time that would have been much shorter if I hadn't been pausing to drink in so many subtle details. My two children watched me play, mesmerized and curious. Together we helped a boy on his quest, the two of them peppering me with questions and frantically worried during some of the tenser sequences, imploring me to complete them correctly and not subject the melancholy child to another undeserved demise.
Armed with foreknowledge of the solutions to the puzzles, I was able to admire their contrasting simplicity and intricacy, and how beautifully the puzzles were the narrative of the story. Limbo is cut from the cloth of stuff like 2001: A Space Odyssey where the viewer is expected to write parts of the story and nothing is spoon-fed. As we went through Limbo, I found myself writing my own tales for the boy and how he got here, and I listened to my children discuss their own take on events. I reflected on the changes in my life, both current and past, pondering what a child would feel if faced with the same events, and what my children might feel. When the end finally came, the relief in the room was palpable, as if we had all been exercising every one of our senses to the fullest for the past 180 minutes. The kids went off to bed, exhausted, and I was left alone to ponder life and to try and navigate the new hidden "dark" level where audio cues are often your only evidence of impending doom. Limbo may have been a short experience, but few games ooze emotion and tension like this.
Without question, at the right time in your life, Limbo can transcend mere entertainment and burrow itself deep into your consciousness. That's a rare feat for any form of art.