Why Limbo is one of the greatest games ever made

Limbo’s refusal to give the player signs and tells of what is to come, and its insistence that the brutal, sudden pitfalls of the The Boy’s journey come to be known first-hand, the hard way, is its masterstroke. Because as you should have come to realize by now, Limbo is about the moment-to-moment immediacy of a fearful emotional journey rather than the wider sweep of a literal one.

That’s not to say that Limbo is unremitting punishment. After all, a one-note emotional journey can be no emotional journey at all. As an elegant mirror-image of its unexplained threats, Limbo’s unexplained solutions are as understatedly empowering as its dangers are silently oppressive. The game is as deliberately sparse of traditional game mechanics as it is of traditional plot.

The Boy can run. The Boy can jump. The Boy can drag and push things. Everything else is down to physics and context, and as a result his options are not limited but freed up above and beyond what games with more complex rule-sets would allow. Limbo essentially works just as the real world would if it were 2D. There are no short-cuts and there are no false obstructions to action. This more direct, less artificial approach to puzzles and obstacles creates yet closer empathy between the player and The Boy, at the same time crafting the illusion that each solution is the dynamic, spontaneous creation of the player him or herself. Total empathy in fear of the dark, total empathy in the brief flashes of light that cut through it.

There are as many ways to interpret Limbo’s overall meaning as there are people to play it. You might see it as a straight ghost story about a lost sibling. You might see the abstract signifiers of its scenery – from woodland, to tribal encampment, to urban sleaze, to industrial hell – as clues to a story about the lonely journey from childhood to adulthood.

You might question the significance of those unexplained Lost Boy-esque figures in the darkness. Are they human? Are they enemies? Do they ask the same questions of you? You might even see Limbo as the death-dream of its protagonist, its set-pieces and passages all an abstraction of his life and its end. You might – and probably will – be sure that it’s something else that we haven’t even thought of. And you’ll be right.

Because by giving the player just enough light to see with and more than enough darkness to fill with their own fears, and by creating such empathy through the careful construction of the mechanics by which that darkness is explored, Limbo has created not just another cheap reproduction of cinema, but a real piece of art which affects deeply and personally in the way only an interactive work could do.

And as such, it has created one of the 100 best games of all time.

"Why _____ is one of the best games ever made" is a weekly feature that goes through GamesRadar's list of the 100 best games of all time and highlights different titles, explaining why they're on the list, what makes them so amazing, and why we love them so much.


  • ram-youssef - June 13, 2013 10:29 p.m.

    One of the best games ever made ?? That's a big brand brother ... but it's still capturing, it takes you to a different world, it detaches you from reality at certain points, pretty weird and scary ... the character it has is undeniable ... even though there's no actual story, the story is what you make of it ...
  • pri9567 - July 4, 2013 11:33 p.m.

    just 'cause something is scary or pretty weird or whatever .. just cuz it "Detach me from reality" or is a thriller" isnt enough reason to make ME personally think its big brando. what is your life so empty of any thrill or whaa't.are u really that easily influenced into something's greatness just cause it happens to take you to different worlds. maaan there are lots of "different" worlds and u gotta know which different is really worth it and which is a wasta time. maaan you need do a bit more discerning... yo exercise more discerning in your world man yep discerning is the keyword for you
  • BigDannyH - August 7, 2012 3:50 p.m.

    I liked it a lot, got really into it and did a late night session to finish it in one go which was totally worth it. If you're looking for a game that tests your skill and dexterity, this isn't what you're after. Street Fighter or CoD are the sort of thing yo want (and they're great!) but they're like a sport whereas Limbo is like experiencing a good novella. There's room for both and, to be honest, I play more sports than I read short-stories but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the appeal of both. The world created in Limbo has a great atmosphere and is full of character. The experience is slow-paced and you don't shoot anything which, for me, served as a good change of scenery on my Xbox. I imagine older gamers who have consumed a broader range of media than just games get on better with Limbo, hence many of the reviewers, who are probably closer to 30 than 20, rated it so highly. As for those worried about the pretentiousness, I also heard alarm bells when I first saw it, but I feel that, all-in-all, it avoided pretension. Great game. Wouldn't threaten my own No.1 spot but, just for being a bit different, would walk into my top 100.
  • pri9567 - July 4, 2013 11:12 p.m.

    who cares. who can afford such a wasta time
  • gilgamesh310 - August 6, 2012 5:40 p.m.

    Limbo has to be the most pretentious game ever made.All it is is a black abduction white game that contains more trial and error gameplay than any game I've ever played. I'm sick of games being deemed masterpieces because they may have some vague hidden meaning behind them. I blame team Ico for bringing this kind of pretentiousness into the medium, even though I quite like them games it seemed since their arrival games can get away with ship gameplay as long ast they have some 'artsy' aesthetic.
  • pri9567 - July 4, 2013 11:17 p.m.

    totally agree man..
  • Fuzunga - August 2, 2012 12:05 p.m.

    I could not disagree more with this. In fact, every time I hear someone call Limbo one of the greatest games ever, I dislike it a little bit more. As a GAME (the way all games should be judged) it is extremely average at best. Nothing I couldn't find on a flash game portal online. If you took out the atmosphere, Limbo would be nothing. In fact, I'm certain it would have been largely ignored without without the silhouette visuals and, uh, vague narrative. Well that's not enough for this guy. Game just wasn't fun. Didn't find it scary at all once I realized they were trying to disguise bear traps as grass. They got me once and then I was was cautiously on the lookout for the rest of the game. No innovation gameplay wise. The auto-walking sections were a pain, and I legitimately found the physics-based gameplay caused control issues. If Limbo is one thing, it's the most overrated game of all time. I bought it on sale for $10 and think I paid too much.
  • Gamer_Geek - August 2, 2012 11:07 a.m.

    I had the trail edition of Limbo, and I liked the trail, but I don't understand where this deep emotional connection comes from? It's an interesting game, as the typical game play and engine of a flash game; Mass Effect 3 has to be a game of deep emotional connection between the user and the game though, not really Limbo. Guess is my opinion though, and many people may disagree with me over my points above.
  • Cyberhero18 - August 2, 2012 2:06 a.m.

    And, aaand it has a bloody huge spider thrown in there for good measure. Easily the most heart-pounding part of any game i've played in recent memory. I mean that thing was just horrifying.
  • Shinn - August 2, 2012 1:08 a.m.

    I didn't really enjoy it, but I could see why people loved it so much.
  • Reubenguy - August 1, 2012 10:47 p.m.

    It's definately a love/hate game. You either connect with this game or you don't, and miss the point. It all depends on tastes and I agree completely with Dave that this game belongs in the top 100, because I connected with this game on a very deep level...Something other games rarely do for me So for those who've experienced Limbo like me and Dave did it's one of the best gaming experiences out there, and is thus deserving of a place in the top 100 (because it has the ability to create the emotions Dave talked about. Note I said ability...and I completely agree it's not for everyone - but because it can and often does connect it deserves it's spot)
  • TomSJ3 - August 1, 2012 9:57 p.m.

    Great article Mr. Houghton. I can understand why this game would not be for everyone, and it seems that a lot of the people in the comments didn't love it, but Limbo is probably my favorite game I've ever downloaded from XBLA.
  • larkan - August 1, 2012 9:40 p.m.

    I paid $15 for this highly anticipated game, only to be extremely disappointed in having beat it in 3 hours. I played with headphones on, lights off, but it really didn't do much for me. I think games like this need to go away before more people catch on that they can charge obscene prices for this crap.
  • ChaosEternal - August 2, 2012 11:17 a.m.

    To me, the game was a moving experience that lasted 6-8 hours. (Though it did seem very short on my second playthrough.) I'd have to agree with some of the other comments, you either love Limbo or you hate it. To me it is worth $15, to you it probably isn't worth $5. It is pretty subjective. Personally, I'd like stuff like Limbo to be around for variety and experiences you won't get elsewhere.
  • Krazee - August 1, 2012 8:37 p.m.

    I didn't really think very highly of the game myself, but your article, its pretty deep.
  • duelmonkey - August 1, 2012 5:07 p.m.

    I'm not a big fan of this game, either. The gameplay and aesthetic are both highly reminiscent of your typical flash platformer you'd find for free online on sites like Kongregate. The game is also extremely easy - when people use words like "gripping" or "terror" to describe this game, I don't really understand what's causing that. The puzzles are pointedly simple; Dave sees it as a way to identify with The Boy, but it just feels like I'm playing "Level 1" from other puzzle games repeatedly to me. I can see where the appeal comes from, however. If you really commit to liking it, I can imagine it being a very immersive game. But everything about the gameplay just pulled me completely out of that state of mind.
  • taokaka - August 1, 2012 4:14 p.m.

    I didn't really like Limbo as much as most others due to a few reasons. The actual gameplay itself can only be described as so-so in my opinion, the platforming aspect was dull and simple plus it had nothing unique or challenging and every death encountered could easily be avoided on a second time through. The puzzles were either uninspired or lacked any thought what so ever to solve them. Another reason is after reading reviews they all told me that it was the story of a boy traversing limbo to save his sister, when I played it through I wouldn't have found this out until the end so every interpretation or theories I was making I felt was irrelevant because I knew the answer already. But I did see the potential for others to love this game when I was playing it through so I enjoyed reading Dave's opinion to find out why he loved it.
  • BaraChat - August 1, 2012 2:40 p.m.

    It's undoubtedly one of the best experiences you'll ever get from a videogame, and it's easily one of the 5 best download-only (along with Outland, Journey and such) games of this generation. But one of the best games ever? I wouldn't go there, although it's pretty easy to see why someone would.
  • steve-randall - August 1, 2012 1:52 p.m.

    seriously? the game was over fast and had zero re-playability. sure it looked nice but best game ever made? dude, check your head.
  • Moondoggie1157 - August 1, 2012 12:52 p.m.

    I usually agree with you and your articles, Dave. But this time I'm gonna have to disagree... Mind you it's based on my personal perspective of Limbo, I couldn't get through an hour before getting bored... But hey, great articles nonetheless.

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