Know this. Limbo is one of the most genuinely disturbing games I’ve played in a very long time. Ever, in fact. And I’m not talking about the usual video game approach of gratuitous gore and jump-scares. This is intelligent horror executed sublimely, with real thought and depth.
Above: Friend, enemy, or somewhere in between? There's only ever one way to find out...
Those silhouettes mask a multitude of horrors, and while I’d set fire to my own feet before relating any spoilers, I will tell you that you’ll rapidly learn not to trust anything you see in Limbo. Nightmare creatures lurk almost in plain sight. Ambiguous shapes tease with simultaneous promise and threat. And every reveal, attack, escape and set-piece is executed with such peerless pacing and attention to emotional detail that you’ll be drained every time you play it.
Dangers are introduced (or hinted at), then removed to play on your mind during a quiet part of your journey. Deaths are telegraphed just soon enough to give you the time to realise how the chain of events suddenly in motion will lead to them, before those nightmarishly-paced events play out with almost inevitably fatal consequences. And those deaths are brutal, fast and completely uncompromising. The Boy will be horrifically broken and mutilated along his journey, but thanks to his innocent, quietly sad persona and the emotional weight of his journey, his callously savage treatment never ever becomes comedic.
The story will get right under your skin
Rarely has a game told its story in such a subtle but powerful way. There are no cut scenes, there is no dialogue, there is no on-screen text ever. There isn’t even a HUD. There’s just The Boy, his journey, and what happens to him along the way. The Boy has lost his sister and has entered Limbo to find her. That’s all you know, and that’s all you need to know. You’ll find out the rest along the way. Or not, depending on how deeply your want to question and interpret things.
Above: You'll feel for The Boy so strongly that even stock platformer tropes will become desperately fearful
Limbo you see, has an ambient narrative, made up of darkly ethereal images, dreamlike sequences and emotional punctuation made up of deep tonal shifts. There are long periods of silence, periods when little happens on-screen but plenty happens in your head, each ordeal The Boy undergoes and each future one hinted gestating in your mind and adding more tone and meaning to the journey and the ambiguous and sinister world it moves through.
Above: As poetic as the imagery is, the total experience is even more so
New characters and elements of Limbo’s environment are introduced and implied, before disappearing back into the mist, allowing Limbo’s story to be interpreted literally or metaphorically. It’s dream-logic narrative evoked at its very best, and it all leads to an ending that at first seems abrupt, but on reflection would lose its perfection if it was even a second longer.
If you like clever game design, intelligent horror, or well-realised artistry, you really have to play through Limbo. It's an immaculate production, as close to perfect as it gets, and it will stay with you for a very long time. But please take my advice. Turn the lights off, get rid of all distractions and play it alone. Because Limbo deserves your full attention, and will reward it immensely from start to finish.
Note: The PC version may have one problem you could encounter - input lag. When we played the game on a low-end and a mid-range PC, we experienced a slight delay between control inputs and The Boy's actions onscreen. This occurred with both keyboard inputs and a 360 controller. However, when we played the game on a high-end machine, we experienced no input lag. We can't say for sure that all mid- or low-end systems will have this problem, butplayers with such machines should be prepared for it. Since the game requires split-second timing and many instant-death scenarios, input lag could cause some frustration, although we did find we could compensate for it without too much trouble. Since this issue seems to be minor and doesn't affect all systems, we have not changed our score for the game.
Aug 3, 2011