“Limbo” is a strange game. It is a game that, on paper, has many of the trappings of classic video games; a simple color palette, 2D sidescrolling that moves towards the right hand side of the screen, some basic platforming, and puzzle solving. In execution, however, “Limbo” is something far more sinister and moody than any “Mario” title has ever been.
As of writing, on August 2nd 2017, “Limbo’s” release for the PC has turned six years old. Though the game’s original release on X-Box 360 came out in July of 2010, making “Limbo’s” true age to be seven, it wouldn’t be until over a year later that the game would spread from console audiences to computer gamers.
My first experiences with “Limbo” were on the PC version, a Steam purchase out of mild curiosity turned into a true affection for the game and its use of atmosphere. It was a game that didn’t speak to me... literally. There were no speech bubbles or moments of intrusive text, only the menus and some mild instruction on the gameplay and the (admittedly quite simple) control scheme to guide the player. This old school gaming aspect allowed the developers to cut out any extra noise and just focus on the world they were building.
In black and white the silhouettes of children, corpses, and monsters stand even more ominous than some merely gruesome depiction of death might convey. Though there is horror that lurks in the world of “Limbo” the focus is on tension and emotional terror, rather than slasher flick adrenaline. Through extended moments of eerie quiet and the utter loneliness of the whole experience the player is able to emotionally enter the foggy forests and abandoned industrial zones of the game alongside its silent child protagonist.
“Limbo” was a game that became an independent critical darling, which would, in turn, brand it as a bit pretentious to some gamers who likely ended up growing tired of the indie game craze and its plethora of “artsy” titles. Past all the noise of critics and gamers however, taken on its own as a singular experience, “Limbo” was truly something special. A jaunt into an off-kilter world of black and white, thick with fog and the maladies of its surreal denizens. Rife with thick, choking atmosphere and oozing with personality.
“Limbo” was something that showed the potential for minimalism in the modern gaming industry, an oddball platformer that kept the experience concise without sacrificing its pacing or feeling like a cheap cash grab. While the indie scene can oftentimes be seen as bloated by a deluge of product that, to some, may seem preachy or pretentious, “Limbo” is a marker of how one can achieve artistic, abstract emotion, without losing the enjoyment of playing a game.