In Christian belief, un-baptized infants go into Limbo after dying since they are too young to have committed personal sins, but are yet not free of Original Sin. There is debate however, but no one knows for sure what happens to the infant souls…
But Playdead might.
Limbo is an XBLA game released in July by Microsoft and developed by Playdead, priced at a reasonable 1200 MS Points. The game and you will fit perfectly if you harbor cold calculating physicist-like tendencies in your grey matter, or are hailed in your circle as a problem solving genius, or are, in fact, any other human, since your brain functions through logic, and Limbo demands you reach into the far corners of your head to survive it.
In this platformer, you guide a cute little kid through anything but cute or little as the story spans 24 ghastly chapters littered with obstacles to slow you down, usually by ending your life in beautiful detailing that might make some shudder. Each chapter can take you anything from 10 minutes to half an hour, depending on the kind of puzzle ahead of you. I’ll categorize them as requiring a) brute logic b) careful timing or c) survival instincts, and often combos of the three. What was missing, however, was a gradual rise in difficulty and pace as the end drew near, so you can’t gauge your progress. Add to this a tasteful but unfulfilling ending which is left open to your own interpretation in a very clichéd fashion; the game’s sense of closure is still missing. Only thing that may give away the approaching end is that the deaths got more gruesome!
But that’s not all. The game is more than plain fun. The art Limbo displays takes this game to another dimension, where even your tumble is graceful and the stylized deaths (like being cut in half by a saw blade) are beautiful to see. Simplistic design, done in black and white with granularity give the appearance of a silent film, with absolutely no statistics or on-screen info. Stretches of running without action help you appreciate the stunning visuals of the carefully thought out eerie, dreamlike design style. What makes this even more surreal is the portrayal of heightened senses of the little kid as his (your?) adrenaline levels rush and he takes flight against deadly objects, barely missing them. His bright vigilant eyes pitted against the black environment coupled with the raw sound of his footsteps or the gushing water rising to drown him or the stab of the spider down his spine brings your pin point focus to the gameplay. The lack of an over-powering soundtrack is one less thing to distract you from your goal of staying alive; moreover, the creaks and sizzles of the environment conjure up an excellent musical ambiance by themselves to freak you out.
Limbo is one of those games that run the vicious cycle of addictive (due to game style), then frustrating (as you try to figure out your options) and finally satisfying (when you achieve level completion) and then back to addictive again. It’s handily beatable, especially by players with a competitive and unyielding streak to get to the end of a problem. This also means some players may lose interest if the puzzle becomes too difficult. But this is game not to be missed if only for the sake of game design and the pure psyche involved while playing. The malicious factor is off the charts, where at one point in the game our protagonist is led to drag dead bodies of children into water to use them as stepping stones. Don’t be turned off by all this gore talk though, for Playdead has provided a gore filter for the faint-hearted, or if gamers below 18 are involved. Yep, the rating is 18+; surprising for something apparently so pretty. Give Limbo a try, it will make you gasp; and that may be the only breath you take until you finish it.