|System: X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: PlayDead||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Microsoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: July 21, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Steve Haske
In Roman Catholic theology, limbo is defined as a place between the realms of life and death. Here, believers that were never baptized and those who were born before the time of Jesus Christ must quietly suffer, wanting nothing more than to accept Gods grace in order to gain passage to the paradisiacal afterlife. In Canto IV of The Inferno, Dante Alighieri, describes limbo in similar terms, outlaying the areas geography with a forest, fields, and brooks. Though peaceful themselves, they do not reflect the silent inner torment over those lost souls that must forever be separated from their evangelical savior.
Playdeads Limbo subscribes to a decidedly more secular world view, although I suspect interpretations of the game may vary wildly from one person to another. However, the thematic center of being caught between one state of existence and the next is largely the same. By extension of the games name itself, a thematic base is also essentially all that were given to go on. If you look at the description given on Limbos XBLA profile, were told that Unsure of his sisters fate, a boy enters limbo. This is the only clue were given from the outset and the game proper contains no text or dialogue. All we have to unravel the tenets of the story are the foreknowledge of that description coupled with the boys visual journey.
It would seem that in Limbo, your only option is to press on, if not by virtue of its linear design, than by the motivation driving you towards some form of progress, though any sense of purpose or reasoning remain inscrutable. Playdead stubbornly leaves easy answers (or any answers at all, really) at the door. Is the boys purpose to find his sister, to escape his fate, or maybe to pass through the plane of the reality he now occupies? Reality, metaphorization, metaphysics, and the existence, or non-existence, of any of it is fair game, making much of what you take out of Limbo depend heavily on personal interpretation. Its even entirely possible that the story, such as it is, is irrelevant, overshadowed simply by a scattering of themes that the game seems to be based around. Like The Inferno, Limbo also begins in a wooded area, where the boy comes to in the realm he may or may not have actually chosen to enter. Unlike Dantes descriptions of a peaceful world, however, the atmosphere here is foreboding.
The initial feeling of isolation that surrounds you after waking alone in an unknown world quickly erodes as you discover this is more than just a deserted, ramshackle wasteland. Instead, its a place without mercy, pity, or reason, and one where you are never truly alone, either, as death is your constant companion. Throughout his journey, the boy encounters grisly sights and creatures that will probably unnerve you; if not worse (arachnophobes beware). Even the human-types you encounter, who may actually inhabit this land, are your enemies. They seemingly taunt the boy at the outset of his travels, watching him, throwing rocks, and setting vicious traps in his path, if not outright attacking head-on. But even these figures arent immune to limbos perils. Their lives can be carelessly cut short as easily as the boys own. These acts happen quickly, often in horrific ways, yet as soon as the deed is done, they are tossed aside with complete disregard. If theres one thing to be said about death in Limbo, its that its cavalier.
Limbo is grim, something that is only magnified by its striking visual style. I applaud any game willing to run the risk of being made entirely in black and white, and few apply it as well as Playdead has here. In fact, Id bet that countless essays, features, and blog posts picking apart Limbos aesthetics will be written in the coming weeks and months. Somehow, the game managed to skirt harsh review from the ESRB, only garnering a Teen rating, but the imagery is at least as horrifying as any youll find in a Mature-rated game. The trick here is Limbos use of silhouetting, throwing everything in the foreground into shadow, which tastefully circumvents direct shots of brutal violence while heightening atmospherics. Coupled with the shallow depth of field, soft focus effects, diffusive lighting, and vignetting (which darkens the borders of the screen), Limbo takes on a visually surreal character whose ethereal qualities foster the games unique and creepy feel. These ideas come through well enough in screenshots, but until you see the grain moving on the picture or witness how the lighting adjusts to the darkness on-screen, the full effect cant be understood. When it comes to interactive artistic endeavors, Limbo should be required viewing.