A game by Playdead Games for PC, Mac, PS3, Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Switch, and iOS, originally released in 2010.
In recent years, the puzzle-platformer genre has exploded, with a tremendous number of new titles hitting the market, mostly in the downloadable space. The genre isn’t new by any stretch, and throughout our short gaming history, it has seen several bursts of popularity. Games such as Prince of Persia and Another World (a.k.a. Out of This World) led a brief charge that resulted in a number of other developers attempting to replicate this winning formula for their own titles, such as Blackthorne, with varying degrees of success. The genre appeared to ripe for resurgence after Portal wowed the gaming public, and Braid became the surprise hit and beloved darling of indie game fans everywhere.

But it hasn’t just been a few standout titles that have led developers back into puzzle-platformer territory. A number of new formats and avenues for releasing games have helped as well. The stylus controls of the Nintendo DS, and the motion and touch controls of the iPhone have allowed developers to create games that would have been impossible on any other platform. On top of that, the growing popularity and ease of digital distribution has helped hundreds of would-be developers get their games exposed to a wide audience. These new developers grew up on 2D games and – since indie development houses are generally made up of incredibly small teams (or just a single person) – the 2D format remains one of the most efficient ways to convey game concepts and experiment with new gameplay ideas.

However, where most new entries in the 2D realm consist of either hand-drawn or tile-based characters and environments, the world of Limbo is built upon shadows, silhouettes, and darkness. Many objects do have sharp, well-defined edges, but much of the environment is ruled by a haze, which offers only the idea of a thing, but not the thing itself. And even the well-defined objects are completely black, leaving your imagination to fill in the gaps. In total darkness, all things lose form, and so that thing in front of you could be a patch of grass, or a bear trap. It could be the branches of a tree, or the legs of a spider. And often, the only way for you to learn what awaits you is to experience it yourself… and die.

Death is frequent in this game, but so are the checkpoints. The pacing and design is very reminiscent of Another World, where you encounter an obstacle, try your hand at it, and die while simultaneously learning a bit more about how the puzzle works. Many of the game’s puzzles will kill you outright the first time around, and like the puzzle-platformers of old, you will find death in many forms. The little white-eyed boy can be crushed, drowned, impaled, decapitated, and experience many other gruesome deaths, some even resulting in a nice spray of shadow blood. Given that the boy himself is only a shadow, this is somewhat less disturbing that it was to see the death of the fully-colored cartoon boy of A Boy and His Blob, but the tone is still quite dour. And it becomes even more so as you encounter the other residents of this world.

You see, you’re not entirely alone; there are other shadow-forms similar to yourself, all of whom seem to be children who are struggling to survive in the world of Limbo, and who are none too happy with your presence there. You’ll get to see them standing on the far side a chasms, setting up traps for you, and even finding death on their own. It’s one thing to see yourself wander too deep into a body of water and drown, but it’s quite another to see several shadow-children floating face-down in the water, especially when you have to walk across their limp bodies to avoid drowning yourself.

The mystery of the game lies in its world and inhabitants. For the most part, you’re left to discover things on your own and draw your own conclusions, rather than facing numerous expository cutscenes or drawn-out soliloquizing as you might find in other adventure-based games. You’re on a quest to find your sister, and beyond that, you’ll have to discover everything on your own.

The game world consists not only of natural environments, but seemingly manmade objects as well, such as ladders, spinning gears, crates, etc. And your proportion in relation to the world seems to be a bit odd… ladders and boats appear to be the right size, but bear traps will snap up to your neck, flying insects stand at nearly your height, and spiders tower over you. This gives you the feeling that you don’t quite belong in this world, and that you were not meant to survive here. Nothing appears to be friendly or inviting, and the overall design of the world is quite prickly, with roots and branches and grass jutting about everywhere, and manmade objects appearing worn and cold, far from the life that stood behind their creation.

Since you have no combat moves to speak of – you can walk, run, jump and grab objects – you’ll need to use the world around you to get past these obstacles. A lot of this revolves around the game’s physics engine, which allows you to push objects, knock things over, roll things down hills, etc. Everything is smoothly animated and your interactions with in-game objects carry a realistic weight. Pushing a boat into the water will see it bob and float, and taking a running jump at it will cause it to slide forward when you land. There are a lot of other little touches as well, such as objects giving off dust, and wind blowing through the grass and leaves.

In addition to the visuals, the game features some incredible sound design, even though most of the game is entirely silent. This silence emphasizes the sounds of your footsteps and breathing, as well as ambient sounds such as creaking wood or blowing wind. This certainly adds to the ominous feeling of the environments. Combine this with the dark and hazy visuals, where the shape of things is not entirely certain, and you have an atmosphere rooted in fear and dread, like a dream from which there is no escape, and something terrible lies around every corner.

Gamers can expect about 4 hours of gameplay.

Playdead Games is an indie developer based out of Copenhagen, Denmark, and was founded by Arnt Jensen and Dino Patti. Limbo is their first game, but it’s already an award-winning title, even prior to its release. At the 2010 Independent Game Festival, the game received 2 awards, one for excellence in visual art, and the other for technical excellence.

The game's beginnings lay in a series of sketches created by Arnt Jensen, which he eventually turned into a concept video, which was subsequently released online. The video garnered quite a bit of attention, including folks in the publishing and development communities. Once a budget was secured, the development team began work, doing their best to bring Jensen's world to life and holding true to the concepts outlined in the video as well as the look and feel of the dark and complex world.

Limbo was originally released on Xbox Live Arcade as an Xbox 360 exclusive in 2010. Playdead ported the game to the Playstation 3 (via PSN) and PC (via Steam) in 2011, and Mac (via Steam) in early 2012.

3 comments: said...

Nice insight into the game, i can´t stand waiting for the title. It´s the game i´m looking forward to the most this summer. With Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet on place 2.

When i first saw the trailer i knew this is something to keep an eye on. Thanks for the preview! :-)

AJ Johnson said...

Absolutley. I had to fight with myself not to go on about the game for twice as long as I did, and risk spoiling some of the adventure... but it's all about discovering things for yourself.

Part of the fun comes from playing the game, but -- like a good movie -- another part comes finding someone else who has played through it as well and discussing it with them. said...

I would have liked to read twice as much about it, but don´t spoil it ... i love to explore the worlds offered in games!

I´ll be back commenting some more as soon as i played it then. ;-)