This stark, monochrome, gothic Xbox Live Arcade title has far more merit and value based on its simplicity rather than its complexity. In a world where current-generation games are loaded with technology and eye popping experiences, Limbo defies these trends and takes an introspective mantra where less is definitely means more. Before everyone starts jumping on the bandwagon that Limbo is this year’s Flower or is just a reincarnation of Braid, let me guarantee you that Limbo has far more going for it than a ‘games as art’ tag and a monochrome color palette.
As soon as you get past the rudimentary menus that are common to any Xbox Live Arcade release, you are instantly dropped into Limbo’s world – where you play as a young boy in an empty and austere-looking world that is devoid of common-day video game conventions. This emptiness is reflected even further into the game’s storyline, where there is no explanation as to what the young boy’s name, goal, or objective is. It was only through the game’s Xbox Live Arcade description that I was able to find out that the young boy was supposedly looking for his 'sister' in this mysterious world. No other details are given to you, but it becomes inherently unimportant from the moment you enter the world as you are given literally 2 choices – walk left, or walk right – and that’s where Limbo’s strength of pure, unadulterated simplicity starts to shine. For a game that looks so minimalist and empty, it is surprisingly full detail and logical video game progression. Limbo doesn't need to get in your face to tell you what direction you should take or what your current objective is. By subtlety of design, your goals and focus of gameplay become purely innate, and that becomes the mantra behind everything that you encounter.
It comes to no surprise that the control scheme of Limbo is also quite light. You are only given basic movement and two actions – a button to jump, and a button to interact which lets you perform various generic gameplay mechanics such the pushing, pulling, or activating of objects in the environment. The game doesn’t get much more complex than that, and to be quite honest, the game really doesn't need to be. While it’s obvious the depth of gameplay isn't shown directly in the control scheme, I can guarantee you that soon enough you’ll be wondering how you’re supposed to avoid the many pitfalls, bear traps, gravity changers, and various other complex dangers that will surely be hazardous to the young boy’s health. Granted, the first few minutes of the game seem nothing more than basic platformer, but you quickly start to recognize the puzzle-styled gameplay that iteratively builds in complexity and death-dealing cruelty to the young boy.
While the game is forgiving enough to offer an unlimited number of lives and retries by way of an unobtrusively silent checkpoint system, there are some incredibly macabre ways for the young boy to die – varying between decapitation, dismemberment, impalement, electrocution, drowning, and even being burned alive. It’s going to sound wildly creepy, but the deaths that you’ll repeatedly encounter are incredibly detailed to the point where you can’t help but appreciate them. It isn't necessarily gory in terms of an overly fanatical usage of blood, but the first time you see yourself walk directly into a bear trap, you’ll know exactly what I mean. It’s also hard to ignore the fact that you are assuming the role of a young boy that goes through all these gruesome deaths, but it is an interesting touch that seems to be suitable for the gothic mood that Limbo provides. I could definitely say that if you played as a grown man instead of a young boy, there would be a completely different feel about the game with a completely different disposition that I would have overlooked otherwise.
There’s something to be said about being dropped into an empty world when your basic game mechanics are so simple. In many other cases, I could make the call that a game is either lacking gameplay depth or suffers from repetitiveness due to a lack of variety, but Limbo is able to take full advantage of this simplicity as a way to showcase the small details and nuances that turn Limbo into a highly immersive environment.
It seems completely intentional for the stark and empty nature of Limbo to be the silencing mechanism that the game needs to be able control a player’s attention. For example – on one end of the spectrum you can look at a game that is all brass-and-crass like Modern Warfare 2, which voices itself with grandiose over-the-top explosions and intense action scenes. On the opposite side of the coin, we have Limbo which uses minimalism with efficiency in mind to capture your attention. From the subtle animations generated out of the game’s physics, to the serenity found in the musical ambiance of the otherworldly expanses, these diminutive low-key details resonate loudly with crystal-clear clarity in a very unique and appealing package.