Atmospheric Strategy: Playing Limbo
When I talk about good graphics and design in games, I am usually thinking of highly detailed 3D characters, animations and huge, complex worlds to explore. A lot of work and research is intrinsically tied to the development of games like CoD or the newest Uncharted release and is also a big reason why the games fascinate us. But then, at times, you stumble upon a small, independently developed 2.5D game with a rather short playing time of 5 hours—like Limbo and you immediately forget all of those factors, because you are left stunned with the realization of how some effects, darkness and nearly no sound can do to casual gaming and your mood.
Imagine a little boy, who sadly has lost his sister and is about to search for her. For that reason, he needs to fight his way through a dark, unknown and dangerous world and solve a lot of problems to continue and move on. Basically, that is what Limbo’s story is about. Yes, probably not as exciting. Up to this point, some might say, “Sounds like any other game that is partly inspired by those older Nintendo games. Hopefully those strategic task are at least a bit tricky.” But Limbo isn’t like any other game.
The world you are entering immediately grasps your whole attention — right from the moment you start playing the game. It takes over your brain and body and puts them in a dark, silent but very dangerous and unsettling mood. You are left intrigued. You do not know what happens next. Although you are expecting it, you are never really completely prepared for getting attacked by an enormous spider or if your head suddenly gets cut of by a big bear trap — which happens all the time. I promise.
This mood, environment and impressions of Limbo’s world is solely created through the visual and audible design of the game. There is not much to say about the controls, since you can just walk left and right, jump and interact with prepared objects. Playing Limbo is like investigating some strange places in the dark at night. There is no background music, just ambient, spheric sonic layers and nature sounds floating through your head. Yet Limbo manages to scare you with these unsettling sounds.
But lets focus on the graphics, because that is what it is all about here. You probably already know that Limbo is designed in 2.5D, meaning there is a front layer on which you are interacting with and controlling the unnamed protagonist and a layer of background images to create the illusion of three dimensions. It is completely illustrated in greyscale — mainly black noisy vignettes. Flies fly around, the grass is weeping slowly and suspicious and just a few really bright rays of moonlight find their ways through the clouds and treetops. Bodies and objects are just visible in silhouettes and even the protagonist you are controlling is just a silhouette with the only exception of lighted eyes. So there is no identity, no space for imagination or colored fantasies, just darkness, insecurity and fear. And I promise, there is no exaggeration in this description.
Every other attempt at categorizing Limbo would be too vague at this point. As usual, when it comes to game reviews, I urge you to watch some gameplay videos and then try out Limbo by yourself to get the idea. It is available for PS3 and Xbox consoles and Windows, Macintosh and Linux on the respective online stores, Amazon, Steam and the Mac App Store for $9.99 (which is a great price to pay for it).
[Ed Note: We usually don’t feature games here on Beautiful Pixels, but I had to make an exception for Limbo. The game and its every aspect is just that good. No matter how well we try to describe it in words, the experience of playing Limbo is like nothing you’ve come across before.]