Game Info:

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Playdead Studios
Released:  July 21, 2010
ESRB Rating: Teen for Animated Blood, Mild Violence
Available on: Xbox 360 (through Live Arcade)
Genre: Puzzle/Platformer
MSRP: $15 (1200 MS Points)

(Click here to jump to the moral content)

Indie developer Playdead Studios' first offering, Limbo, is something of a rare thing. In it, we find a gem, indicative of the best that gaming has to offer. All the possibilities are there: Beautiful, minimalist design, storytelling, visuals and sound mesh with pitch-perfect gameplay, creating a world unlike any other. And all of these elements are masterfully executed.

The violence of the game – something that seems more incidental than forced – is a constant threat, looming, from the very beginning. And that adds a certain dread to the game, in addition to Limbo’s otherworldly atmosphere (something that causes the game to exude an eerie feeling not unlike many survival horror games).

Yet because of that, Limbo is hard to describe. It is a platformer and a puzzle game – a devious one, at that – that ends up telling a story that is indescribably beautiful. But I can’t really talk about that, either. Because the story is a very personal one, one that the player brings to the game; it is initially about a young boy trying to find a girl, and the entirety of the three to four hour experience explores that premise.


Strong Points: Gorgeous visual design; responsive controls; intelligent puzzles

Weak Points: Far too short to justify price tag; story may seem a little weak to some

Moral Warnings: Dark subject matter permeates game; violent deaths are shown on-screen and masked only by black-and-white color scheme


Along the way, there are challenges to be overcome. These obstacles do not wait for the player. They are timing-based and they are spatial, and they do not hesitate to tear the player up, quite literally.

Giant spiders and bear traps slowly evolve into machinations of spinning saw blades, electromagnets, gravity puzzles and more, all of which can and will kill you if you are not absolutely precise in your movements. There is no forgiveness in Limbo; there is only death, and the promise of something better at the end. And then it starts again and again, until each obstacle is overcome, each puzzle solved, each segment passed.

All of this says nothing of the unique, monochromatic visual design, oozing noir style and cinematic flair. The edges of the screen flicker, like an old film projector showing the proceedings. When death strikes (which it often will) the image lingers for a moment, as if reflecting morosely on the death of our protagonist. Here is a character of which we know nothing, except the whites of his eyes and the outline of his body. He is quiet, patient; he is not like anyone, and he is everyone because he is blank.

His world is filled with sound, but it isn’t populated with the sounds of video games, of machine guns blasting and music thumping or swirling. It pulses and drones and is inhabited by the sounds of its world and the footsteps of its inhabitants. Only a few times does anything resembling a normal score pick up: Several times, strings will slowly rise and fall, creating mood and tension. At one point, towards the end of the game, the frenzied, violent sounds of industrial electronica throw themselves to the forefront. And it works. All of it works, and matches the mood and the settings perfectly.

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 100%
Gameplay - 20/20
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls 5/5

Morality Score - 88%
Violence - 4/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Despite all of the praise that I can give Limbo – and rightfully so – there do remain a few sticking points. Puzzles often seem unnecessarily obtuse, and the dark nature of the game and brutality of the violence will likely turn off some players. This is not a game for children; there are heady adult themes throughout, if you choose to notice them, and neither can you disregard lynched corpses or terrifying imagery of giant spiders stalking and then impaling you. It’s important to say, however, that despite the visible blood and violent nature of your character’s deaths, the game remains black and white, with our protagonist remaining a shadow against a darkened backdrop.

Yet that reflects Limbo itself, in its own way. It’s a game that is colored by a player’s personal perceptions and tolerances for more artistic and experimental approaches in game design. Limbo is rooted in the classics, and in that way, it achieves that same feeling of trial and tribulation under the guiding, stern hand of a designer, but it is never unfair in that challenge.

That’s really the best I can say of Limbo: That it is absolutely one of the best games I’ve ever played, while remaining one of the most daunting. Never for children or those who shy away from violence or gore, Limbo is entirely a game composed of one’s own perceptions and the gauntlet of challenges that Playdead has provided.

In that, above all else, Limbo becomes one of the best games to ever grace the Xbox Live Arcade, and leaps to the top ranks of games released in 2010.


Objectionable Content

Violence: Frequent, violent deaths run through Limbo. This is where the game\'s biggest weakness comes from, simply because many of these are animated brutally, which is punctuated by the sound design. Because of the way the game is designed - and the difficulty of many of the puzzles contained in Limbo - there\'s a lot of trial-and-error, which translates to the player dying quite a bit. Visual dismemberment, as well as impalement, death by spikes, defenestration and giant spider attacks are but some of the many gruesome deaths that the player will, in all likelihood, witness. This is all done to what appears to be a little boy, which - depending on your views of the original Grimm\'s fairy tales - just might make things worse.

Language: None

Sexual Content/Nudity: None

Occult/Supernatural: None

Cultural/Moral/Ethical: None



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