Xbox, PS3, PC and Mac
Platform videogames concoct a mix of precision jumping, running,
ladder climbing, puzzle solving and exploration. Mario, Sonic,
Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy delivered entertainment
over the last 30 years. Now a new breed of platform game is
emerging that asks more of the player than a steady hand, quick
reactions and a ready supply of adrenaline.
Limbo is one of these games. Originally available on
Xbox 360 then on PS3 and PC, it's now available on the Mac as well.
It's desperately bleak, but beautifully so. Black and white hues
create the feel of a filmmaker's lens through which you view the
You control a small boy as he travels through a threatening
forest landscape. Despite the darkness though it feels like a
children's game, that is until the little boy meets a variety of
shocking silhouetted ends -- impaled, decapitated, squashed or
The game emits sounds to match the sparse visuals. Breathless
echoes and hums gnaw away at the back of your consciousness as you
focus your attentions on survival. But as impressive and unusual as
this unresolved physical and aural landscape is for a videogame,
it's Limbo's commitment to an unresolved narrative that stays with
you after finishing.
Like Hansel and Gretel, but with a trail of platforming elements
to lead you on, Limbo draws you on with classic videogame puzzle
solving. Pulling boxes, climbing trees and running from spiders you
eventually emerge from the forest.
However the mood remains dark as the fear of dense trees is
replaced by the threat of desperate inhabitants, booby trapped
corpses, dilapidated architecture and wayward industrial
Limbo will be too bleak, too graphic and too indulgent
for some. For others it will be simply too difficult to play - even
a seasoned player can find themselves flummoxed. However, for those
willing to dive in and pay these costs Limbo has much more to offer
Loss isn't something we easily spend time thinking about. Works
that deal with the subject, from Job and Ecclesiastes to Cormac
McCarthy's The Road can be a bleak, battering experience. Like
those depths, Limbo keeps in mind a thread of hope, the idea of the
morning after, of waking from the nightmare. Because it is a game
playfulness, engagement and possibilities are never eclipsed.
Every other game would be unable to resist cashing in this
tension, capitalising on the loss with a triumphal ending.
Thankfully though, developers Playdead resist this juvenile
The end, when it comes some four hours later, is tranquil and
quiet and unexpected. As in The Road, and I'd say in Job too, there
is no escape from the nightmare for our protagonist. Instead there
is presence. We encounter a companion, a kin and are fleetingly
The moment of encounter that I won't spoil with detail here, is
transformative. In many ways nothing is different, darkness
continues but at the same time everything is different. The
presence of 'another' changes the game world from a dangerous alien
environment to a place that might unexpectedly become home.
The desire to flee this place is diminished as we ourselves are
transformed into the hope for this place. We are transformed and
asked what real hope is - escape or residence?