If you are a console player you have probably already given this game a run but if you are pure PC or you had a friend who said “that game sucked” and that was enough to keep you from trying it then you may have only heard of the game. Just about everyone has at least heard of Limbo due to it’s incredibly stylized presentation and haunting mistreatment of its little boy hero. Every game magazine tried to write it up at one time or another without giving too much away and that can be extremely difficult to first get the style and feeling across but then also make someone feel the need to play it. It honestly reminds me of foreign movies and animations that I have experienced over the years. Anyone who watched the short film “Deadsy” (the band and most of my game characters’ names have been based off it) and got the beauty and horror of it might have some understanding. So instead of trying to tell you why you should play it or shouldn’t I will try to tell you what I felt while I played it, why this side game turned into a marathon playing for me and much like a foreign film, you will have to decide if this is where your tastes lie. To start here is a screenshot.
I purposely chose one with no action, no traps or big challenges in sight, just an average moment in the game. This is one of the brighter moments, the shadowed areas increase, the screen flickers like you are watching an old silent movie and usually the brightest thing in the whole game are the eyes on the little silhouette of a boy that you are helping through the journey. When you discover a new trap or fail a test those little white eyes blink out for a moment and then come back at the last checkpoint. He never screams in pain or terror, never complains, he just moves along to the next task and horror at hand. Music is sparse and the notes tend to resound, most of the game relies on ambient noise of frogs or flies or water splashing. If he falls off a tall cliff you will see his eyes shining in the thickening darkness, hear a crunch and then the eyes go out as the scene fades to darkness and he is standing in front of one of his tests again.
The tests are plentiful and seem to come from the mind of a child, one with some learning but also who has seen enough action movies and played Cowboys and Indians to have an imagination ripe with its own torments. The Lord of The Flies, arachnophobia, saws slicing people up, all in a world where flipping a switch can make gravity reverse or magnets can hold giant metal block in mid air. If a child were to place tests of horror in front of itself it would play out a lot like this game.
And you want to help this little boy who is lost in this dark place facing more and more moments of possible death. Knowing that death is not the end, but only a step back into the journey that is so dark and that he faces alone except for a little help from you. All the other boys are out to torment, sabotage or just plain destroy him on his journey through this dark land so you feel compelled to keep helping him. It becomes difficult to take a break especially after night falls and you are in the same darkness he is. This may sound somewhat melodramatic but the game does pull you in if you let it and it can be very much like you are helping a character on it’s way through a movie, wanting to see how it ends and having the satisfaction of no matter who finally lies in store you helped the little lost boy get there.
The game is just haunting to put it simply, generally more like nightmares than dreams but it is a dreamscape nonetheless and one that had me with my face 8 inches away from my 23″ LED monitor, the speakers pulled close, the lights off, fully entranced. The standard game controls are the arrow keys and Ctrl which I usually find confining in computer play but seemed very much to fit the game’s confined environment you are trying to help escape.
The ending will be a matter of debate for a long time, I am not showing you it in any of the screenshots nor do I plan to show you any. If you want to go to YouTube and watch it you can but to me it is like reading the last page of a very deep and surreal book, you won’t really get it unless you take the journey through the game and then you may come up with a different theory than the many, many ones that are out there and discussed on endless threads. It is this ending with such an opening to interpretation that really throws some people for a loop and makes them sometimes hate the game. These are usually the same people who hate every minute of a foreign or strange film because it made them think, made them wonder and in some ways just gave them questions and left them to fill in the answers. I find a certain beauty in this, a certain maturity that can be very difficult for someone just out to have a fun play and escape reality for a while to accept. It is a foreign film in game form and leaves questions instead of giving a tidy, clean and happy Hollywood ending. I love it for that as much as the great puzzles and gameplay.
This game is different, it is for a certain taste, I could see people watching others playing to experience the story as much as the action. The action of the puzzle solving may appeal to gamers and they may enjoy it simply for that but this was a game that was designed to engage you like a movie. A movie where you have to commit yourself to helping the main character, in this case a lost little boy, find his way to the end, whatever ending it may be. Much like many Hollywood remakes of movies I could see how the temptation to have a spelled out, The End kind of ending to this game could have been tempting but I think this game will live on in the imaginations of those who played it more as a result of the simple fade to black.