I'm a fan of dark movies along the lines of Seven, or some would say Se7en, or Silence of the Lambs. These movies create a sense of tension and keep you unnerved. While this type of feeling is hard enough to accomplish in movies it's even rarer in video games. Heavy Rain certainly gave it a good shot and Amnesia was very dark to be sure. Last year LIMBO showed up on Xbox Live Arcade and I remember the reviews were great and often referred to the game as dark and twisted. For reasons that I do not recall (maybe I thought it too artsy or pretentious or just a little too expensive for an Arcade title) I never really bought into the hype and I let the game pass by. Luckily I was given a chance to correct that mistake and play the PC/Steam version of LIMBO. In retrospect I am ashamed that I waited this long to experience this creepy little jewel. Let's see why...
Minimalistic. Atmospheric. Dark. Creepy. All of these describe LIMBO perfectly. Yet from all the games I have played over my long gaming career LIMBO is one of the few that I find it hard to describe what it is like to play. Actually play might be a bad way to say it. It's more like an experience. In its simplest form it is a 2-D action platformer. In a more complicated form it is a game that is on the verge of art, much to Rodger Ebert's chagrin. You play as an unnamed young boy that wakes up in a shadowy black and white world. Your hero is just a silhouette with just a couple of white eyes, yet during the game this shadow boy really means a lot to you. The goal, well you're really not sure what it is and I'm not going to spoil anything, so let's just go with the simplest idea and say your goal is to get from one end of the screen to the other without harming yourself. There are various puzzles you will need to solve, some light jumping, and at times some quick reflexes. But mostly it's about figuring out how to get further along using different elements available to you like a box or a boat. The puzzle at times require a small amount of backtracking, but nothing unfair or irritating. You will die many, many times. Many times. But always for a good reason so you can't get very upset at it...usually. The deaths, even while only in black and white and silhouetted, are gruesome. This is one of the more demented games I have played in years and I loved it.
It is decidedly an independent game in scale and feel but not in quality. It's a rather short game that might take around 4-6 hours to finish. Some gamers may rebel at the length but I would much rather have a great but short experience than a long but dismissive game.
Graphically LIMBO does so much with no color that you might actually long for more monochromatic games. The black and white world of LIMBO is perfect in creating the mood of the game (here's hoping that Ted Turner never gets his colorization hands on this). The way the shadows play off each other and the silhouettes move in the fore and backgrounds are really inspiring. The music and sound effects, while sparse, are also perfect in creating the vibe and drawing you in emotionally.
Final Rating: 98%. LIMBO is a wonderfully dark experience with its only real flaw being its stunted length.