CHENNAI: Like the game itself, the beginning of Limbo is wonderfully understated. When you begin a new game, nothing very much happens. I’ve seen people sit and stare at the screen for minutes before they figure out that the game’s already begun, it just wasn’t going to point the way in flashing neon lights. And that really sets the tone for the rest of the game.
You see, a lot of games are really eager for you to find out everything about them. ‘Look here, look here!’, they’ll yell excitedly, as they usher you towards another brightly-signposted bit of information. Limbo is as far removed from that as it is possible to be. It doesn’t want you to know everything; or, indeed, anything. It wants you to be as confused and unaware of what awaits you as...well, as a child who found himself in this world would be. Limbo isn’t interested in holding your hand, and that’s what makes it great.
At its heart, Limbo is a puzzle game.
Every scene you come across is part of a puzzle in some way, even if it isn’t apparent. Some areas only make sense when you’re in the middle of a puzzle a few screens away, and even the empty areas have a purpose — to lull you into a sense of false security. Let me explain. Once you’ve played a few games, you start to unconsciously recognise the conventions that game designers use; the unwritten shorthand that they use to convey information to you, the player, and you use that information to figure out how to proceed. Most people start picking up this language of game design as they play, and that helps them process new games just that bit quicker usually.
Well, Limbo takes your expectations and your programmed responses and uses them to bring you crashing down to earth at every opportunity. I won’t describe specific instances, because this is really something you should experience yourself; once you have, though, you’ll delight in introducing friends to the game and watching them stumble into the same traps you did.
Yes, you will feel a constant sense of paranoia as you play Limbo but it never wears you down. Other games that thrive on surprising the player can occasionally get a bit tiring, but there’s a sense of almost playful malice to Limbo. You’re almost eager to see what dastardly plot they’ve hatched for you next.
For a game that’s entirely in shades of black and white, there are surprising layers of depth and nuance to Limbo. Restraint is probably its biggest strength — it knows its limitations, it doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t, and the result is one of the finest indie games I’ve ever played.
(Arjun is a gamer, book lover and an all-round renaissance man)