LIMBO, a stunningly artistic platformer from independent Danish developer Playdead, was 2010’s Braid. The general consensus of critic and player alike was that this game stood in a very special tier of games that are timeless, exquisitely crafted, and both mentally and emotionally challenging. This sentiment rings true for me as well, but I saw in LIMBO something more sublime than I’d ever found in any other game.
It was eventually disappointing to find that this thing of beauty didn’t actually truly exist; it was only something I’d imagined. Nonetheless, the experience has stuck with me for years since as a very defining and inspiring moment in gaming. This thing I speak of, this moment, was an ending like nothing I’d ever seen since The Dark Tower. Spoilers, ahoy!
In LIMBO, you’re a brave young man who’s awakens in a forest in Limbo. He’s come here to retrieve his missing sister. The black and white monochrome, the minimalist soundtrack and the startling grotesqueries of the world all make for a terribly engrossing experience. The puzzles and the dynamic, ruined environments create a vividly memorable game.
With all of the puzzles broken, all enemies defeated, the nameless hero finally stumbles upon the body of a girl. She awakes. It’s your sister, and she’s startled. The screen fades out without explanation. The mist clears and you’re alone, in a familiar place. Just standing there waiting for something to happen, it seemed. Here, for an instant, the revelation hit me. I’m in Limbo. I’ve begun again, and now I must continue to seek out my sister. That’s it. I’m trapped here in Limbo forever, and it’s all an inescapable cycle. God knows how many times I’ve already saved the princess, I mean my sister. II don’t remember dying, only waking up in this strange wood, and that is all I’m ever going to know. What a feeling! This is what I want in games. An ending that makes me stand up, reconsider what a game really is, what I means to experience a narrative, all of these things became instantly fluid and relative.
This revelation, which was one of the most memorable experiences for me in a recent indie game, turned out not necessarily the case. The ending is left at a very open-ended and rather vague standpoint. After discussing this revelation with friends, it seems that each and every individual drew something different out of it.
LIMBO showed me the direction games can and will take as we progress. Games are one of the more recent forms of art, and we have yet to truly experiment with them in the way we’ve experimented with film, music and other media. For me, LIMBO was, or rather might have been, an exercise in narrative design specifically laid out for the purposes of replayability. Instantly upon assuming that I have beaten the game, only to find myself at its beginning, I only wanted to venture through again. My first assumption was that such brilliant designers might have laid out something different for my next playthrough, something more difficult, or at least something collectible. Again, this wasn’t necessarily the case.
All in all, my experience with LIMBO was as unique as it was inspiring. The game, in terms of its design and its execution, is a timeless masterpiece. My understanding of LIMBO wasn’t necessarily real or that accurate, but instead I think it was a remarkably real experience that I share in order for two reasons. One is because LIMBO is currently on sale on Steam for $3.99 until Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 4:00 pm PST. The other reason is that maybe LIMBO might give you a similar view of the future of games as it did for me.