What We Already Know:
“Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters Limbo.” You have just read the entire starting premise of Limbo, an extremely stylized side-scrolling puzzle game (or something like that) from the Danish studio Playdead. Limbo is garnering quite a few awards and award nominations—it might just be the next Braid.
What We're Seeing Now:
You know you’re talking to an offbeat developer when they answer your questions with lines like, “Hmm, what do you think?” and “I would prefer not to answer your questions, unless you force me...”
Playdead’s spent the better part of four years throwing out 75% of created content, boiling its game down to the best 25%. The studio wants Limbo to speak for itself. Fortunate, then, that Limbo can say so much even while saying so little.
The graphics are highly stylized, almost entirely monochromatic, with the characters and landscape forming dark silhouettes against the lighter backdrops. Lights are softly luminous, and everything is permeated by a rough noise effect. Everything’s a little soft around the edges, including the screen itself—it’s vignetted.
Your character is the mere outline of a boy with two bright spots where his eyes would be. It’s surprising how expressive he is—just a tilt of his head can convey a lot. I think he looks sad. I find my brain’s taken to filling in such details. I have the feeling that’s what Limbo’s creators intended when designing these moody, evocative visuals.
All the gameplay at E3 focused on traversal challenges, which often turned out to be physics puzzles. The boy can’t swim (an understatement) so the only way to pass a lake was to climb a nearby tree and knock down a rotten branch, which floated and formed a bridge. Another bit required becoming infected with a glowing “zombie worm,” which burrowed into the boy’s head and disrupted his controls.
Limbo strongly reminded me of Out of this World and Flashback, two other somber, stylized treks through unknown worlds which told great stories with minimal dialogue. I said as much to the developer. “Those are very good games to be compared to,” he replied, possibly smiling ever so slightly.