Limbo (stylised as LIMBO) is a puzzle-platform video game and the premiere title of independent Danish game developer Playdead. The game was released in July 2010 as a platform exclusive title on Xbox Live Arcade, and was later re-released as part of a retail game pack along with Trials HD and ‘Splosion Man in April 2011. Ports of the game to the PlayStation Network and Microsoft Windows via Steam and GamersGate were created by Playdead, released after the year-long Xbox 360 exclusivity period was completed. A Mac OS X version was released in December 2011, while a Linux port was available in May 2012.
Limbo is a 2D sidescroller, incorporating the physics system Box2D to govern environmental objects and the player character. The player guides an unnamed boy through dangerous environments and traps as he searches for his sister. The developer built the game’s puzzles expecting the player to fail before finding the correct solution. Playdead called the style of play “trial and death”, and used gruesome imagery for the boy’s deaths to steer the player from unworkable solutions.
The game is presented in monochromatic black-and-white tones, using lighting, film grain effects and minimal ambient sounds to create an eerie atmosphere often associated with the horror genre. Journalists praised the dark presentation, describing the work as comparable to film noir and German Expressionism. Based on its aesthetics, reviewers classified Limbo as an example of “video games as art”. Limbo received positive reviews, but its minimal story polarised critics; some critics found the open-ended work to have deeper meaning that tied well with the game’s mechanics, while others believed the lack of significant plot and abrupt ending detracted from the game. A common point of criticism from reviewers was that the high cost of the game relative to its short length might deter players from purchasing the title, but some reviews proposed that Limbo had an ideal length.
The title was the third-highest selling game on the Xbox Live Arcade service in 2010, generating around $7.5 million in revenue. The title won several awards from industry groups after its release, and was named as one of the top games for 2010 by several publications.
The primary character in Limbo is a nameless boy who awakens in the middle of a forest on the “edge of hell” (the game’s title is taken from the Latin limbus, meaning “edge”).While seeking his missing sister, he encounters only a few human characters, who either attack him, run away, or are dead.At one point during his journey, he encounters a female character, who abruptly vanishes before he can reach her.
The player controls the boy throughout the game. As is typical of most two-dimensional platform games, the boy can run left or right, jump, climb onto short ledges or up and down ladders and ropes, and push or pull objects. Limbo is presented through dark, greyscale graphics and with minimalist ambient sounds, creating an eerie, haunting environment.The dark visuals also hide numerous environmental and physical hazards, such as deadly bear traps on the forest floor, or lethal monsters hiding in the shadows, such as a giant spider. Among the hazards are glowing worms, which attach themselves to the boy’s head and force him to travel in only one direction until removed.
The game’s second half features mechanical puzzles and traps using machinery, electromagnets, and gravity. Many of these traps are not apparent until triggered, often with deadly consequences. As the player will likely encounter numerous deaths before they solve each puzzle and complete the game, the developers call Limbo a “trial and death” game.Some deaths are animated with images of the boy’s dismemberment or beheading, although an optional gore filter blacks out the screen instead of showing these deaths.